Early Reality Check on Comparative Effectiveness

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  • 07/02/2007
Here's MedPac's upbeat message on how evidence based medicine will revolutionize health care. It will lead to

"[increased] federal administrative spending relative to current law" due to "increasing the capacity to examine the comparative effectiveness of health care services," and "[improved] decision making by patients, providers, and payers" due to "information on the comparative effectiveness of health care services."

Cut to the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Ways and Means hearing on developing a new reimbursement system for Erythropoiesis-stimulating Agents (ESAs), for a reality check. In particular, the statement of Alan S. Kliger, M.D., President, Renal Physicians Association, Rockville, Maryland on "Variability in ESRD Patient Hemoglobin Levels"

"Recent studies warn that kidney failure patients should not have high blood counts, noting that a group of patients with high blood counts in general carried a higher risk than patients with lower blood counts. But my experience with one of my patients shows how patient-centered care sometimes should deviate from guideline-advised care. I have a 52-year-old patient who is in kidney failure. When his blood count is less than 36 percent, he feels tired and washed out and experiences chest pain. When EPO raises his blood count to 38 percent, he feels like a healthy man; he functions better and feels more productive. The differences are so prominent to him that he tells me what his blood count is before I have a chance to measure it. For this particular patient, a higher blood count is what he needs in order to function normally. My patient knows that the recent studies warn about the long-term side effects of these higher blood counts, but he also knows he needs these levels to function normally. His choice and mine for enough EPO to maintain higher blood counts is the right choice.

RPA believes that in the recent discourse on national coverage of EPO, the critical issue of variability of individual patient response to EPO dose has been understated. As we have noted in correspondence to CMS, attempts to assess or quantify individual sensitivities (i.e. responsiveness) to EPO at a narrow level have not been successful.

Therefore, there is no single, predictable response to a given dose of EPO, a fact that accounts for the wide range in individual responses to treatment. As a result, in the aggregate it is physiologically not rational to tailor a normal distribution of patient responses to a payment limit: such a paradigm cannot be successful in delivering optimal treatment with sophisticated agents to complicated patients.

Payment limits structured in this fashion place emphasis on the wrong arm of therapy: emphasis should be placed rather on reducing the number of patients with low hematocrits/hemoglobins (<30%/10 gm/dL). "


MedPAC and the rest of the comparative effectiveness club are ignoring the human consequences of one size fits all decisions such as these or the denial of cancer and Alzheimer's care in the UK, Canada, Australia. The focus is on the structure of the center, the funding, furniture, color schemes, resumes, etc.

The comparative effectiveness movement will, like the Clinton health plan, be undone, by it's arrogance, high-handedness and contempt for the doctor-patient relationship.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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