Headlines: April 21, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In regulatory news, Senate lawmakers are considering passing a bill that would allow for federal regulation of health insurance premiums. The bill would allow federal officials to disapprove of premiums they believed to be unwarranted. Many states already regulate insurance premiums, but with the passage of the new health care law, many Senators fear that the state regulation does not go far enough. Critics of the measure argue that it targets the symptoms of health care costs, and not the causes. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will take action on this issue this year.
In other regulatory news, the F.D.A. is being urged to limit the amount of salt in foods. Because high sodium intake has been linked to numerous health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, some health advocates are urging the F.D.A. to cap the amount of salt that can be put in supermarket and restaurant foods. The report by the Institute of Medicine recommends that the F.D.A. categorize salt above a certain level an unsafe food ingredient. The Department of Health and Human Services is set to create an interagency working group to consider the reduction of salt in foods.
In legal news, the question has come up as to who should be held responsible when medical devices fail? The Guidant corporation is facing criminal charges because it failed to warn hospitals and doctors about a defect in its defibrillators that prevented them from delivering a life-saving shock. Several patients died as a result of the faulty devices, but none of the individuals who ran Guidant are being held personally responsible. This raises the question of whether just corporations, or also the people who run them should be held civilly and criminally liable when the devices fail. According to the New York Times, “officials of the Food and Drug Administration say that the Obama administration intends to push for more prosecutions of corporate officials, a move that is likely to please patient advocates but also to touch off intense debate.”
In research news, the C.D.C. has recently reported that early treatment saved many pregnant women who fell ill with H1N1 flu. According to the Boston Globe, “Based primarily on US figures from the first few months of the global epidemic, which began last April, CDC officials believe that although pregnant women account for just 1 percent of the population, they have at times accounted for as many as 5 percent of swine flu deaths.” However, the study also found that only four women who died from the virus got treatment within the first four days, highlighting the importance of early treatment with drugs like Tamiflu that can work against the flu virus.
Finally, a new study highlights the risks inherent in screening for lung cancer. Screening smokers without symptoms for lung cancer using either CAT Scans or X-Rays leads to a high rate of false positives. The false positives then need further medical interventions to rule out the possibility of Cancer. According to the Boston Globe, “For those who got CAT scans, the risk of a false positive — finding a harmless spot — was 21 percent after one scan and 33 percent after two. For chest X-rays, the risk was 9 percent after one, and 15 percent after two.” While the study authors do not caution against scanning, they do recommend that both doctors and patients be aware of the risks and benefits.
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.