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Critics Question Study Cited in Health Debate

RightinNYC

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Data Used to Justify Health Savings Effort Is Sometimes Shaky - NYTimes.com

In selling the health care overhaul to Congress, the Obama administration cited a once obscure research group at Dartmouth College to claim that it could not only cut billions in wasteful health care spending but make people healthier by doing so. Wasteful spending — perhaps $700 billion a year — “does nothing to improve patient health but subjects you and me to tests and procedures that aren’t necessary and are potentially harmful,” the president’s budget director, Peter Orszag, wrote in a blog post characteristic of the administration’s argument. Mr. Orszag even displayed maps produced by Dartmouth researchers that appeared to show where the waste in the system could be found. Beige meant hospitals and regions that offered good, efficient care; chocolate meant bad and inefficient. The maps made reform seem relatively easy to many in Congress, some of whom demanded the administration simply trim the money Medicare pays to hospitals and doctors in the brown zones. The administration promised to seriously consider doing just that. But while the research compiled in the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care has been widely interpreted as showing the country’s best and worst care, the Dartmouth researchers themselves acknowledged in interviews that in fact it mainly shows the varying costs of care in the government’s Medicare program. Measures of the quality of care are not part of the formula. For all anyone knows, patients could be dying in far greater numbers in hospitals in the beige regions than hospitals in the brown ones, and Dartmouth’s maps would not pick up that difference.

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The mistaken belief that the Dartmouth research proves that cheaper care is better care is widespread — and has been fed in part by Dartmouth researchers themselves. The debate about the Dartmouth work is important because a growing number of health policy researchers are finding that overhauling the nation’s health care system will be far harder and more painful than the Dartmouth work has long suggested. Cuts, if not made carefully, could cost lives.

But the atlas’s hospital rankings do not take into account care that prolongs or improves lives. If one hospital spends a lot on five patients and manages to keep four of them alive, while another spends less on each but all five die, the hospital that saved patients could rank lower because Dartmouth compares only costs before death.

In other words, there is little evidence to support the widely held view, shaped by the Dartmouth researchers, that the nation’s best hospitals tend to be among the least expensive. In interviews, Dr. Fisher and Mr. Skinner acknowledged that there was no proven link between greater spending and worse health outcomes. And Dr. Fisher acknowledged the apparent inconsistency between his statements in interviews with The New York Times and those made elsewhere, saying that he was sometimes less careful in discussing his team’s research than he should be.

So let me get this straight. The Obama administration and others cited this study as proof that it could improve quality of care while cutting costs. In actuality, the study had nothing to do with quality of care. Health care reform relied heavily on the claim that we could cut hundreds of billions in wasteful spending while actually improving care. In actuality, it's likely that those cuts will increase deaths.

I'm reminded of nothing so much as this:

Loop full or part of a YouTube video | EndlessYouTube
 
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