Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's latest falsehood — smearing a promising health care cost-control mechanism —should further fuel skepticism that this nation can ever have a serious discussion about reining in its $2.4 trillion annual medical bill.
The Minnesota congresswoman's misleading attack came at last week's Republican presidential debate. She and her fellow candidates wallowed in the usual budgetary hypocrisy —arguing that government spending is unsustainable while decrying or ignoring fixes to Medicare, a $509 billion federal health care program that's one of the nation's biggest expenditures. In a rational world, politicians would not be able to say these two things without being laughed out of the room: 1) Medicare costs are out of control, and 2) Changes to wring savings from this program will be painless.
Democrats are just as guilty of promoting this deceit, and it has to end. What's needed most right now is honesty about Medicare and the solutions needed to sustain it for future generations. Medicare provides health care for those 65 and older. Along with Medicaid, which provides care to the needy and pays for much of the nation's nursing home care, it consumes about 21 percent of federal dollars each year.
That's why Bachmann's dishonest disparagement of the Independent Payment Advisory Board is so frustrating. As her presidential hopes fade, she's apparently trying to resurrect death-panel canards by spreading more falsehoods and innuendo.
This dull-sounding board is one of the few game-changing cost-control containments within the Affordable Care Act. Beginning in 2015, if Medicare exceeds certain spending growth targets, the board will recommend solutions to Congress to slow Medicare spending. Congress can reject these proposals, come up with its own ideas or let the board's recommendations go into effect without a vote.
Bachmann correctly stated that the panel has 15 appointees, but then recklessly added that it "will make all major health care decisions for over 300 million Americans. I don't want political appointees to make a health care decision for a beautiful, fragile 85-year-old woman who should be making her own decision."
The statement earned Bachmann yet another "False" rating from PolitiFact. Again, the Payment Advisory Board is to make recommendations to Congress, which Congress can then act on. The law also requires the board to include elderly and consumer representatives, and it places strict limits on what it can and can't do.
The board cannot deny benefits or coverage, increase Medicare premiums or co-pays, or change eligibility criteria. It also can't raise taxes. What it can do: reform the nation's blank-check approach to provider payments, so that providers are rewarded for quality care instead of how much care they provide.
The debate's moderators should have called out Bachmann. And they should have asked her to explain her support for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's underfunded Medicare voucher plan, which would shift too great a burden for medical costs onto the elderly.
Questions remain about who will sit on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and more details are needed about how it will find savings. But wild accusations about it serve no one.
© 2011 Star Tribune