The Association of U S West Retirees



U.S. names healthcare spending strategy advisers

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Health and Human Services Department named a panel of 15 government experts on Thursday to advise the government on how to spend $1.1 billion set aside to study which medical treatments work best.

The effort is part of President Barack Obama's plan to cut excess spending from the U.S. healthcare system.

Experts on the panel include officials at the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The government $787 billion stimulus package passed in February provides $300 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, $400 million for the National Institutes of Health, and $400 million for HHS to support comparative effectiveness research.

HHS took the first step by naming the 15 members of the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research to advise on what to do with the money.

"The council will offer advice and recommendations on research priorities and will not recommend clinical guidelines," Dr. Carolyn Clancy, who directs the AHRQ, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Instead, it will look to compare different approaches and give information about how they work. For instance, in 2005, the AHRQ reported that drugs can be as effective as surgery for easing gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

"This is the kind of information that, as a physician, I can tell you is too often lacking when physicians and patients are making decisions together," Clancy said.

Critics of the approach, notably powerful Republican Senator Charles Grassley, say government comparative effectiveness decision-making can lead to rationing of care.

Representative Roy Blunt, who is leading a group of House Republicans developing a Republican healthcare overhaul plan, said he is not opposed to doing "clinical" studies on the effectiveness of various treatments.

But he said Republicans opposed original language that was in the House version of the economic stimulus bill that suggested the results of the studies could be used to deny payments for certain treatments.

"Language matters," Blunt said in an interview. He said doctors should be free to choose and recommend treatments for patients.

Clancy said the point of the reviews would be to provide that information to doctors and patients. "It is extremely unusual and I don't think we ever had a report that found one intervention was great and another one not useful," she said.

Besides Clancy, members of the panel include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Defense and Office of Management and Budget.