The New York Times is reporting on an emerging political debate tied up with the February 2009 stimulus bill about comparative effectiveness research of medicine and treatments:
“The $787 billion economic stimulus bill approved by Congress will, for the first time, provide substantial amounts of money for the federal government to compare the effectiveness of different treatments for the same illness.
Under the legislation, researchers will receive $1.1 billion to compare drugs, medical devices, surgery and other ways of treating specific conditions. The bill creates a council of up to 15 federal employees to coordinate the research and to advise President Obama and Congress on how to spend the money.
The program responds to a growing concern that doctors have little or no solid evidence of the value of many treatments. Supporters of the research hope it will eventually save money by discouraging the use of costly, ineffective treatments.
The soaring cost of health care is widely seen as a problem for the economy. Spending on health care totaled $2.2 trillion, or 16 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, in 2007, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, without any changes in federal law, it will rise to 25 percent of the G.D.P. in 2025.
Dr. Elliott S. Fisher of Dartmouth Medical School said the federal effort would help researchers try to answer questions like these:
Is it better to treat severe neck pain with surgery or a combination of physical therapy, exercise and medications? What is the best combination of “talk therapy” and prescription drugs to treat mild depression?
How do drugs and “watchful waiting” compare with surgery as a treatment for leg pain that results from blockage of the arteries in the lower legs? Is it better to treat chronic heart failure by medications alone or by drugs and home monitoring of a patient’s blood pressure and weight?
For nearly a decade, economists and health policy experts have been debating the merits of research that directly tackles such questions. Britain, France and other countries have bodies that assess health technologies and compare the effectiveness, and sometimes the cost, of different treatments “