Headlines: January 18, 2010
by Meg Larkin
A close special election to fill the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat is leading Congressional Democrats to rethink their strategy for health care reform. If Democratic nominee Martha Coakley loses to the Republican Candidate Scott Brown, Democrats will no longer have the crucial 60-seat majority in the Senate needed to block a filibuster. If Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts, Senate Democrats are considering asking House Democrats to vote for the health reform bill that was already passed by the Senate so that it would not have to be approved by that chamber again. Alternatively, Democratic leaders could attempt to push through a compromise bill before a Republican Senator is sworn in. However, neither option is appealing and most Democrats are holding out hope that the Massachusetts election will swing their way. There are also concerns that a Republican victory in usually liberal Massachusetts could be bad for the Democrats in the midterm elections. Bay State voters go to the polls on Tuesday.
As the health overhaul continues to move forward, disabled workers are growing disenchanted with the reform legislation. While the bill would make great strides toward greater availability of health insurance, it does not close the current 2-year waiting period faced by disabled workers before they can receive Medicare benefits. The Medicare waiting period has not been eliminated in the current legislation because of concerns over the cost of extending the government-funded program.
The latest numbers put out by the C.D.C. say that 1 in 5 Americans has been vaccinated against H1N1 swine flu. According to the Washington Post, “The estimate is based on two government telephone surveys done in December and early January. The surveys concluded that an estimated 61 million people -- or about 20 percent of the population -- got a shot or nasal spray vaccination against the H1N1 virus since the vaccine became available in the fall.” Vaccination rates are a bit higher among populations that were considered more at risk when the vaccine first became available. Since swine flu was first identified in April, the C.D.C. estimates that more than 10,000 Americans have died from the disease.
A top World Health Organization Official has dismissed claims that the agency exaggerated the threat posed by the swine flu pandemic. Critics had leveled claims that the W.H.O. had fanned fears of a swine flu pandemic at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, however Keiji Fukuda, the special adviser to the WHO director general on pandemic influenza, maintained that the W.H.O response provided accurate and necessary information to the public about the risks posed by pandemic H1N1 influenza.
In a reversal of earlier policy the Food and Drug Administration is reexamining the safety of the common packaging material bisphenol-A. The chemical, commonly known as BPA is frequently used in plastic water bottles and other types of food containers. The FDA is now concerned that BPA, which was declared safe in 2008, may have negative effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses. BPA is used in many types of food packaging and can leach in to food. In a recent study, 90 percent of participants were found to have some amount of BPA in their urine. Trade groups and scientists on both sides of the controversy have criticized the FDA’s decision to review the safety of BPA as either unnecessary or not strict enough.
The healthcare company Johnson & Johnson has suffered several setbacks recently. After several people noticed odd smells in bottles of the company’s medications or became ill with temporary digestive problems, the manufacturer of such brands as Tylenol and St. Joseph’s Aspirin issued a recall. However, many argue that the recall came too late because it wasn’t issued until 20 months after Johnson & Johnson was first made aware of the problems. Additionally, the Justice Department has filed charges against Johnson & Johnson alleging that the company paid a nursing home pharmacy to promote several of its prescription drugs, including the antipsychotic medication Rispridal.
A former regional sales director for biliary stent maker Guidant is alleging in a whistle-blower lawsuit that Guidant improperly marketed its biliary stents to treat blocked blood vessels. Biliary stents are used to treat blockages in bile ducts, which are common in patients with stomach cancer. But the lawsuit alleges that the biliary stents were illegally marketed for use treating blocked blood vessels. The FDA requires vascular stents to go through more rigorous testing than biliary stents. According to the New York Times, “Along with Guidant and Abbott, which acquired Guidant’s stent operations, the other defendants in the lawsuit are Boston Scientific and Cordis, a division of Johnson & Johnson.”
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, suggestions, or concerns.