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Top Medtronic executive joins reform group

Medtronic Inc. has long viewed comparative effectiveness research (CER) with a wary eye.

While publicly supporting the goals of lowering health-care costs, the company fears CER — the idea that the government should pay only for treatments that compare favorably to other therapies — could shut out certain medical devices.

So the company must have been pleased when one of its top executives recently was named to the board of governors of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

A key, if less visible, component of federal health-care reform law, PCORI (an unfortunate acronym if I ever saw one) is a non-profit organization charged with advising the feds on how to fund and prioritize CER efforts. President Obama’s stimulus program already allocated $1.1 billion to CER, including $400 million to the National Institutes of Health to test whether new medical technologies really represent improvements on existing therapies.

PCORI includes a mix of academics, doctors, advocacy groups and industry officials, including Dr. Richard Kuntz, Medtronic senior vice president and chief scientific, clinical and reimbursement officer.

Kuntz, a member of Medtronic’s Executive Committee, essentially runs the joint, overseeing “global regulatory affairs, health policy and reimbursement, clinical research activities, ventures and new therapies, strategy and innovation, corporate development, and acquisitions, integrations and divestitures functions,” according to his company bio. (Try fitting all of that on a business card.)

My guess is that Medtronic takes PCORI very seriously — why else send such an important executive to the group?

But will Kuntz and PCORI get to accomplish anything? In case you haven’t heard, Republicans fared pretty well in the mid-term elections, recapturing the U.S. House and boosting their clout in the Senate.

Republicans have vowed to block the healthcare law by denying or restricting funds to things they don’t like, including more resources for the Internal Revenue Service to make sure people purchase health insurance.

I suspect PCORI won’t fare any better. Throughout the contentious debate over the reform bill, Republicans and some Democrats exhibited disdain for CER, which they equate to rationing of care. (Never mind that’s already happening.) In some circles, CER ranks up there with death panels and socialism.

So congratulations, Dr. Kuntz, on your appointment to PCORI. I hope you get the chance to at least hand out some business cards.

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