HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Thursday, August 25, 2011

WaPo on Comparative Effectiveness Research

I found this article by David Brown a good introduction to new directions in CER.  Some excerpts: 

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which this year is spending about $21 million on comparative effectiveness studies. . . . Only 1.5 percent of money spent on medical research goes to “outcomes research,” of which comparative effectiveness is a sub-category. About 13,000 new clinical studies start up each year; about 112,000 are running now. A meticulous search in 2008 revealed only 689 studies that fit the general description of “comparative effectiveness.” Many experts believe that’s not enough.

The Obama administration created a permanent stream of funding for comparative effectiveness research by establishing, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an independent entity called the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI. . . . 

The institute’s duties are to establish national priorities for this type of research, with input from patients, doctors, scientists, public-health officials and representatives of the health-care industry. It will eventually have about $550 million a year, provided by the federal government, to pay for studies and disseminate results. PCORI opened its office in Washington last month.

But not everyone is happy with this activity. Some critics see comparative effectiveness research as a Trojan horse that will eventually bring government control and rationing to every hospital and clinic in the land. Even if that doesn’t happen, they’re worried that “cost effectiveness” — a different concept, one that puts a price tag on patient outcomes such as illnesses averted or years of life saved — will make its way into medical decision-making.

I'm torn on the issue.  On the one hand, I am all for eliminating costly and ineffective procedures. On the other hand, I am extremely doubtful that health care cost savings are going to reach workers who are privately insured. In an employment market as bad as ours, employers are far more likely to simply pocket the savings, and transfer it to top managers (and perhaps shareholders--again, not that egalitarian an option, as the bottom 80% of households only hold about 9% of stocks).  There is a better case for saving taxpayers money, especially given how much of Medicare is financed via payroll taxes and premiums. However, if the past decade is any guide, the savings may just be channeled to wars and tax cuts tilted to the wealthy.  I don't know if these goals are any more meritorious than providing expensive placebos.  [FP]

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