Rating Medical Treatments

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A few weeks ago, we discussed President Barack Obama’s plan to create a $634 billion fund for expanding access to health care. That post also covered the president’s proposals for competitive bidding among private Medicare insurance providers and a possible overhaul of how doctors are paid through regular Medicare.

Taking steps to expand health insurance coverage is generally popular with the public, but another element of the Obama administration’s health-care reform aspirations may not receive widespread support. In the economic stimulus package signed by the president in February, $1 billion was dedicated to studying the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments for common diseases and conditions. This information could then be used to regulate which treatments insurance covers and which it does not. Supporters of such regulations argue that our health-care system is overrun with unnecessary tests and unproven procedures that benefit doctors and health providers financially, but that drive up the cost of care for everyone. Skeptics worry that government intervention might limit the ability of doctors to act in their patients’ best interest and could stifle medical innovation.

A recent poll conducted by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health seems to confirm that there are more skeptics than supporters in the general public. Forty-two percent of respondents with an opinion on the topic said they would trust a government health agency “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to determine what treatments deserve health insurance coverage; the remainder said they would trust an agency “just a little” or “not at all.” However, support for a panel of outside scientific experts — rather than a government agency — making such decisions was much greater.

What do you think of a panel of experts deciding which treatments deserve insurance coverage? What else, if anything, should the government do to control the rising cost of health care? And how does your personal experience with diabetes — or any other medical condition — shape your views? Leave a comment below!

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