Headlines: July 9, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In government news, President Obama will bypass the Senate Confirmation process to appoint the new head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The President is appointing Dr. Donald M. Berwick to the position during the Senate’s Fourth of July recess, which will allow Dr. Berwick to serve for a year before having to be confirmed by the Senate. Dr. Berwick is widely respected within the medical community and currently heads the Institute for Health Care Improvement, but some worried that his confirmation hearings would be used to re-hash the debate over the controversial health reform law. In addition, Dr. Berwick has expressed some controversial views in his role as the head of IHI. Among other things, Dr. Berwick believes that rationing of care is inevitable, and has expressed admiration for the British National Health System. White House Communications Director David Pfeiffer told the New York Times that President Obama will appoint Dr. Berwick on Wednesday.
In business news, India is rising as a major center for drug manufacturing. Indian was once known for making “cheap knock-offs” of western drugs, but it is now emerging as a center for generic manufacturing. Additionally, a number of western pharmaceutical companies are forming partnerships with Indian manufacturers, and India’s pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow about 13 percent this year. Largely because of lower wages paid to workers, Indian companies are able to conduct sophisticated drug development and discovery functions for a fraction of the cost of the same services in the United States.
In other drug news, State Medicaid programs can save money by switching patients to cheaper generic medicines. Some state programs switch patients to generic medicines immediately once they become available, while others require patients to give consent before being switched. According to the Boston Globe, a new study found that in states that do not require consent, 98 percent of prescriptions for the cholesterol drug Zocor were filled with a generic version when it became available. In states that did require consent, under one third of prescriptions were filled with the generic alternative. These findings may impact State medicare policy as programs struggle to cover more people in the face of the health care overhaul.
Finally, a French team has performed a full face transplant on a man with a rare genetic disorder. According to the Boston Globe, the Surgeon, “claimed the latest surgery was the first involving so many different facial features. The hospital said the operation was the 12th face transplant worldwide since the first conducted in 2005 on the nose, mouth and chin of a woman disfigured by a dog attack.” Face transplants are still an emerging area of medicine, but they can enable people who have genetic disorders or traumatic injuries to lead more normal lives. As with other types of transplants, patients must be permanently placed on immunosuppressive drugs in order to prevent the body from rejecting the transplant.
Meg Larkin is a law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.