Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Palliative Care and the Stimulus Bill

Those interested in how palliative care makes out in health reform (and stimulus bill) discussions should keep an eye on a small (relatively, at $1.1 billion) item in the House version related to effectiveness comparison research.

The $1.1 billion in research funding would be doled out primarily to the National Institutes of Health. President Obama supported research into comparative effectiveness during his campaign. He could launch a new federal Comparative Effectiveness Institute along the lines of the British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Surely, palliative care would be viewed favorably in this context, would it not?

Meanwhile, the drug and medical-device industries are mobilizing to gut this provision in the stimulus bill, portraying it as the first step to government rationing. Interesting, because discussions around "best" end-of-life care inevitably get around to "rationing", as if palliative care were merely a stripped-down version of full-fledged medical care.

Reminds me of the "effectiveness research" done in the mid-90s, when the government's Agency for Health Research Quality suggested that there were too many unnecessary back surgeries. Of course, certain industry groups attacked the conclusion, and Congress at the time slashed the agency's budget and stripped its authority to make Medicare-payment recommendations.