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AAHF Asks Senate Finance Committee to Prioritize Privacy, Transparency, and Independent Research

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Last week, AAHF contacted the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on proposals to improve patient care and reduce healthcare costs. We asked committee members to look at two sections in particular: Health Information Technology (HealthIT), and Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER).

With regards to the electronic medical records database, we asked them to focus on the privacy of patients’ medical information, not simply on financial incentives and penalties to encourage physician and hospital adoption of the new system. We strongly believe that a patient’s participation in the database needs to be clearly stated as optional, and the patient’s medical information should only be included in this database with informed, active patient consent. An individual is the sole authority of her/his medical information, and no one should have automatic access—including the government.
We also asked for safeguards against health policy decision-makers having financial interests or other conflicts of interest which might inappropriately influence their opinions.
Regarding Comparative Effectiveness Research, we believe CER is an opportunity to bring forth what are truly the “best practices” available. So we asked the committee to ensure full disclosure of all funding sources. The potential for undue influence in this process is tremendous, and any conflict of interest in funding sources will compromise the integrity of the program. Complete transparency on all funding sources, direct and indirect, should be mandatory.
We also asked that truly nondiscriminatory research be conducted—that is, in addition to research on conventional allopathic treatments, we would like to see a portion of the funding dedicated to comparative effectiveness research on integrative medical approaches to health, including such cost-effective, non-invasive therapies as dietary supplements , herbs, acupuncture, customized or compounded medications, diet, exercise, biofeedback, yoga, and reflexology. For CER to be successful, we said, the research must be a truly comparative analysis of the effectiveness of both conventional and alternative methods, without influence from corporate financial interests.
There is some political wrangling going on. The Senate Finance Committee is eager to get their proposals through quickly. They know they’ll have to pay for the program, so they want spending to be more conservative. The HELP Committee (the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) will likely come out with its own healthcare delivery system proposals soon, though what direction they will take is still unknown.
The House of Representatives is expected to take a very different, top-down approach. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will give strong direction to the Ways and Means Committee as well as Energy and Commerce. The House is moving toward a “public plan” for health insurance (a.k.a. “Medicare for everybody”), but the Senate is less in favor of it. Whatever the Senate ends up with may have bipartisan support, but will not be agreeable to the House, and both chambers need to find common ground before anything is completed.
The White House is, at present, providing little guidance, because they don’t want to look like they are pushing something through. They are waiting for the Hill to develop their own proposals with support before weighing in. We will, of course, keep you posted as everything unfolds.

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