Policy Documents

Comparative Effectiveness in Health Care Reform: Lessons from Abroad

Helen Evans, Ph.D. –
February 9, 2009

President Barack Obama has proposed the creation of an Institute for Comparative Effectiveness as a key component of an ambitious health care reform.[1] The institute would have the authority to make official determinations of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of medical treatments, procedures, drugs, and medical devices.

President Obama's initial nominee as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), former Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), has likewise proposed the creation of a supremely powerful Federal Health Board, which would have similar authority to make decisions that would be binding on health plans and providers financed by federal taxpayers, and potentially on private health insurance coverage.[2] While Senator Daschle has withdrawn his name from Senate consideration, the concept of such a board or institute is strongly indicative of the Obama Administration's policy orientation toward centralized health policy decision-making.

The U.S. House of Representatives has just passed the $850 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), the so-called economic stimulus bill, which would establish a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. The bill would provide $1.1 billion for the new council and delegate spending authority to the HHS Secretary to investigate the effectiveness of different drugs and medical devices.[3] The Senate version of the economic stimulus package contains a similar provision.

Of course, there is no reason why private-sector or government officials should not have access to the best information on what works and what doesn't. Nor is there any reason why such scientific evaluations should not be widely available to doctors and patients alike. But studies of the comparative effectiveness of medical devices, drugs, and technology should be conducted primarily within the private sector, and there should be no government monopoly over either the research or the distribution of information. The key issue is the personal freedom of patients to be able to choose the health care that, in the professional judgment of their doctors, best serves their personal needs.