PCORI: What works best?

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), an independent nonprofit, nongovernmental organization located in Washington, DC, was authorized by Congress in 2010.

Our mandate is to improve the quality and relevance of evidence available to help patients, caregivers, clinicians, employers, insurers, and policy makers make informed health decisions. Specifically, we fund comparative clinical effectiveness research, or CER, as well as support work that will improve the methods used to conduct such studies.

The goal of our work is to determine which of the many healthcare options available to patients and those who care for them work best in particular circumstances. We do this by taking a particular approach to CER called Patient-Centered Outcomes Research, or PCOR, research that addresses the questions and concerns most relevant to patients, and we involve patients, caregivers, clinicians, and other healthcare stakeholders, along with researchers, throughout the process.

From the 2015 Financial Report

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute was authorized in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 1301 et seq.) (Act) to “assist patients, clinicians, purchasers, and policy- makers in making informed health decisions by advancing the quality and relevance of evidence concerning the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, monitored, and managed through research and evidence synthesis.” It does this by supporting comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) projects designed to answer questions most important to patients. PCORI is also charged with disseminating the results of that research, focusing on “health outcomes, clinical effectiveness, and appropriateness of the medical treatments, services, and items” studied.

PCORI is a 501(c)(1) tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation, governed by a 21-member multi-stakeholder Board of Governors, including 19 members appointed by the Comptroller General of the United States. By law, the Comptroller General must appoint three members representing patients and healthcare consumers; seven members representing physicians and providers; three members representing private payers; three members representing pharmaceutical, device and diagnostic manufacturers or developers; one member representing quality improvement or independent health services researchers; and two members representing the federal government or the states (including at least one member representing a federal health program or agency). The Act also provides that the Directors of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or their designees, be members of the Board.

How We're Funded

PCORI is funded through the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund (PCOR Trust Fund), which was established by Congress through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. The PCOR Trust Fund receives income from three funding streams:  appropriations from the general fund of the Treasury, transfers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid trust funds, and a fee assessed on private insurance and self-insured health plans (the PCOR fee).

PCORI receives 80 percent of the monies collected by the PCOR Trust Fund to support its research funding and operations. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) receives the other 20 percent of trust fund monies to support dissemination and research capacity-building efforts (the majority of HHS’s share goes to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).

For government fiscal years (FYs) 2010 through 2012, the PCOR Trust Fund received a total of $210 million total in appropriations from general fund revenues. For FYs 2013 through 2019, the PCOR Trust Fund will receive $150 million from the general fund annually.


Re-evaluating the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

By Zeke Emanuel, Topher Spiro, Thomas Huelskoetter
Center for American Progress, May 31, 2016

The ACA established PCORI with a clear mandate to carry out the “funding of comparative clinical effectiveness research” over 10 years. PCORI was to focus distinctly on CER and not duplicate the types of research funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institutes of Health, or other entities. However, a Center for American Progress analysis in 2014 found that only one-third of PCORI’s funding was going toward CER.

PCORI studies should have the potential to change clinical treatment decisions or insurers’ coverage determinations. Yet to date, this potential impact on the nation’s health care system has not been fully realized. With PCORI only authorized through 2019, the institute is running out of time to make a significant impact on CER.

Cumulatively since its inception, PCORI has invested 51 percent of its almost $1.4 billion in grant funding in CER, totaling $716 million.

To evaluate whether PCORI’s funding was directed toward high-impact research areas, CAP examined how many of its awards addressed research questions that the Institute of Medicine identified as the top 25 highest-priority CER topics. In fairness, this is not the only relevant ranking of CER needs, and priorities may have evolved since the IOM list was published in 2009. However, the IOM list serves as an authoritative, independent rubric by which to judge whether PCORI is focusing on the most critical evidence gaps in medicine.

In its previous analysis, CAP found that only 12 percent of PCORI’s grants and 14 percent of its grant funding went toward research topics in the IOM’s top quartile. In the new CAP analysis, this first figure declined to 4 percent of grants. However, the percentage of funding allocated to the IOM topics increased to 18.5 percent. IOM top-quartile priority topics cumulatively represent 16 percent of PCORI’s funding to date, representing relatively little change from CAP’s previous analysis.

In response to this analysis, PCORI asserts that 72 percent of the IOM’s top 25 topics have been addressed by a PCORI-funded study, along with 62 percent of the IOM’s top 100 topics. Yet this alternate framing of the issue still leaves almost 30 percent of the top quartile and almost 40 percent of the top 100 unaddressed after several years. Furthermore, this metric explains nothing about whether these studies involved significant or merely minimal funding. Many of these research topics concern broad areas of medicine where many studies are needed; as a result, CAP feels it is important not only that high-impact research topics be addressed but that a significant percentage of PCORI’s funding be connected to such topics.

Thus far, PCORI has not made the impact on the health care system that the drafters of the Affordable Care Act envisioned. The need for CER remains urgent, and PCORI still has the potential to help reduce health care costs and improve the quality of care.


Report: Federally funded institute avoids comparing drugs, other treatments

By Jane O’Donnell
USA Today, May 31, 2016

An institute that pays researchers to compare medical treatments has spent only half of its more than $1.4 billion in available federal money on what is called comparative effectiveness research and has largely ignored prescription drugs, despite their role in driving up health care costs, according to a study released Tuesday by a Washington-based policy group.

PCORI has been criticized since it first appeared in the legislation that became the ACA. Although CER had bipartisan support, the institute got caught in the politics surrounding what Republican former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called "death panels" that could decide who received medical treatment.

Now despite widespread concerns about rising drug costs, CER is being attacked by patient groups supported by the pharmaceutical industry that claim the research could limit access to some life-saving drugs.

Congress limited the ability of PCORI to consider costs when comparing health care, drugs or prioritizing research studies.

Patient groups, which are nearly always backed by pharmaceutical companies, are major players in what PCORI decides to research. That can limit the focus on finding lower-cost options, which could hurt the profitability of the companies that pay for the patient groups.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization authorized by the Affordable Care Act and funded predominantly by the federal government. They in turn fund comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER), especially through Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR). The purpose is to determine the relative effectiveness of various clinical approaches, including the comparison of drug therapies. But Congress specifically prohibited a comparison of costs.

Some readers of yesterday’s report on the ICER (Institute for Clinical and Economic Review) were concerned about the potential conflict of interest that could result from the involvement of various stakeholders. The same concern could be expressed about PCORI. Although we have no reason to doubt the integrity of the individuals involved in these organizations, it would be preferred that their organizations have an infrastructure that did not include the influence of vested interests.

An additional concern regarding PCORI is the interference by Congress in preventing crucial determinations about cost effectiveness. Transparency in pricing is essential if we are to ensure value in our health care purchasing.

Another unique feature of PCORI is that it is only a ten year program, scheduled to end in 2019. It is astonishing that members of the policy community, working with Congress, could ever think that we could complete all important comparative effectiveness research by 2019, and that future drugs and technology would not require such reviews.

Just as with ICER, PCORI is under attack by conservatives and by stakeholders, motivated by ideology and by greed. Once again, it appears that, with their influence, the patient is not always being kept foremost in our policy decisions.

We want health care that is the most effective and with the fairest prices. We don’t want health care that gives the most powerful stakeholders a greater advantage in the health care marketplace while also ensuring them a maximum return on their investments. ICER and PCORI seem to be above that, but 100 percent public funding without stakeholder involvement in governance could give us further assurance that their work product is strictly in the patients’ best interests.