By Diane Cohen and Michael F. Cannon, published by the Cato Institute
When a member of Congress introduces legislation, the Constitution requires that legislative proposal to secure the approval of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the president (unless Congress overrides a presidential veto) before it can become law. In all cases, either chamber of Congress may block it.
In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) created the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB. When the unelected government officials on this board submit a legislative proposal to Congress, it automatically becomes law: PPACA requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to implement it. Blocking an IPAB "proposal" requires at a minimum that the House and the Senate and the president agree on a substitute. The Board's edicts therefore can become law without congressional action, congressional approval, meaningful congressional oversight, or being subject to a presidential veto. Citizens will have no power to challenge IPAB's edicts in court.
Worse, PPACA forbids Congress from repealing IPAB outside of a seven-month window in the year 2017, and even then requires a three-fifths majority in both chambers. A heretofore unreported feature of PPACA dictates that if Congress misses that repeal window, PPACA prohibits Congress from ever altering an IPAB "proposal." By restricting lawmaking powers of future Congresses, PPACA thus attempts to amend the Constitution by statute.
IPAB's unelected members will have effectively unfettered power to impose taxes and ration care for all Americans, whether the government pays their medical bills or not. In some circumstances, just one political party or even one individual would have full command of IPAB's lawmaking powers. IPAB truly is independent, but in the worst sense of the word. It wields power independent of Congress, independent of the president, independent of the judiciary, and independent of the will of the people.
The creation of IPAB is an admission that the federal government's efforts to plan America's health care sector have failed. It is proof of the axiom that government control of the economy threatens democracy.
IPAB may be the most anti-constitutional measure ever to pass Congress, and it is therefore tempting to dismiss IPAB as an absurdity that the body politic will soon reject. Until that occurs, IPAB will potentially empower just one unelected government official to impose any tax or regulation, to appropriate funds, and to wield other lawmaking powers.
Diane Cohen is senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute and lead counsel in Coons v. Geithner, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of IPAB. Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.