by Meg Larkin
Yesterday night, in a highly anticipated party-line vote, the House passed the Senate Health Reform bill and a package of changes to the final legislation. While the Senate bill will be signed by President Obama right away, the changes made in the reconciliation process will need to be approved by the Senate before they can take effect. The bill is the product of a year long debate that suffered several political setbacks, but the $940 billion package is supposed to insure 32 million more Americans over the next ten years.
The new health reform law is also expected to be a boon to some health care industry players. Doctors and hospitals may benefit from an increased number of patients who can afford care, and pharmaceutical companies are projected to increase sales by tens of billions of dollars from patients who can now afford to go to the doctor and fill prescriptions. The Insurance industry will face the most severe changes and the most new regulation, but the individual mandate will enable them to enroll more young people in order to better spread health care risk across populations. The insurance industry has seen declining enrollment among younger populations in recent years because of the rising cost of health insurance premiums.
In research news, overweight people may face a higher cancer risk than their thinner counterparts. While the level of risk associated with obesity has not been quantified, researchers have noticed a correlation between a higher Body Mass Index and a higher risk of developing cancer. Scientists are unable to study whether obesity causes cancer because of the difficulty of testing that hypothesis in a clinical trial, but many believe it is a risk factor that should be controlled.
In International health news, countries in the former Soviet Republic have a much higher incidence of drug-resistant tuberculosis. A new WHO report based on data from 114 countries found that States in the old Soviet Bloc had 3 to 6 times the incidence of drug-resistant tuberculosis than most countries, where drug-resistant cases make up only about 4% of TB cases. According to the Washington Post, “The collapse of the Soviet Union caused a decline in the quality of TB treatment, with many patients being treated with only one or two drugs, which promotes the emergence of resistant bacterial strains. Economic disruption led to more crowded living, which increases transmission. Populations in the former Soviet bloc also have high rates of alcoholism and smoking, which increase susceptibility to TB.” The WHO is calling for increased spending in the region to combat drug-resistant TB and prevent its spread.
Finally, in Haiti, mental health facilities are severely damaged and unable to cope with high levels of earthquake-related trauma. The country’s one mental hospital has been left in deplorable condition, with the sickest patients locked up in filthy cells. Foreign psychologists and psychiatrists are currently trying to meet emergency needs by seeing patients and training local doctors. In the future, some hope to convince Haiti’s health care system to incorporate more mental health services in to primary care settings.
Meg Larkin is a second year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.