Testifying before the House Budget Committee on Monday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius downplayed the importance of the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board, which has been touted in the past by the administration as a central part of the strategy for containing the program's long-term costs.
Republicans have attacked the 15-member board of health care experts as a rationing panel that would have sweeping powers to impose changes to the program if Congress doesn't keep Medicare spending growth at certain targets.
Sebelius spent most of her opening statement explaining other changes to Medicare under the national health care law, before describing IPAB as a mere "backstop mechanism" in case those changes don't achieve the necessary cost savings. Under questioning from Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Sebelius said "IPAB is irrelevant" if Congress does its job.
Her downplaying of the importance of IPAB suggests a recognition that it has become a political liability, with even some Democrats now calling for its repeal. President Obama made IPAB a key part of his April speech laying out his budget vision, not only touting it, but calling for it to be strengthened.
This is the first of two hearings this week on IPAB, with the second one tomorrow before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.