January 15, 2009 / 10:16 PM / 11 years ago

US Democrats seek $1 bln to weigh medical products

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic lawmakers proposed on Thursday spending $1.1 billion on research to compare the effectiveness of medical treatments, part of efforts to lower health-care costs for taxpayers.

Pharmaceutical and medical-device companies worry the government funded research will jeopardize billions of dollars of sales for their newest and most lucrative treatments.

The money was included in an $825 billion tax cut and spending bill unveiled by Democrats on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. The proposal is a first step in a plan Congress will consider in the coming weeks.

The research would apply to treatments used by patients in government health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Backers say manufacturers have little incentive to compare their products with competitors to discover which works better, leaving it to the government to step in.

“Finding out what works best and educating patients and doctors will improve treatment and save taxpayers money,” a summary of the stimulus legislation said.

But manufacturers worry the research will favor older and cheaper medicines in a drive to cut costs.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents major drugmakers such as Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N), said it would review the Democrats’ proposal.

Any legislation should “include provisions ensuring (the research) meets patient and provider needs and avoids delaying or denying patient access to beneficial care, as often occurs in Europe,” PhRMA spokesman Ken Johnson said in a statement.

Economists, insurers and the nation’s largest employers have backed the idea of comparative effectiveness research.

U.S. health care spending has tripled over the past four decades and is now more than $2 trillion a year. Half of all long-term health spending growth is linked to technological advances such as new drugs and medical devices, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, numerous reports have detailed how the quality of U.S. health care trails other developed nations.

The stimulus legislation also include $3 billion to fight preventable chronic diseases and infectious diseases. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Andre Grenon)

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