WASHINGTON - Over fierce resistance from the drug industry, Congress is moving to authorize research that systematically compares the effectiveness and cost of top-selling prescription drugs.
Proponents say that if Medicare is to spend $400 billion on new drug benefits over the next 10 years, it should have objective, reliable information about which medicines are most effective.
The House voted last month to provide $12 million to the Public Health Service to conduct "research on the comparative effectiveness" of prescription drugs. The money was in an appropriations bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Drug companies say they fear that such studies will be used to restrict patients' access to medicines perceived as too expensive. But supporters of the research say the research will improve the quality of care. Doctors, patients and insurers need help in making informed choices, said Rep. Doug Bereuter, a Republican from Nebraska.
Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, said the proposal was "absolutely key to reducing the cost of drugs."
"There are many expensive products on the market that are no better than aspirin," said Johnson, the chairwoman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. "We need to be able to demonstrate that and provide senior citizens and all Americans with that information so they can choose the most cost-effective, medically effective pharmaceutical for their particular needs."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, and Reps. Tom Allen, a Democrat from Maine, and Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican from Missouri, have proposed spending $75 million on comparative studies by the National Institutes of Health and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The studies would focus on drugs widely used by Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
But in a memorandum to members of Congress, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the main lobby for brand-name drug companies, said: "Cost-effectiveness analysis in the private sector can provide useful information. When employed by centralized decision makers, however, it often becomes just another term for health care rationing."