U.S. Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) are creating a bipartisan task force of White House and Congressional officials that will meet through the end of the year to consider legislative ways to lower health care costs; address the long-term funding issues affecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and study the comparative regional and demographic effectiveness of national health policies.
Conrad said he wanted research on how different parts of the country “achieve different results on identical medical procedures.”
The recommendations of the task force, which was called together in May, will be issued on December 9, after which the legislation is expected to be pushed through Congress on a short timeline with no opportunity for amendments.
“The signal-to-noise ratio here is very low,” said John R. Graham, director of health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute.
“It is very easy to call for a national effort to manage comparative effectiveness research,” Graham continued, “but not possible to do without medical innovation being crushed by the dead hand of government intervention.
“There is a lot of comparative effectiveness research going on in the United States, but it’s not under government control,” Graham said. “How do Senators Conrad and Gregg think that health plans decide how much to pay for new therapies?”
Joe Reger Jr., a journalist based in Atlanta, suggests the task force may be an attempt to get positive election-year coverage.
“With only general statements about costs and efficiencies,” Reger said, “I can only assume that once the rubber hits the road, this task force will be covered in political agendas, industry lobbyists, and dramatic but irrelevant press coverage. This has all the makings of an election-year tactic geared to let each party claim that it’s working hard with the other to unite the nation and solve the health care crisis.”
Patient Choice Better
“As soon as the government centralizes [effectiveness research], like Britain has done with its National Institute of Clinical Effectiveness, human lives become line items in the state’s budget,” warned Graham. “The reason that Medicare experiences huge variation in expenditures across the country is because a centralized system cannot manage the millions of medical decisions that must be made by Medicare beneficiaries annually.
“Medicare should return its multibillion-dollar budget to the patients who need it, and let them spend their health care dollars as they see fit,” Graham concluded.
Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.