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Employers Interested in Comparative Effectiveness Research, Survey Finds

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

June 22, 2011 -- A survey of 75 employers who provide health insurance to their workers found that they view the new nonprofit institute created to fund comparative effectiveness research as the most reliable source of information on the subject.

The study was sponsored by the National Pharmaceutical Council.

The nonprofit, known as the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), was created by the health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). Its next meeting will be July 18-19 in Washington. About 76 percent of respondents to the online survey said they would rely on PCORI for comparative effectiveness information, compared with 56 percent who would continue to rely on information from their health plan partners, 28 percent who would trust their pharmaceutical benefit managers, and 8 percent who would trust health or benefit news sources.

PCORI is still in its infancy. It has yet to announce which specific conditions it will research and when the results of those studies would be available to employers.

About 45 percent of respondents rated their familiarity with comparative effectiveness research (CER) a three on a five-point scale, signifying that they were "somewhat familiar." Another 32 percent said they were more familiar than that. About 22 percent said that they were less familiar, including 13 percent who said they were not at all familiar with the concept.

On another question, about 52 percent said that the potential for CER findings to improve health benefit decisions is either "strong" or "very strong." Another 33 percent said the potential is "moderate." About 5 percent said the potential is low, while 9 percent said they did not know.

"This survey demonstrates that employers need to be regarded as key stakeholders in the CER conversation," Dan Leonard, president of the National Pharmaceutical Council, said. "Employers have a tremendous appetite for research that can help them understand the comparative benefit of various interventions and yield more value from every health care dollar they spend."

Respondents said that they would use hypothetical CER findings on lower-back pain and diabetes to educate employees about how to make better decisions (with 73 percent of respondents saying they would do that on back pain and 80 percent saying they would do that on diabetes). About 55 percent of respondents also agreed that they would use the findings to change coverage for back pain, and 66 percent said they would use it to change health plan coverage for diabetes.

The National Pharmaceutical Council hired the Benfield Group to conduct the survey. In December 2010, the Benfield Group launched the 15-minute online survey. About 75 people participated, with 81 percent of them saying that they decide or influence decisions about health benefits. To supplement the 75 completed surveys, Benfield completed 25 in-depth interviews with representatives of employers, employer health coalition leaders and employee benefit consultants.

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