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Obama's health cost guru

Mitchell Seltzer gave some sharp-angled analysis in our first hour this morning on the soaring costs of health care and the administration's new initiative to make the health care industry more efficient.  Seltzer's research on the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments nationwide has influenced White House budget director Peter Orzag. And while his work has mostly flown under the media radar, Seltzer says his findings have “struck Peter and other people in the administration as the opportunity to revolutionize the way care is practiced and paid for."

The stimulus package just signed by President Obama contains a provision setting up a federal advisory council  that will oversee a $1.1 billion program to compare treatment costs. It’s drawn some loud pushback from the right -- a reaction that the Washington Post’s Steve Pearlstein has analyzed. (Also see reactions by The Atlantic's James Fallows here and here.)

We played some tape for Seltzer from Friday’s House stimulus bill debate in which GOP Congressman Wally Herger of California rails against the new federal advisory council:

I also want to call to attention a little known provision tucked into six pages deep inside this 1100-page bill. The Democrats are spending $1.1. billion dollars on a new federal board to conduct health care research. Sounds innocent enough, right? Unfortunately, this provision is the camel’s nose under the tent in the Democrats’ quest to push doctors aside and put Washington in charge of patients’ health treatment options.

Seltzer’s reaction on today's show:

I don’t think so…The greatest unused asset in health care is the clinical intelligence of the medical community. What this data does, and what the administration as I understand my conversations with them does, is to fundamentally look at and examine what are the best practices and how do we pay for them fairly. This has nothing to do with managing care. It has nothing to do with formulating protocol prescriptions for physicians. It says basically, “We know how to identify clinically effective and clinically efficient physicians and services. Let’s pay for those rather than the inefficiency that’s in the system.”

You can listen to the show here. You may be hearing more from and about Seltzer in the weeks and months ahead.

This program aired on February 18, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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