Headlines: January 20, 2010
by Meg Larkin
After a startling upset in yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts, it is unclear whether Congressional Democrats will be able to pass a health reform bill. Republican Scott Brown beat Democrat Martha Coakley in an election to fill the Senate Seat of the late Ted Kennedy and has vowed to vote against health reform upon being sworn in to the Senate. While some Democrats had considered asking the House to simply adopt the text of the Senate bill in order to avoid having that chamber vote on the bill again, many supporters of the bill are deeply uncomfortable with manipulating the Democratic process in that way. If the Senate follows its ordinary procedures for swearing in new members, Scott Brown may not be sworn in until as late as February 3rd. This would give Democrats more options in trying to push health reform through congress, but there is also a chance that Brown could be sworn in before the final election results have been certified because of his large margin of victory. Other special election victors, including Ted Kennedy himself, have been sworn in early in the past.
An article in the British medical journal the Lancet suggests that doctors should tailor dosages of antibiotics to take in to consideration the height and weight of the patient in adults as well as children. Changing prescription practices could make antibiotics safer and more effective, and may blunt some of the infection problems faced by obese patients when recovering from surgical procedures. Additionally, tailoring dosages to patient size may decrease the likelihood that microbes will become resistant to antibiotics.
In California, new rules regulating the amount of time a patient may be forced to wait to see an H.M.O. doctor will come in to effect soon. According to the New York Times, “Doctors must return a patient’s call for treatment within 30 minutes and be available 24 hours a day. People with urgent needs must be seen within 48 hours. The rules, authorized by a 2002 state law but delayed by years of bureaucratic wrangling, will be unveiled Wednesday and phased in over the next year.” Additionally, patients with urgent medical needs must be seen within 48 hours of their initial phone call. H.M.O.s are concerned that the new regulations will force them to hire more doctors and raise premiums in order to meet patient demand and comply with the new law.
Scientists have found a shared gene in dogs that exhibit compulsive behavior. The study may have implications for the treatment of humans with obsessive compulsive disorder. However, environmental causes, such as a lack of space, abandonment, or abuse can also contribute to the development of compulsive behavior in dogs and other animals. While antidepressants are effective in treating OCD in both dogs and humans, according to Dr. Edward I. Ginns of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, they do not appear to treat the underlying causes of the disorder in either species.
In spite of the legalization of medical marijuana in a number of states, the United States government continues to discourage research into the plant’s medicinal properties. The Federal Government controls the only research supply of marijuana, grown in Mississippi, and frequently refuses research applications of scientists who want to grow the plant in order to create controlled studies of its medical benefits. While there is much anecdotal evidence to support the use of marijuana to control nausea and increase appetite in some patients, there are almost no randomized clinical trials on the drug.
Finally, in Massachusetts, schools are measuring children’s body mass index and reporting it to parents in an effort to curb childhood obesity. The program is intended to spur discussions at home about proper exercise and dietary habits that could help decrease the incidence of obesity related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. Even though studies released last week showed obesity rates nationwide failing to rise, advocates for measuring students’ BMI point out that obesity rates in the United States have reached a high plateau. According to the Boston Globe, 26% of children in Massachusetts weigh more than they should.
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.