Health wonk week in Washington began this past Sunday with thousands of health services researchers descending on the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for the annual research meeting of AcademyHealth. The organization started 25 years ago as the Association for Health Services Research under the late Alice Hersh, who believed health policymaking in Washington should be informed by actual research results. Now headed by David Helms, AcademyHealth celebrated 25 years of health wonkdom with awards to policymakers, researchers, and multiple panels highlighting new health policy research soon coming your way. (Full disclosure – Health Affairs is an “official” journal of the research organization and blogged on a panel on health care consumerism.)

Now we wrap up Washington wonk week with the Health Wonk Review (HWR) here at Health Affairs Blog. For this round-up of the best of health policy blogging, we received many posts on health reform, the effect of health services research on policy making, and on improving information for health care consumers. So, on to the review:

Health Reform

Federal. The big question in Washington – will we have health reform? Indeed, the Senate Finance Committee is hosting a major health policy summit next Monday to look at the prospects. Among the bloggers, Health Wonk Review co-founder Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters looks at the major support level in the Senate and prognosticates that despite some naysaying in the media, “recent developments make it more likely that we’ll see major reform in the next Congress.”

Presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) both have health reform plans this election season. Bob Laszewski of Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review offers a detailed analysis of Obama’s plan, McCain’s plan, and a comparison of the two.

Maggie Mahar of Health Beat offers a two-part series on health reform with a look at a “fresh and interesting” plan by NIH director of bioethics, Ezekiel Emanuel. Maggie says, “I’m not saying it’s the perfect plan, but it certainly provides food for thought.” Here’s Part 1 and Part 2. 

And while they didn’t submit posts to HWR, it wouldn’t be Washington wonk week without a nod to federal health policy bloggers Peter Orszag (Congressional Budget Office Director) and Mike Leavitt (Secretary of Health and Human Services). Orszag writes this week on price transparency in health care. Secretary Leavitt blogs on the current course for Medicare.

States. Not all the health reform action is in Washington, of course. Cato-At-Liberty’s Michael Cannon takes exception to the Urban Institute study hailing the success of Massachusetts’ health reform published last week in Health Affairs. Anthony Wright of Health Access California writes that the biggest opponents to reform might be governors and state legislators cutting Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) funding due to state budget pressures.

Industry. Health care firms are “underappreciated assets in the health reform debate, ” writes David Williams of Health Business Blog. He offers examples of entrepreurs to the rescue. David Harlow of Health Care Law Blog praises a new decision by the Joint Commission to slow down implementation of MS 1.20 — a “cumbersome requirement that all substantive medical staff policies be included in by-laws” which could “hobble a health system working to position itself to better advantage within the market.”

Global. Lessons learned regarding universal coverage are offered by Henry Stern of InsureBlog as he looks across the pond at the U.K. National Health System. 

Research-Based Policymaking

For the thousands of health services researchers in Washington this week, the holy grail is to produce research that helps improve the health care system. Ezra Klein of The American Prospect, in his post on why doctors overprescribe, bemoans the lack of unbiased comparative effectiveness evidence to improve quality.  Michael Millenson blogs on The Health Care Blog about how Consumer Reports is trying to link consumers to the Dartmouth Atlas – “a health services research tour de force.” And Kathlyn Stone of Flesh and Stone writes that studies alone won’t resolve health care disparities.

Washington Policymaking

A slew of new government health policy reports and bills served as targets for many bloggers. Last week Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) new bill, Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (S. 3101), would further delay implemenation of the Medicaid Average Manufacturer Price (AMP) provisions writes Adam Fein of Drug Channels. Fein also takes issue with a new PriceWaterhouseCoopers report on effects of the AMP.

Also delayed–the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT finally released its strategic plan for health IT more than two years late writes David Kibbe on The Health Care Blog. And the 3rd Report to Congress on the Evaluation of the Medicare Coordinated Care Demonstration was just released in June (but dated January) notes Jaan Sidorov of the The Disease Management Care Blog.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and others are floating the idea of an independent government health board, a “federal reserve for health.” Cato’s Michael Cannon believes such a board is not in the best interests of the country. Jose DeJesus of Physician Entrepreneur offers his suggestions as a physician to Sen. Herb Kohl  (D-WI) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who plan to introduce legislation for educational efforts to counterbalance drug advertising programs.

Merrill Goozner of GoozNews takes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to task on conflict-of-interest policies in its list of drug-use compendia. Roy Poses of Health Care Renewal also writes on conflict-of-interest regarding debate surrounding the inquiry launched by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into the use of surrogate endpoints in clinical trials of drugs.

Problems On  The Health Information Front

Achieving interoperable health data sharing has become a national priority, writes Vince Kuraitis of e-CareManagement. But are the incentives there to do so? He writes that Cerner doesn’t want to exchange data with Google Health. Jon Coppelman at Worker’s Comp Insider reports that physicians in Massachusetts aren’t happy with the Group Insurance Commission’s physician grading system. Lawyers are involved.

Daniel Goldberg of the Medical Humanities Blog examines why media coverage of health information is often inaccurate and at odds with the underlying research. And Maggie Mahar and Niko Karvounis write on HealthBeat about the silence surrounding diagnostic errors.

Consumers And Patient Rights

Both CMS and the Joint Commission are taking a hard look at patient rights and how complaints are handled by hospital staff, writes Rita Schwab of MSSPNexux Blog. In another take on patient rights at the end of life, Jason Shafrin of Healthcare Economist asks why doctors are “flogging” terminally ill patients.

To improve quality of care, Joanne Kenen of New Health Dialogue Blog (from the New America Foundation) writes about “health mapping” from a consumer’s point of view. On the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, Louise writes that “health care should be about patients, not profit” in her post on tax breaks and corporate buyout policies in the health sphere.

Lastly, Alisa Miller of NursingDegree offers a list of “50 best medical libraries on the Web” for use by consumers and health wonks alike. Now you can go check out the original research of those thousands of health services researchers in Washington this week.