This week, the New York Times magazine ran an extended interview with President Obama on his economic program, while The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza profiled Obama’s budget director, Peter Orzsag. Both pieces devoted considerable attention to health care reform, and made clear that despite the urgency of dealing with automobile bailouts, financial regulation, housing, and the overall economy, health care remains the Administration’s top legislative priority. But what was striking was that neither piece devoted much attention to the issue of the uninsured and the challenge of expanding coverage to the 45-50 million Americans who currently lack insurance. Instead, the health care issue uppermost in the minds of Obama and Orszag, and the policy proposal on which their initiative seems to hinge, is something most Americans have likely never heard of – comparative effectiveness research.
The term refers to the emerging effort to identify which medical treatments and procedures can be shown to have the most cost-effective outcomes in making people healthier, and to find ways to promote medical decision-making in line with these findings. For the Administration, comparative effectiveness research is the key to health care reform because it provides the possibility of expanding access to care while reining in health care spending, which is essential for the nation’s long-term fiscal stability.
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