February 15, 2009

Stimulus funds treatment comparisons

The U.S. economic stimulus measure approved by Congress contains funds for measuring and comparing the effectiveness of medical treatments, analysts said.

The notion of comparing different treatments for the same illnesses has become controversial, however, with supporters saying it promises more effective treatment at lower costs while opponents charge it could lead to rationing of some treatment, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The legislation, which President Barack Obama is to sign into law Tuesday, provides $1.1 billion for researchers to compare treatments including medicines, medical devices and surgery for certain illnesses. The research would be intended to provide evidence of the relative merits of treatments.

Dr. Elliott S. Fisher of Dartmouth Medical School said the research would address questions about which approaches work best in treating conditions such as neck pain, mild depression and leg pain.

Several European nations already have such research programs in place.

The pharmaceutical and medical device industries have questioned the advisability of such testing, suggesting it could lead to denial of coverage for expensive treatments.

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La. -- who is also a heart surgeon -- said he's concerned federal bureaucrats will misuse this research to ration care, to deny life-saving treatments to seniors and disabled people, the Times reported.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., said the research will eventually save money and lives.

Conservative media figures have attacked the provision, some claiming it will open the door for the federal government to impose oppressive treatment protocols on Americans.