Savings from Comparative Effectiveness Research

The May 23rd issue of National Journal has two very interesting pieces about Comparative Effectiveness Research.

Scoring Savings from CER:
The first is in an interview with CBO Director Doug Elmendorf which includes this Q&A about scoring savings from CER:
“NJ: In the first five years after studying comparative effectiveness, are the savings that CBO can find relatively small?
Elmendorf: The estimates that we’ve done in the past suggest that by the 10th year, you are saving about as much as the cost of the research itself.  By the fifth year, you are not.  We would expect there to be savings in the private sector.  The federal government captures only a piece of that through the tax effect.  What I haven’t told you about is the net effect of comparative effectiveness research on national health expenditures.  That will tend to be a net saver for the country sooner.”

CER in Health Reform:
The next article in the NJ issue, (“The Risk of Comparing Treatments”), is about the possible inclusion of a new agency or independent institute to conduct or oversee CER. The legislative fate of such organization may hinge upon how CBO scores increased or continued funding for CER, and as seen above, it seem unlikely that CBO will attribute large savings to CER.

While scored savings from CER may be small, the fight about how CER should be used is getting hot.  The NJ article also discusses two new organizations that sound somewhat similar, but are actually on opposite sides of this issue: The Partnership to Improve Patient Care, and the Alliance for Better Health Care.  The former includes innovative companies and groups from industries such as biotech, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. While the latter includes health insurance plans, physicians and others.

Interestingly, patient organizations are divided between the two, with more disease specific groups who place a high value on the discovery of new treatments are aligning with PIPC, while broader “consumer” organizations that prioritize better information about existing therapies have signed on with ABHC.  Similarly, biomedical researchers could be viewed as split about CER, with academic researchers viewing the $1.1Billion in new CER money in the stimulus bill as a great opportunity for more funding, while industry researchers understand that the use of CER to make reimbursement and coverage decisions could reduce the incentives for investors to fund innovative private sector R&D.

So stay tuned.  The next event in the CER skirmishes will likely be around what the Finance Committee includes in their legislation about a new agency or institute for CER in the bill they are expected to unveil in a week or two.  Look for this issue, and other aspects of CER, to fuel one of the more interesting controversies within the health reform debate this summer.

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