Headlines: November 18, 2009
by Meg Larkin
While Harry Reid continues to promise a health reform bill by the end of the week, that prospect is looking more and more unlikely. According to the Wall Street Journal, Republicans will probably filibuster a motion to proceed, which would prevent debate on a proposed bill. Reid would need 60 votes (all 58 Democrats and 2 Independents) to be able to override the filibuster and begin debate. Three Senate Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana are still undecided as to whether they will vote with the other Democrats to allow debate on the legislation to proceed. If and when a bill is produced, it may contain a new program that would help provide long-term care for seniors. Participation in the program would be voluntary, and the program would be funded through deductibles paid by participating members for a minimum of five years before withdrawing benefits. The benefits of up to $50 a day could be used to offset the costs of nursing homes or to subsidize home-care. Critics claim that the program would be financially unsound because healthy people would be unlikely to enroll in the program, leaving the government to absorb the costs of caring for the ill.
Furthermore, according to the LA Times, the deal that the White House brokered with drug companies at the beginning of the proposed health care overhaul may be falling apart. Many congressional democrats see the deal as too generous to the pharmaceutical companies, and want to force the drug companies to give bigger discounts to the federal government when it purchases drugs for low-income people on Medicare. This comes on the heels of an AARP study that found that prices for the most popular brand name drugs are rising at the fastest rate since the group started tracking it in 2002. Industry representatives claim that imposing more costs on drug makers will stifle innovation and “stall medical progress for future generations.”
Research and Science:
New screening guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services are sending shock waves through the breast cancer community. The guidelines, which recommend women don’t start getting mammograms until age 50 and even then to only get screened once every two years until after the age of 74, are a radical departure from most current guidelines that recommend annual screening starting at age 40. Some are concerned that the findings will reduce insurance coverage for the procedure in women under 50, while others argue that regardless of some inaccurate results, early detection can save lives. The guidelines still recommend earlier mammograms for women with certain high risk factors, but are aimed at reducing the risks associated with overtreatment.
In other cancer related news, a new study is examining a new delivery method for chemotherapy designed to treat glioblastoma; the type of brain cancer that killed Senator Kennedy this summer. The new technique uses microcatheters to deliver chemotherapy directly in to the brain. It is currently in Phase 1 testing, meaning that it is being examined for safety in humans. In screening news, it may be better to wake up early for a colonoscopy. A new study by a researcher at the University of California has found that more polyps are detected during colonoscopies that take place earlier in the day.
A new miniature heart pump has the potential to prolong and improve the lives of heart failure patients. In a new study it was found to increase the number of patients who survived more than two years as compared to an older heart pump model. However, the device currently costs around $80,000 with an additional $45,000 needed for the surgery to install it and hospital recovery time. The pump has the potential to significantly impact the quality of life for patients with heart failure who are unsuitable for a heart transplant.
Finally, deCODE, the company that famously compiled the genetic data of almost everyone in Iceland has gone bankrupt. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The company ran out of cash and collapsed under the weight of more than $200 million in debt.” According to the New York Times, the primary reason for deCODE’s collapse is scientific. Although they were successful in identifying genes that were linked to diseases, natural selection was efficient in eliminating those genes, and so they were linked to very few of the overall incidences of the disease.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please email her with any comments, questions, or suggestions.