Headlines: December 30, 2009
by Meg Larkin
In the continuing debate over health care reform, much of the focus has been on the cost of expanding insurance coverage. Many are concerned that an expansion of health insurance may lead to rationing of medical care in order to control costs, but according to an article in the New York Times, rationing may not be so bad. The article focused on Virginia’s health system, which has a certificate of need program that makes it more difficult for providers to expand; effectively limiting the availability of some types of health care services. However, the Richmond area has seen better than average quality of care and lower than average costs. While neither the House nor the Senate health care bills include limits on provider facilities like the certificate of need programs, they do use other avenues, such as a tax on high cost health plans, in an effort to decrease health care costs.
Florida’s Attorney General is suing over the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation. The Republican attorney general who is running for governor in 2010 is following in the steps of others such as the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in questioning the legality of the provisions of the federal bills that require individuals to purchase health insurance. The Attorney General claims that the requirement to purchase insurance is unconstitutional because it is “disconnected from any commercial act,” and therefore is not included in Congress’s Commerce Clause powers.
Faced with the seemingly inevitable passage of some form of health reform legislation at the national level, health care lobbies are making their case to state governments. According to the New York Times, “Around the 2008 election, the groups that provide health care contributed about $102 million to state political campaigns across the country, surpassing the $89 million the same donors spent at the federal level.” Several states are including measures such as constitutional amendments that would blunt the effectiveness of the federal legislation.
Assertions in the debate over health care that Medicare savings would both offset the costs of providing coverage to the currently uninsured and shore up the Medicare trust fund may be counting the dollars saved twice, according to the Congressional Budget Office. However, the clarification came too late to make a difference in the debate on Capitol Hill. The Medicare savings in the Senate bill are projected to reduce the deficit by $132 billion in the next 10 years.
In other government news, the F.D.A. is going to require more rigorous standards for data used to approve some types of medical devices. The agency may require more defined targets and other steps to increase the accuracy of data collected during the clinical trial process. The proposed changes come after the release Tuesday of two studies that questioned the methods of some F.D.A. accepted clinical trials for cardiac devices.
In the fight against cancer, some old ideas are spurring new avenues of research. Increasingly, researchers are exploring the idea that the health of the tissues surrounding cancer cells may impact the rate at which cancer develops. So far, the research has not led to cures, and researchers expect the real value to their efforts is still years in the future, but looking at tumors in their cellular environment has the potential to explain many of the anomalies of cancer.
A study in Israel has found that Jews who emigrated to what is now Israel before the Holocaust have lower rates of cancer than those who remained in Europe during the Holocaust. Jews who were younger during the Holocaust were also more likely to develop cancer than those who were older when it occurred. This has raised questions about the impact of environmental stressors during childhood on the development of cancer later in life. However, because the Jews experienced so many different harsh experiences during the Holocaust, no one factor can explain the cancer link.
Pressure is rising on farmers to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals to produce faster growth. The practice is linked to increasing appearance of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in humans and animals that lead to several thousand deaths a year. While the WHO, FDA and CDC all oppose the use of antibiotics in healthy animals, farmers and the pharmaceutical industry claim that the practice is necessary to keep meat prices low and animals healthy.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Feel free to email her with any comments, questions or concerns.