Howard Dean’s War on IPAB Is Going Just Great So Far

Death to death panels.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Monday former Vermont Gov./DNC Chairman/liberal icon* published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, making the Slate-pitchy case against a component of the Affordable Care Act: the Independent Payment Advisory Board. “Rate setting—the essential mechanism of the IPAB—has a 40-year track record of failure,” wrote Dean. “What ends up happening in these schemes (which many states including my home state of Vermont have implemented with virtually no long-term effect on costs) is that patients and physicians get aggravated because bureaucrats in either the private or public sector are making medical decisions without knowing the patients.”

This blew up in the conservative media (“Sarah Palin was right about death panels”) but hit a wall on the left. “The whole point of the public option that Dean once championed so tirelessly was to introduce a government insurance plan that would help set payment rates,” wrote Jonathan Cohn in a quick response piece. Cohn speculated that Dean might be listening too closely to McKenna Long & Aldridge, which pays him as an adviser. Time called Dean to ask about that.

Does MLA have clients who dislike IPAB? “I’m sure we do,” says Dean. “What annoys me is that everything you say comes down to who’s paying you to say it. You can talk like that if you want to but I don’t think it helps the general discussion. We ought to argue on the merits.”

Maybe, but getting Howard Dean to make this case isn’t about the merits—it’s about buzz. It’s not especially interesting if Ted Cruz criticizes IPAB, but if Dean does? Won’t Dems have to answer for that?

They won’t. Today I asked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders whether he agreed with Dean. At first he didn’t understand me. “My iPad works very well,” he said. (In his defense, I have a cold that’s blurring my consonants today.) When I explained the op-ed, he shrugged and admitted “this is the first I’m hearing about it.”

*He still pretty well fits the third of these titles.