Headlines: January 1, 2010
by Meg Larkin
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is being forced to defend his vote for the Senate’s Health Care Reform Legislation. Senator Nelson ran an advertisement on Wednesday while most Nebraskans would be watching the University of Nebraska football game explaining his decision. In the advertisement Senator Nelson, the only Democrat to be elected to statewide office in Nebraska, tried to explain how his vote for the controversial legislation is consistent with the principles he has always held. Since the vote Senator Nelson has faced criticism over the deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that exempted Nebraska from paying for an expansion to its Medicaid program. Thirteen Republican Attorneys General have threatened to sue over the Medicaid financing arrangement worked out between Senators Nelson and Reid. While Democrats have dismissed the threat of suit as political maneuvering, the Attorneys General are questioning the constitutionality of Nebraska’s Medicaid financing arrangement in the final Senate bill.
In other federal news, Congress is working to close the “doughnut-hole” in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage. The gap will be gradually phased out over the next ten years, but because the doughnut-hole was originally scheduled to expand over time, it will grow at a slower rate for the next two years before beginning to contract.
According to the Associated Press, Swine Flu is declining in most states. Only four states; New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Maine continue to have widespread problems with the disease. Meanwhile, since the H1N1 vaccine is now more widely available, the Department of Health and Human Services is urging college students to get swine flu shots. The measure is intended to prevent the spread of H1N1 on college campuses when students return for the spring semester.
Nationwide, controversy continues to haunt a practice known as terminal or palliative sedation. While sedation eases pain and makes patients calmer during the process of dying, some argue that it hastens death and robs family members of final lucid moments with their loved ones. There is very little data available on the practice, and the debate over its use centers on whether it is a form of slow euthanasia, or whether it is ethically in line with a doctor’s obligation to treat his patient’s pain. In a related story, the Montana Supreme Court has upheld a law protecting doctors who help terminally ill patients commit suicide from prosecution. However, the court avoided the larger question of whether there is a right to physician-assisted suicide in the Montana State Constitution.
In international news, Norway has found a way to reduce MRSA infections, which kill tens of thousands of patients annually in Europe, Asia and North America. By severely cutting back on the use of antibiotics and identifying and isolating cases of MRSA in hospitals, Norway has significantly reduced the number of people who die from the infection. Antibiotic resistance is a major problem that stems from the overuse of antibiotic drugs. By decreasing the availability of antibiotics and discouraging their use for less severe infections, Norway has been proactive in limiting the development of drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
Meg Larkin is a second year student at Boston University School of Law. Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, suggestions, or concerns. Happy New Year!