What If ‘Comparative Effectiveness’ were applied to cheeseburgers?

The Examiner (Washington, D.C.), February 6, 2009
A shocking new provision was discovered today in the $825 billion stimulus package recently passed by the House of Representatives. Hidden half-way down page 538 is a clause that would provide $1.1 billion to help government bureaucrats compare the effectiveness of various cheeseburgers.

The provision was discovered by a congressional aide, who is also accusing his boss of torture for making him read the 647-page bill in its entirety.

As it turns out, the language of the “cheeseburger effectiveness” clause is virtually identical to a better-known provision in the bill that applies to medicine. The only apparent difference between the two clauses is that one uses the word “cheeseburgers” throughout, whereas the other uses terms like “medical treatments.”

Congressional watchdogs quickly linked the cheeseburger clause to Rep. Norman Busybody, whose family owns Planet Taco, the third-largest fast-food chain in Texas.

“Many restaurants routinely pressure consumers into ordering a more expensive newfangled burger, even when it doesn’t represent a clear improvement in flavor over previous burgers.”

Rep. Busybody insists that his cheeseburger effectiveness provision will solve this crisis – just as the comparative effectiveness provision will help solve the healthcare crisis.

“There are too many burgers on the market. Patrons are confused by all the choices out there,” he says. “They anguish over whether they should order a Big Mac or a Whopper. Soon after my law is passed, there will be only one burger on all fast-food menus. It will be made from tofu and taste horrible, so people will probably just eat tacos instead.”

Under the new program, government researchers will be charged with testing new sandwiches in three classes – chicken, fish, and beef – before they hit the marketplace. They’ll check for such features as flavor, texture, general aesthetic appeal, possible side-effects, and nutritional value. Tacos will be exempt from all testing.

Fast-food restaurants worry the government-funded research will put billions of dollars from the sales of their newest and most lucrative sandwiches in jeopardy. They fear the research will be followed by regulation that would ban most cheeseburgers from the market as part of a congressional effort to lower overall food costs.

Rep. Busybody says their fears are warranted. His staff is currently working on follow-up legislation that would ban the three most problematic types of burgers:

1) ‘Me-too’ burgers, which have fancy names, but are no better tasting than other cheeseburgers already on the market;

2) Marginally-improved burgers, like the Triple-Decker, which costs a dollar more than the Double Quarter Pounder, but is only slightly more satisfying;

3) Frequently ineffective burgers, like the Fish-and-Pickles, which some people love, but many find disgusting.

Many in Congress have already come out in support of the cheeseburger measure within just hours of its discovery.

“If comparative effectiveness research can save the country money for medicine, then why not apply it to cheeseburgers, as well?” says Rep. Stanley Toetheline, who last week paid $200,000 in backtaxes upon his nomination to the House Ethics Committee.

Some consumers disagree. “Most days I order a Chicken Cheddar. But sometimes I want a Biggie Bacon,” says Joe Hartattak, a fork-lift operator from Kansas who eats fast food five times a week. “Some of my friends prefer the Double Trouble. We’re all different – so choice is important to us.”

Rep. Busybody disagrees. “People like Hartattak are just country bumpkins – the kind of fools who actually pay their taxes. They need smart government bureaucrats – people like me – to micromanage their lives.”

Other supporters say the research will help protect consumers like Hartattak from buying cheeseburgers that may not be worth the extra money.

Federal officials are already exploring a scheme to make findings from the studies binding by prohibiting “Travel & Entertainment” tax deductions for the purchase of unapproved burgers.

“If we’re to get profiteering burger-companies under control, this comparative-effectiveness research effort has to have some teeth,” says the administration’s newly appointed Burger Czar Ron Machater. “The tax penalty will ensure that restaurants can’t rip off consumers with overpriced products.”

Backers of the research provision say restaurants don’t have the incentive to compare their burgers with those of competitors. “Consumers are in the dark when it comes to figuring out which burger tastes best. Clearly, only the government has the resources and objectivity necessary to make an effective selection between the Big Mac and the Whopper,” says Machater, who admits to being a vegetarian.

In fact, Machater believes that fast-food television commercials – also known as “direct-to-burger-eater advertising” – should be banned altogether. “These ads hypnotize unsuspecting couch-potatoes into making late-night trips to White Castle.”

The burger effectiveness legislation is modeled after Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness (NICE) – an agency that evaluates medical treatments and then decides which ones the British health care system will cover.

Critics argue that in its zeal to save money, NICE often denies patients access to life-saving medicines. Last year, for example, NICE was widely criticized after it announced that four breakthrough drugs would not be covered for people with kidney cancer. As of today, only one of those drugs has been approved and it was just recently. Not surprisingly, Britain dramatically trails the United States in cancer survival rates.

Rep. Busybody says that Britain’s nightmare experience with “comparative effectiveness” doesn’t worry him. “Just because this model has been an abject failure in Britain doesn’t mean it won’t work here,” he says. “We’re on untrodden territory here – no one has ever tried this with cheeseburgers before.”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top