Comparative effectiveness research becomes battleground

In theory, comparative effectiveness research is a completely neutral idea. If you want to give patients the best, most cost-effective care, simply do good research, find out which treatments work most efficiently and stick to those. The problem is, it never turns out that way.

Today, a $1.1  billion Obama administration plan to conduct such research is shaping up to become a bloody battleground, with supporters arguing that the research can help patients and reduce spending. Opponents suggest that such research could lead to healthcare rationing and other ills. Such clashes doomed a similar effort 15 years ago, over similar bones of contention.

Under the current plan, the $1.1 billion in funding would go to HHS, NIH and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which would finance studies, plus develop patient databases and other data collecting tools. During upcoming hearings, the public would have the opportunity to suggest conditions for which such research should be conducted. In June, the Institute of Medicine and the hearing panel would recommend priorities.

Researchers, consumer groups, unions and other groups are all for this plan, but opponents, including some pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, are arming for battle. (On the other hand, pharmas are placing bets on the other side as well, by offering performance-based pricing on some drugs.)

To learn more about the comparative effectiveness battle:
- read this Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report item