Medicaid/Medicare rapid learning network could cut costs, find better treatments

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A group of health policy experts is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to support the development of a rapid learning network that would share clinical information on Medicare and Medicaid patients to learn what medical treatments work best.

In an open letter to the government, experts have called for state governments and the private sector to join with the federal government in financing the proposed network, which would require greater spending on health IT for Medicaid, reported Government Health IT.

Proponents of the network suggested it could begin by sharing data on the low-income elderly patients whose care is funded by both Medicare and Medicare.

These so-called "dual eligibles" often are excluded from clinical trials of new drugs and devices because of their age and because many suffer from more than one serious health condition--resulting in minimal guidance on how best to treat their conditions, according to Lynn Etheredge, consultant, and one of the experts who signed the letter to Congress.

However, people with multiple chronic health conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure account for a disproportionately large share of government health spending. The seven million dual-eligibles represent 40 percent of Medicaid spending and 25 percent of Medicare spending, he said, adding that the expectation of the network would be to reduce expenditures.

Etheredge, a former health policy leader with the federal Office of Management and Budget, also called for changes in federal policy that would require researchers who receive federal funds to make de-identified data from their studies available to other researchers, according to Government Health IT.

"Government support of data-sharing networks and policies requiring the sharing of data would speed the nation's search for better and less expensive ways to treat diseases," Etheredge said.