The Blog

Obama Nominee for Social Security Board Favors Rationing Health Care

4:17 PM, Nov 15, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Is it just a coincidence that the people that President Obama nominates to fill high-level governmental posts tend to favor government-directed health care rationing?  Last year, Obama nominated Donald Berwick to head Medicare and Medicaid. Now he’s nominated Henry J. Aaron to head the Social Security Advisory Board.

Henry J. Aaron

Berwick, to whom Obama issued a dubious recess appointment to circumvent the usual Senate confirmation, has become notorious for statements like, “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open” — and, in progressive-speak, “The social budget is limited.” 

Aaron, a recent Obama nominee, has expressed similar views. He wrote a piece earlier this year called, “The Independent Payment Advisory Board — Congress's ‘Good Deed.’” The grisly IPAB, one of the most underreported of Obamacare’s myriad of liberty-sapping features, would have the power to cut Medicare spending each year — if Obamacare isn’t repealed first. The dictates of its 15 unelected members would effectively become law. In fact, Congress couldn’t even overturn the IPAB’s decrees with a majority vote in each house and the President’s signature. 

Obama has since doubled-down on the IPAB, seeking to grant it even more power to cut Medicare spending than Obamacare would grant it. To be clear, this is in addition to the nearly $1 trillion that the Congressional Budget Office says would be siphoned out of Medicare and spent on Obamacare during the overhaul’s real first decade (2014 to 2023).

Aaron praises the IPAB, although he does admit to having a few problems with it. He thinks that its largely unchecked power isn’t unchecked enough, as the board should be able to order payment reductions for other aspects of medical care that have so far escaped its statutory grant of power. He writes,

“I admit that the provisions governing the IPAB are less than optimal. For example, recommendations regarding payments to acute and long-term care hospitals, hospices and inpatient rehabilitation and psychiatric facilities are off-limits until 2020; and those to clinical laboratories are off-limits until 2016. These politically motivated restrictions should be repealed as early as possible so the IPAB’s recommendations can comprehend the delivery system as a whole.”

Aaron says that “the survival and strengthening of the IPAB is of critical importance.”  In a sense, this is unsurprising, given his earlier views, which were captured in a Washington Post story published during the Reagan administration (when Aaron was in his late 40s).  The Post article reads,

“If Americans are serious about curbing medical costs, they’ll have to face up to a much tougher issue than merely cutting waste, says Brookings Institution economist Henry J. Aaron.

“They’ll have to do what the British have done: ration some types of costly medical care — which means turning away patients from proven treatments.

“Cutting billions worth of ‘pure waste’ — in needless hospitalization, surplus beds, Cadillac-model machinery and superfluous tests — would only temporarily slow the growth in health spending, which now tops 10 percent a year, Aaron told a symposium sponsored by the American Academy of Physician Assistants last week in Reston.

“Eventually the ‘cornucopia of technology’ and America’s aging population will combine to drive up health costs by 6 or 7 percent a year anyway unless something else is done, he said.

“That ‘something else’ is what Aaron calls the ‘second stage’ of cost control. It’s a much more complex step, requiring choices that no one — doctor, patient or politician — likes to make.

“Aaron and Dr. William B. Schwartz, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, recently completed a study of how these choices are made in Britain, a country which spends half as much per person as the United States on health care.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers