Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) speaking at the 2016 National Rx Drug Abuse Summit. (Image: House.gov)
By Jonathan Larsen
A decades-old federal storehouse of treatment and prescription guidelines for the medical profession will be gone as of Monday. And a powerful congressman who led the charge against it scooped up shares last year in stocks of companies that stand to benefit, federal records show.
The deletion of the guidelines stands to benefit pharmaceutical and medical-supply companies that can now fill the vacuum by disseminating replacement guidelines recommending treatments that maximize their profits. According to a recent report, Guidelines.gov averaged 200,000 visits per month.
Screengrab from Guidelines.gov taken July 15, 2017
House Appropriations member and former Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who spent years targeting the agency that ran Guidelines.gov, dramatically increased his ownership of health-industry stocks last year, federal records show.
Guidelines.gov had been maintained by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which announced on April 13 that the guidelines would be shut down due to lack of federal funding. President Trump last year appointed as AHRQ director a Bush administration veteran with a background in health data but no apparent experience in medical practice or research.
Earlier this year, the president’s budget called for eliminating AHRQ entirely. It’s not clear whether the White House understood it might be eliminating 20 years worth of medical guidance for American doctors, hospitals, and patients. But Rogers knew.
In 2015, when he was Appropriations Committee chairman, Rogers spoke out in support of an appropriations bill that would have eliminated AHRQ. Rogers said it would “reduce wasteful spending.” In a letter four days later, the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery told Rogers that Guidelines.gov was “essential to dissemination of our [guidelines] to ensure they are viewed by all stakeholders.”
Some stakeholders have not been happy about the guidelines. Back in the 1990s, back surgeons took offense to guidelines favoring nonsurgical approaches to back pain. The federal guidelines have been a political target ever since.
Last year, the budget for Guidelines.gov was reduced from $2.1 million to $1.2 million. The AHRQ is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is headed by former Eli Lilly U.S. President Alex Azar.
According to his 2017 assets filing, Rogers does not own stock in Eli Lilly, but his portfolio went from nine health industry stocks in January last year to include at least 19 by the end of December. In May of last year, Politico included Rogers in a report on congressional stock trading that posed conflicts of interest.
AHRQ has said some unnamed entities have expressed interest in continuing the guidelines clearinghouse, but as of Sunday, none had come forward to do so.
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