Headlines: August 2, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In health policy news, on Tuesday, Missouri will be the first State to vote on a ballot measure nullifying the Federal health reform law. The ballot measure, known as Proposition C, would remove the individual mandate for people in the State of Missouri. The campaign for Proposition C has largely been under the radar, and has not faced any serious opposition. Because the measure will be on the ballot during the State primary election, where extremely low democratic turnout is expected, many see it as simply a measure of Republican support. In fact, many Missouri voters do not even know the issue is on the ballot. Democrats largely see the ballot measure as a non-issue because the individual mandate does not take effect until 2014, and by that time courts will have ample time to rule on both the constitutionality of the federal bill and preemption of laws like the one on the ballot in Missouri.
In other government news, lawmakers failed to pass a bill to aid 9/11 responders suffering from the effects of the world trade center dust. The bill would have provided $7.4 billion in aid to emergency workers who fell ill as a result of their work at ground zero. The bill’s failure means that a legal settlement of $713 million may be the primary source of compensation for people who suffered respiratory illness and other ailments after inhaling dust from the collapsed world trade center. According to the Boston Globe, “The court deal shares some similarities with the aid program that the federal legislation would have created, but it involves far less money.” Some believe, however, that the court settlement is the only realistic option for sick workers who need compensation because it is unlikely that Congress will be able to act in a timely or effective manner.
In regulatory news, the FDA has approved the first human subjects trial of a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells. The Phase 1 trial will test a therapy developed by the Geron Corporation and the University of California, Irvine in patients with recent spinal cord injuries. The trial will involve approximately 10 patients and will test for the safety of the therapy in humans. Embryonic stem cells are able to develop into any type of cell, and the product currently under investigation is designed to help restore the ability of nerves to carry signals in people with severe spinal injuries. While the therapy is not expected to restore full motor function, it could restore some movement or sensation in paralyzed body parts. According to the New York Times, “Dr. Thomas B. Okarma, the chief executive of Geron, said that the ethical review boards at two of the seven proposed trial sites had already approved the trial, so that it was possible the first patient might be treated in the next few months.”
Finally, in other regulatory news, the FDA has approved flu vaccines for the fall season. The makeup of the flu vaccine changes annually in order to reflect flu viruses that are likely to be prevalent in the coming season. Flu vaccines usually include dead or weakened varieties of three flu strains, two type A, and one type B. Type a flu strains are those that have the potential to create pandemic flu viruses because of their ability to mutate quickly and emerge in forms that people have little or no immune system resistance to. The New York Times reported that, “The 2010-11 vaccine will contain killed or weakened forms of three viruses: the swine flu virus, technically known as A/California/7/09 (H1N1)-like virus pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza; the A/Perth /16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus; and the B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus." So far, eight vaccines have been approved, including one that is specially formulated for use in the elderly.
Meg Larkin is a law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any comments, questions, suggestions or concerns.