Headlines: December 7, 2009
by Meg Larkin
With the Senate in session over the weekend, President Obama encouraged Senate Democrats, on Sunday, to overcome the party’s divisions and pass health reform legislation. Senators have redoubled their efforts to build consensus on a health care bill, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid naming ten Senators to seek a compromise on the controversial public option. However, even as the Senate is pushing to pass health reform by the end of the year, Drugmakers’ support for the legislation is being tested. The pharmaceutical industry may have to pay between $100 billion and $140 billion under the Senate or the House bill respectively, which is a far cry from the $80 billion they agreed to pay in meetings with the White House earlier in the year. However, according to the Washington Post, Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said, "The numbers are still in the same ballpark, . . . And we're still committed to making health care reform a reality this year."
On Saturday, the Senate by a vote of 53 to 41 approved a measure that would cut Medicare spending on home health services. The cuts will affect “payments to home health agencies that provide nursing care and therapy to homebound Medicare beneficiaries.” Although the Saturday session was somewhat unusual, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “said the Senate had to meet on Saturday so it could finish work on the bill before the end of the year.” In other governmental news, the White House is being urged by some lawmakers to reinstate a program to help states that are home to nuclear plants stockpile thyroid medication. In the event of a nuclear incident, potassium iodide helps prevent damage to the thyroid from radiation. The Bush Administration had claimed that evacuation was more effective than stockpiling the drug as a justification for ending the program.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an extensive review has found no adverse effects from vaccination against H1N1. “No substantial differences between H1N1 and seasonal influenza vaccines were noted in the proportion or types of serious adverse events reported.”’ In 1976 vaccination against swine flu was found to increase the risk of developing a rare neuromuscular problem, but no such issues have surfaced with respect to the current vaccine. In other regulatory news, the F.D.A. has warned against the use of a sterilization device. Problems with the device could lead to patients being infected from non-sterile instruments.
After delays due in large part to questions of jurisdiction, a vaccine to combat E coli in beef has been approved for sale. However, the vaccine is expensive, and it is unclear who will bear the cost of vaccinating animals that will eventually make their way in to the food supply. In the field of human pharmaceuticals, there are growing concerns over drug companies paying people to donate their plasma. Companies that manufacture drugs that use plasma often set up donation centers in low-income areas, often attracting economically disadvantaged people from Mexico or inner cities. Due to the economic down turn, former blood donors are now turning to plasma donation because of the compensation. Drug companies insist that they are compensating the donors for their time, not for the plasma itself. Some people are concerned that paying people for their plasma donations may decrease the quality of the plasma because donors will not disclose existing health conditions.
Meg Larkin is a second year student at Boston University School of Law. Any comments, questions, or suggestions are welcome via email.