Groups study effectiveness of home oxygen therapy

Sunday, November 26, 2006

YARMOUTH, Maine - Increasing the number of COPD patients that receive home oxygen could save thousands of lives each year, according to a new study in the journal Chest.

Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, found that many COPD patients initially received only 46% of recommended care for routine disease management. That increased to 60% of recommended care when their condition worsened.

About 1 million of the 12 million adults currently diagnosed with COPD are on supplemental oxygen therapy.

A six-year study being launched by CMS, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institutes of Health will determine whether extending coverage to Medicare beneficiaries with moderate COPD will improve quality of life. Currently, Medicare covers home oxygen only for patients with severe COPD.

The study, the Long-term Oxygen Treatment Trial, will examine 3,500 patients with moderate COPD. NHLBI will administer and oversee the study and Medicare will cover costs of items and medical services.

"The prospect that home oxygen therapy could lessen the disability of COPD and perhaps even prolong life when given earlier during the course of the disease is enticing, but we need more information to determine the risks and benefits," said Elizabeth Nabel, director of NHLBI.

In March, Medicare announced it would extend coverage of treatment for Medicare-eligible patients enrolled in the study who would not otherwise be covered.

"Medicare is committed to ensure that beneficiaries have access to the most appropriate treatments based on the best available science," said Barry Straube, CMS chief medical officer. "The results of this study will improve our understanding of the effects of oxygen treatment in a broader group of COPD patients and will help guide our policy decisions."

Study participants will be randomly selected to receive or not receive supplemental oxygen for three years, begging in late 2007. All participants will be monitored; those who are not initially chosen to receive oxygen will be prescribed oxygen if their blood levels worsen during the study.