Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Politicizing of Preventive Health Care: Whither the US Preventive Health Services Task Force?

Here comes the camel nose!
Kudos to JAMA for tackling what the Disease Management Care Blog has been saying for years: now that the Washington DC's camel nose is under the tent, there is no way health insurance coverage - and the care it pays for - isn't going to become politicized.

That's the bigger issue in this just-published article by Steven Wolf and Doug Campos-Outcalt. They're focusing on the political pressure that is being brought to bear on US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). As readers may recall, the Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to fully cover screening services that are deemed effective by the USPSTF. Drs. Wolf and Campos-Outcalt point out that politics rudely intruded on the USPSTF's determination that the evidence supporting mammography for women under age 50 years was lacking. The resulting firestorm not only prompted Congress to not only waive the USPHSTF recommendation, but led some of its members to question the Task Force's integrity.

As academics writing in peer-reviewed journals are wont to do, the authors suggest that this can be remedied by another layer of bureaucracy. They want a new "firewall" committee to be inserted between the "pure" evidence-based USPHSTF and the "political" fisticuffs of the public square.  It'd be the job of this a new entity to insulate USPHSTF by reconciling the proof and the politics prior to the upload of the final recommendations to the mandarins that are running CMS.

"Another committee?" asks the dismayed DMCB. While that would end the Obamacare fiction that health reform was ever going to be truly "based on science," the real Achilles heel of the JAMA proposal is that it literally doubles the opportunity for political meddling. The smartest political operatives will see this as a target-rich environment and naturally seek to influence all of the committees with any jurisdiction over the medical-industrial complex of laboratory medicine, radiological imaging and medical devices.

The DMCB has bad news for its colleagues who thought that they could have the Washington DC "cake" of enlightened government involvement along with the "icing" of scientific independence. Uncle Sam's been given a clinical inch and now he'll take a political mile to influence clinical guidelines and define standards of care with a one-size-fits-all mentality sprinkled with a healthy dose of cronyism.  Surprise!

The DMCB has an alternative solution: CMS should tread very carefully when it comes to insurance design.  Congress needs to reengineer the preventive health part of the ACA. Instead of building new infrastructure to make up for the emerging failures of the old infrastructure, Washington should be pushing benefit design down, not up, to the local level. It can partner with commercial health insurers to assure that the USPSTF recommendations are considered, but with local committee assessments of market demand, provider opinion and community input to determine what's best for its covered population. It should do this while simultaneously promoting the use of shared decision making to help every patient ponder for themselves when testing is in their best interest.
Let a thousand flowers bloom.

Image from Wikipedia

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