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Orszag Says CBO Will Expand Work on Health Matters

By Mary Agnes Carey, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

March 12, 2007 -- A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) health care advisory panel will provide information on the latest health care research and analysis to help CBO as it expands its work on health related matters, CBO Director Peter R. Orszag said Monday.

In an interview with Congressional Quarterly reporters and editors, Orszag said the CBO's role on health will be critical for Capitol Hill because no other agency supporting Congress has as broad a view of health care.

Controlling health care costs is a key focus for Orszag, who described the issue as "the fundamental challenge facing the federal government." He called the projected growth in health costs "unsustainable" and said the government must address the problem soon. "I would hope we do something, whatever it is," Orszag said. "We need to try different things" and evaluate the results.

The CBO health panel, composed of experts from the academic and health care communities, will conduct its first meeting in May. Members include former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan, now visiting senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute–Brookings Joint Center; former CBO director Robert Reischauer, now president of the Urban Institute; and Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis.

The experts will provide the latest thinking on hot health topics such as the comparative analysis of health care drugs and treatments, and how to expand the use of health care information technology. "We're always looking at new evidence," Orszag said. The panel, however, will not issue recommendations.

In the interview, Orszag reiterated CBO's position that House-passed legislation (HR 4) that would require the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to negotiate prescription drug prices would do little to lower costs because it would bar the government from setting up a formulary or restricting access to drugs as a way of leveraging lower prices.

"Just showing up and saying 'we're from the government and would like a lower price' doesn't help very much," he said.

When the House considered the bill in January, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., said the CBO reached that conclusion "because they know full well that this secretary probably won't negotiate on [Medicare beneficiaries'] behalf." Dingell then promised that Democrats would hold the administration accountable if it did not lower prices. "We will give [the secretary] and the others in the administration the oversight they have lacked for six years," he said.

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