The front page of the New York Times Sunday morning had a don’t miss article on the financial incentives behind using CT scans to look for heart disease. Medicare’s decided in March to begin paying for the test despite no evidence that it saves lives (see this GoozNews post). The lobbying campaign by a newly created physicians guild that invests in CT scanning clinics is discussed in the last few paragraphs of the story. That campaign was aided by "entrepreneurial guidelines" touting the procedure, discussed in this GoozNews post.
Here are the two key quotes from the story:
"It’s incumbent on the community to dispense with the need for evidence-based medicine." –Dr. Harvey Hecht, Manhattan cardiologist and CT scan advocate
"There are a lot of technologies, services and treatments that have not been unequivocally shown to improve health outcomes in a definitive manner."–Dr. Barry Straube, chief medical officer, Medicare
Alas, the article does not clearly describe the option that Straube and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services rejected in agreeing to pay for the scans. During Mark McClellan’s tenure at the agency, he instituted a "coverage with evidence development" program. That in-between option would require physicians using heart CT scans to send in results and monitor their patients over time, sending that follow-up data into the agency, too. This would create a database that could be analyzed to see if CT scans for heart disease and subsequent follow-up care actually reduced the incidence of heart disease mortality.
"We didn’t need to be talking about registries and the research," said Daniel S. Berman, president of Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography, a society of 4,700 physicians whose sole purpose is to promote CT angiograms, according to the article.
We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence. We don’t need no stinkin’ registries. We don’t need no stinkin’ research.
New leadership at CMS in the next administration at a minimum must insist on creating electronic registries for every new technology that it pays for where there is not yet clear cut evidence that it works. It also should set firm deadlines for manufacturers to submit well-controlled clinical trials offering definitive proof — or the payments authorized under the coverage-with-evidence-development policy should be revoked.
Merrill Goozner has been writing about economics and health care for many years. The former chief economics correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Merrill has written for a long list of publications including the New York Times, The American Prospect and The Washington Post. His most recent book, "The $800 Million Dollar Pill – The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs " (University of California Press, 2004) has won acclaim from critics for its treatment of the issues facing the health care system and the pharmaceutical industry in particular. Today he has something to say about a familiar topic : the relationship between public sector R&D investment and innovation in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. You can read more pieces by Merrill at Gooznews.com