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Comparative effectiveness research panel holds first session

Comparative effectiveness research panel holds first session

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A newly formed federal council held its first meeting here today, a listening session in which members were told by various interest groups how the government should best spend $1.1 billion

 to advance research that compares the effectiveness of various medical treatments.

The federal economic stimulus package signed into law in February included $1.1 billion for so-called comparative effectiveness research. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also called for creation of the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research.

The stimulus money for comparative effectiveness research was divided among three agencies:
• $300 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
• $400 million for the National Institutes of Health, and
• $400 million for the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, which is likely to be headed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Her nomination is pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

The new, 15-member council is charged with offering guidance to the HHS secretary on how that agency’s $400 million should be used.

The council is made up of various government health officials, including Dr. Ezekial Emanuel, special advisor on health policy to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also is brother to President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Today’s meeting was the first of at least three listening sessions planned to collect public input on comparative effectiveness research policies. Other sessions are tentatively scheduled for May 6 and May 13 with full details yet to be announced.

Officials said at least one of the meetings would be held outside Washington, D.C.

Supporters of comparative effectiveness research, or CER, say it is needed to provide independent evaluations of various pharmaceutical and technological treatments. Currently, most of that type of research is done by or for the companies that sell the products.

“First and foremost, the CER program provides a unique opportunity for HHS to develop a strong conflict- of-interest policy,” said Steven Findley of Consumers Union, testifying during the council meeting, which was Webcast. “The very reason the CER program was created was because so much industry-funded research fails to provide independent assessment. We urge creating a conflict-free zone for CER from the outset with 100 percent disclosure from both researchers and institutions.”

Harold Miller, president of the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement, told the panel that organizations such as his provide a ready-made infrastructure to help disseminate the information developed from comparative effectiveness research.

“It does very little good to have a lot of comparative effectiveness research if people aren’t aware of it or don’t know how to use it,” he said.

He asked that HHS set aside at least $25 million for regional organizations such as his.

Some who testified said comparative effectiveness research has potential to help eliminate disparities in health care for various minority populations or those with mental illness or other chronic afflictions.

“Our (Hispanic) communities have the worst access to care in this country,” said Elena Rios of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “We believe CER will add to the body of knowledge to reduce disparities.”

But to do that, Rios said, the initiative must also include “effective ways of communicating the results with Hispanic patients and their families.”