High-profile issues like the public option and cost containment have been getting a lot of attention in the discussion about healthcare legislation, but there are less-noticed issues that are also important. Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists draws attention to the need to ensure the scientific integrity of the advisory committees that will be established to help federal agencies implement new healthcare laws.

In a letter signed by 20 organizations, UCS calls on the chairs of Congressional committees to require that advisory panels created by the new healthcare legislation actively seek out members without conflicts of interests, require disclosure of members’ names and backgrounds, and require that all information about each advisory panel, including a full audio or video record of each panel meeting, be accessible online.

Here’s the full text of the letter and the list of signatories:

November 3, 2009

Dear Committee Chairs:

Our organizations represent a diverse group of patient, labor, consumer, public interest, scientific integrity, taxpayer, journalism, and transparency advocates.  Although our groups have varied agendas, we all recognize that the pending health care bill has enormous consequences for our respective constituencies.

Congress is poised to pass changes in our health care system that will affect every American family.  As chairman of a key committee working on health care legislation, you have grappled with questions concerning the quality, affordability and accessibility of health care in this country.

Of necessity, this legislation is complicated.  Health care bills in both chambers create several advisory committees to help federal agencies deal with the implementation of this significant new law.

Because these advisory panels will play major roles on issues ranging from immunization practices and clinical research to health care financing and the development of the health care labor force, we urge you to ensure that members of these panels perform their duties with full transparency and free of financial conflicts of interest.

The American public will be ill-served if these advisory committees operate behind closed doors and are influenced by members with financial ties to special interests with a stake in their deliberations.

At a minimum, all advisory panels created by any final health care law should:

  • Require that all information about each advisory panel, including a full audio or video record of each panel meeting, is accessible via the Internet;
  • Actively seek out advisory panel members without conflicts of interest;
  • Assess financial conflicts of interest, and strive to name only non-conflicted experts to advisory committees;
  • When conflicts are unavoidable, require that any waivers given to a conflicted advisory board member and the reasons for granting the waiver are part of the public record; and,
  • Specifically require disclosure of the names and backgrounds of each member, and whether they are serving as experts or to represent particular constituencies.

An effective health care plan depends on advisory committees that give fact-based guidance and operate in full view of the American public.  We urge you to incorporate these reforms into any final bill.


John Gage
National President
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO

Wayne C. Shields
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

Toni Van Pelt
Center for Inquiry

Arthur Aaron Levin, MPH
Center for Medical Consumers

Sheila Krumholz
Executive Director
Center for Responsive Politics

Travis Plunkett
Legislative Director
Consumer Federation of America

William Vaughan
Senior Health Policy Analyst
Consumers Union

Mark P. Cohen, Esq.
Executive Director
Government Accountability Project

J.H. Snider, MBA, Ph.D.

James Love
Knowledge Ecology International

Pete Sepp
Vice President for Policy & Communications
National Taxpayers Union

Rick E. Melberth, Ph.D.
Director of Regulatory Policy
OMB Watch

Patrice McDermott

Judy Norsigian
Executive Director
Our Bodies Ourselves

Progressive Librarians Guild

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project On Government Oversight

Craig Holman, Ph.D.
Government Affairs Lobbyist
Public Citizen

Kevin Smith
Society of Professional Journalists

Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

Larry McNeely
Health Care Advocate
U.S. Public Interest Research Group