State panel that decides healthcare costs stirs controversy

A panel in Washington State has the authority to approve medical procedures and devices for approximately 750,000 state employees and Medicaid enrollees, reports the New York Times.

The panel, known as the Health Technology Assessment Committee, has supporters who say it provides transparency at a time when healthcare costs are of primary concern. The panel uses costs as one of its evaluative criteria.

Since its formation in 2006, it has ruled on 21 devices and procedures. It has rejected the use of calcium scoring for cardiac disease and virtual colonoscopies. It has approved the use of ultrasound on pregnant patients and hip resurfacing, but put limitations on which patients would qualify.

"This kind of scrutiny is increasingly the norm, rather than the exception," said Dan Mendelson, CEO of the consulting firm Avalere Health. He noted that Washington State's effort was "unique in the size and breadth of it."

However, the panel has its detractors. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board recently criticized its existence, saying it limits patient choice. And Medtronic, the medical device manufacturer, has lobbied for some changesto  the panel's decision-making processes.

For more:
- read the New York Times article
- read the NPR article