WASHINGTON -- Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, joined Republicans last week in a bid to strip out one of the national health law's key cost-cutting measures.
Bishop of Southampton is one of four Democrats and 73 Republicans who co-sponsored a bill to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which the Congressional Budget Office said would save $3.1 billion in Medicare costs from 2013 to 2022.
Bishop said he signed on to the bill because the board will usurp Congress' longtime role in setting Medicare payments for hospitals, doctors and other health providers.
"It relegates members of Congress to the sidelines," Bishop said. "We have no say in what could be consequential matters" to the care providers lawmakers like him represent.
The board, which goes into effect in 2015, would consist of 15 appointed full-time experts whose job is to control and reduce Medicare costs in part through complex formulas.
Like military base-closing panels, the board would make recommendations on payments to providers and Congress can only vote them up or down.
The board was unpopular with many House members of both parties when the health overhaul was being debated.
But since the law passed, the board has become a particular target for Republicans, including those who charge it will result in health care rationing or even "death panels."
The day after Obama won re-election last year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) singled out the board as a top measure for repeal this year.
Bishop said estimates of the board's savings are exaggerated and that other measures in the law will restrain costs.
The liberal economic think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities called the board a "backstop" for Medicare savings, but called repeal of it "unwise." Limiting Congress' "micromanaging" of Medicare could save money, it said.
"Many times in the past, efforts to reform Medicare payments have been slowed or stopped by health care interests that have successfully lobbied Congress to protect their income stream at Medicare's expense," the center said.
At least 18 health care political action committees in favor of the board's repeal donated $70,000 to Bishop in the 2011-12 campaign, records show.
He said that wasn't a factor.
"I raised $2.7 million," Bishop said. "The judgments that I make are based on what I think is in the best interest of the people I represent."
He said he's been consistent in opposing the board going back to 2010 when the House passed a bill without it.
Last year, Bishop backed a board-repeal bill but didn't vote for it after Republicans added limits to malpractice lawsuits. The House passed the bill. The Senate didn't.
This year, the bill to repeal the board is on a path for a vote without additions, in a bid to lure Democrats' votes.
Israel opposed the board in 2010, but now says he's not for repealing the board unless another measure is included to reap its $3 billion in savings."I've never been a fan of handing over authority to a board and I'd certainly be open to supporting alternatives," Israel said. "That said, any repeal of [the board] should have an appropriate alternative to find savings in health care costs."