Headlines: December 9, 2009
by Meg Larkin
The ten Senators that Majority Leader Harry Reid asked to find a compromise on the controversial public option have made their decision. Although the details haven’t been released, it looks as though people from 55 to 64 will be allowed to “buy in” to Medicare, and a federal agency would negotiate with private insurers to offer national health benefit plans. If private insurance plans are unsuccessful in bringing health insurance coverage to a significant number of Americans, then the government plans to offer a new insurance plan similar to the public option that was in the original Senate bill. In the same article, the New York Times mentioned that an amendment banning coverage for abortions under plans that would insure many Americans was rejected by the Senate with Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voting with 50 Democrats and two Independents to “kill the proposal.” Senator Reid was heard to say, “This is a health care bill, It’s not an abortion bill, we can’t afford to miss the big picture.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has ruffled feathers this week by accusing Republicans of using obstructionist tactics, and comparing those stalling the health care overhaul to people in government who delayed freeing the slaves and giving women the right to vote. GOP Chairman Michael Steele has demanded that Reid apologize. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, has sent letters to medical and disease trade organizations including the AMA and the American Cancer Society asking them to disclose the amount of money they receive from drug and device makers. The AMA and the American Cancer Society have said that they are eager to cooperate.
According to the LA Times, parents of children with autism are turning to alternative therapies that may actually be dangerous. Some doctors are claiming that they can treat or cure autism, but an investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that much of this “treatment” amounts to uncontrolled experimentation on children. According to the CDC, 1 of every 100 children are diagnosed with “autism spectrum disorder” before the age of 8. In the Washington DC area, parents are turning to expensive private schools to help their autistic children learn how to interact with other people. Dissatisfied by the approach taken by public schools, parents are willing to pay the $35,000 per year tuition of the Auburn School and similar institutions in order to help their children learn social skills.
In the world of pharmaceutical manufacturers, Bio Cryst, the company that makes flu medication peramivir has elected Charles Sanders to its board of directors. Sanders comes by way of the boards of two other pharmaceutical companies; Glaxo, Inc. and Squibb Corp., which have both been merged in to larger companies in the past few years. In other pharmaceutical news, a new chemotherapy drug, Fotolyn, has been approved by the FDA. The drug costs about $30,000 per month to treat peripheral T-cell lymphoma. Many wonder if patients or the health care system can afford such a high cost. The drug has not been proven to prolong life, but it has made progress in shrinking tumors. According to the New York Times, “Dr. Lee N. Newcomer, senior vice president for oncology at the big insurer UnitedHealthcare, called the price of Folotyn “unconscionable.” He said that Folotyn alone would cost as much as UnitedHealthcare now typically spends in total to treat a lymphoma patient from diagnosis until death.”
In global health news, a cholera epidemic is sweeping across Kenya. Due to a draught in the northern part of the country, many people are being forced to survive off of unsanitary water, which is how cholera spreads. The government of Kenya has requested $7.5 million for medicine and testing kits, but many in the country have criticized the government’s response as coming too late. In other health news, an effort to eradicate guinea worm in Nigera, once the most infected country, appears to have worked. The effort to eradicate guinea worm was led by the Carter Center, an organization started by former US President Jimmy Carter. It will take the World Health Organization two years to confirm the success. The Obama administration is being criticized for shifting the focus of the White House’s global AIDS strategy from provision of drugs to prevention and less expensive diseases such as malaria, and fatal birth complications. Many AIDS campaigners are claiming that the good legacy of the Bush Administration in fighting AIDS is being “gutted” by the current occupant of the oval office.
Meg Larkin is a second year student at Boston University School of Law. Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, concerns, or suggestions.