Headlines: March 5, 2010
by Meg Larkin
Despite recent setbacks, the White House is pushing Congress to pass health reform legislation by March 18th. However, divisions among Congressional Democrats are making it harder to build a coalition that supports the reconciliation process. Many House Democrats are nervous about first passing the Senate bill and then trying to pass a budget reconciliation measure. Issues that have haunted the health reform process from the beginning continue to play a role in the political calculus, including funding for abortions, and the large payouts to state Medicaid programs included in the Senate bill. President Obama continues to urge lawmakers to move forward, and he is planning to use his bully-pulpit at a series of appearances in Pennsylvania and Missouri to encourage wary Democrats to pass a health reform bill.
The Mental Health Parity Act, widely regarded as the last large health reform bill passed by congress, is coming in to effect this year. The act, among other things, requires group insurance plans to charge the same deductibles and co-pays for mental health services as they do for other medical services. That part of the law took effect for most plans on January 1. The Obama Administration has promulgated 154 pages of regulations governing the implementation of the law, which will have legal force in July of this year after a notice and comment period. Employers are concerned that the added mental health benefits may cause health care premiums to rise across the board, but the Act’s supporters hope that the bill will encourage people with mental health issues to get the help they need.
In food and drug news, the F.D.A. has been cracking down on misleading food labeling. According to the New York Times, “The agency accused [some] companies of pumping up the nutritional claims of their products or masking contents like unhealthy fats.” On Wednesday, the agency sent 17 letters to food manufacturers expressing concern about their product labels. At the same time, the F.D.A. commissioner released an open letter expressing an interest in working with the industry to come up with clearer science-based labeling standards.
In other food news, drinking coffee can lower an individual’s risk of having an irregular heartbeat. According to the Boston Globe, “A study of 130,054 adults found that people who drank four cups or more of coffee daily had an 18 percent lower risk of being hospitalized for irregular heartbeats and other heart- rhythm conditions than non-coffee drinkers.” The study, by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente health system, will be presented today at the American Heart Association conference in San Francisco.
Finally, a new chemotherapy drug has had success in treating advanced prostate cancer. The drug, cabazitaxel, produced by Sanofi-Aventis, is intended for use when another chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, produced by Sanofi, stops working. According to the New York Times, “In the clinical trial, men who received cabazitaxel lived a median of 15.1 months, compared with 12.7 months for those who received another cancer drug, mitoxantrone, a difference that was statistically significant.” The drug was tested on 755 men from 26 countries, and Sanofi-Aventis hopes the study will help it complete it’s application for approval of cabazitaxel by the F.D.A.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.