Headlines: February 1, 2010
by Meg Larkin
Even though national health reform legislation appears to have stalled, many states are considering constitutional amendments that would ban mandatory health insurance. While the actual legal effect of the States’ constitutional amendments is questionable because of the Supremacy Clause, the amendments reflect the severity of the ideological divide over health care. Many of the amendments would assert a right of individuals to pay for health care out of their own pockets. Supporters see the amendments as protecting individual liberty and state sovereignty.
While domestic health reform may be stalled, President Obama is expected to “broaden his approach to global health” today. According to the Wall St. Journal, “The new policy, details of which the administration plans to release along with the budget, retains HIV/AIDS as the administration's top funding priority, but will devote new funding to reducing deaths from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, poor nutrition and common treatable illnesses that kill millions every year, particularly women and children.” While AIDS funding will not be cut, it will follow a slower rate of increase than it did during the Bush Adnimistration.
The F.D.A. sent a warning letter to a dermatologist who frequently promotes products in clinical trials she conducts to women’s fashion magazines. The F.D.A. cited Dr. Leslie Baumann for promoting drugs before they have been approved by the agency. According to the New York Times, “Federal rules bar drug makers and investigators on their clinical trials from promoting a drug before the agency has approved the product.” Some in the magazine business are concerned that the F.D.A.’s warning will discourage other doctors from informing fashion publications about the latest up and coming beauty treatments.
In other regulatory news, Philip Morris parent company Altria is supporting legislation that would allow F.D.A. regulation of the company’s products. Altria’s motives in supporting the legislation are unclear. Some speculate that Altria supports increased regulation because it may keep out competitors, while others simply think the company has had a change of heart. Altria would like the F.D.A. to support its claim that smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than cigarettes, and is seeking permission to market them as such. Critics claim that Altria’s push for smokeless tobacco products is a scheme to circumvent indoor smoking laws that are widely credited with reducing smoking around the country.
On Friday the Obama administration issued new rules that would put in to action a 2008 law requiring equal treatment for mental health by insurers. Among other things, the rules prohibit splitting mental health and other health care deductibles, or setting caps on the number of outpatient or inpatient days for treating mental conditions. The rules apply only to group health insurance, the type provided by employers, but many states have adopted legislation that would require insurance sold to individuals to meet similar requirements.
The number of deaths from pneumonia and influenza has recently spiked in the United States. The CDC weekly report showed an up-tick from 7.7 percent to 8.3 percent. However, the CDC is hesitant to attribute it to a resurgence of swine flu, and has maintained that the increase is, “merely ‘a blip we’re checking out.’”
An industrial chelation chemical, designed to separate heavy metals from polluted soil, is being sold as an autism treatment and dietary supplement. The product, called OSR #1, is being marketed as an antioxidant dietary supplement, and has not been approved by the F.D.A. for safety. Chelation therapy has long been used to treat autism by people who believe the disorder is related to the presence of heavy metals in the body. However, chelation has no proven benefits and can harm children with autism by removing necessary nutrients from their bodies. Although the F.D.A. has requested more information about OSR #1, the supplement’s manufacturer has not responded.
Finally, researchers have made steps toward developing a vaccine against chikungunya virus. The mosquito borne illness causes a rash, high fever, and crippling arthritis. According to the LA Times, “[V]irologist Gary J. Nabel of NIAID and his colleagues adapted technology that is used in vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus. They produced a virus-like particle that contains the outer protein shell of the virus -- which allows it to be recognized by the immune system -- but not the viral genetic information, preventing it from replicating.” The vaccine has been successful in monkeys and mice and shows promise for future human testing.
Meg Larkin is a second year student at Boston University School of Law. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.