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MedCity morning read, Monday, Feb. 16

Bloviation or reality? Some see government control of health care in the comparative effectiveness research funded by economic stimulus legislation being reconciled by the U.S. House and Senate. What do you see?

Bloviation or reality?

Those are the alternatives posed by Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein for what he calls a conservative media backlash against the $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research in the economic stimulus legislation.

“For those of [you] not steeped in the argot of health policy, that’s research done by doctors and statisticians who troll through large numbers of patient records to determine, for any particular disease, which treatments work best,” Pearlstein wrote in a Feb. 13 blog post.

A House Appropriations Committee explanation (pdf, Page 52) of this research funding probably seemed perfectly sensible to most Americans, Pearlstein said. That is, determining which medical treatments work best – and sharing that information with medical professionals — could help reduce the cost and boost the quality of the nation’s health care.

New York Times reporter Robert Pear wrote a news story about comparative effectiveness research funding in the stimulus bill.

To some, the seemingly innocuous wording in the committee report spelled health care policy disaster.  One commentator said the comparative effectiveness research envisioned in the stimulus plan could put the government in control of the health care we receive. Another said it could result in denying medical treatment to old people in a “duty to die” effort to save taxpayer money.

One commentator drew a line from electronic health records — another beneficiary of the stimulus bill — to comparative health records, then to government price controls, and finally to government-run health technology policy.

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The “right-wing brush fire” didn’t start on its own, Pearlstein wrote. It was started by drug and medical device makers that could lose big money if inexpensive alternatives to their blockbuster drugs and devices emerge through comparative effectiveness studies.

The flames were fanned by organizations that advocate for people who have chronic diseases, like heart disease, he said. These groups fear results of comparative effectiveness could lead insurers to deny claims for expensive drugs and devices used to treat chronic disease. Northeast Ohio family practice physician and blogger, Dr. Anonymous, commented on this discussion in a Wednesday blog entry

What do you think? Bloviation or reality? Please post your comment below.

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