The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Help Wanted: Qualified Death Panelists

Are you a nationally recognized health finance and economics expert willing to work for beans on a political lightning rod of a project? Do you enjoy being the subject of Senate confirmation hearings? If so, apply to be a death panelist today…because it doesn’t look like anyone else is. The Washington Post reports:

The Independent Payment Advisory Board, the new, 15-member panel . . . has the authority to reduce Medicare doctors’ reimbursements and pilot new ways to deliver high quality care for less.

Obama’s former health policy advisers worry that other top health economists, those in hot demand in academia and in the industry, won’t be interested in a federal job where the compensation is low, the political controversy high and the ultimate payoff unclear.

“It is supposed to be 15 members, with limited salaries who can’t do any outside work,” says Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Budget and Management under Obama who was a key proponent of IPAB. “It will be challenging to find [15 top] health-care experts . . . who would want that job.”

It isn’t hard to see why nobody is clamoring to take a job that offers low pay and lots of regulations and will make everyone in the country hate you.

But it’s been clear from the beginning that this is the kind of thing you get with a massive, centralized health care “fix” like Obamacare: 15 unhappy people in a room making enormously important but impossible to predict decisions affecting a broad and diverse industry (not to mention the lives and health of millions). It’s hard to imagine a centralized approach getting all the nuances of health care right—and we certainly haven’t stumbled onto the miracle cure here.

If you go for the job, though, try not to dwell on how impossible and unpopular and low-paying your work will be. Instead, think about the fact that you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that you were one of the first death panelists.

Published on January 29, 2013 7:00 pm