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HHS Nominee Tom Price Targeted Panel That Urged Fewer Cancer Screenings

By ProPublica  
   February 01, 2017

Earlier this month, Blackburn re-introduced legislation that would, among other things, add specialists to the panel. The group currently consults with specialists in the areas they are reviewing. Critics of the proposed bill say specialists are not ideal to perform the task force's broad array of evidence reviews, and adding them could create conflicts of interest. "There is considerable support for 'draining the swamp' in Washington," Welch wrote in testimony he submitted for the hearing. "But there is no swamp currently in the task force. Please don't create one."

Questions sent to Price's office were answered by Ryan Murphy, who is currently an HHS adviser. Murphy was most recently communications director for the House Budget Committee, of which Price is chairman.

"Dr. Price's concerns — shared by others as you noted — were with specific recommendations made by the task force," Murphy said. "As a physician, Dr. Price knows firsthand the value of scientific research as well as how important it is to ensure patients and their doctors are able to make choices regarding treatments that they agree are in the best interest of the individual patient."

Price has embraced task force findings that recommend more treatment. In 2014, for example, he co-signed a letter to the HHS secretary and the Medicare administrator asking that Medicare expand its coverage for lung cancer screenings for smokers based on task force recommendations.

With the shifts in power both in Congress and under the Trump administration, proponents of the task force fear setbacks in the decades-long push for evidence-based medicine. The task force has 96 current recommendations, which it routinely updates. Its $11.6 million budget is funded through HHS's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which has been on the lawmakers' chopping block in the past. If confirmed, Price or congressional Republicans could reduce the task force's influence or independence, or cut its funding.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

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