Headlines: January 13, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in legal news, federal prosecutors have brought a civil Medicaid fraud lawsuit against the city of New York. The complaint alleges that the city inappropriately authorized 24 hour home care as opposed to nursing home care for a number of Medicaid recipients in order to shift the costs of the care from the City to the federal government. The federal government charges that the improper provision of home care services cost the government tens of millions of dollars. New York City stands by its policy, and says that the cost sharing agreement between the state and federal governments is not so simple as to allow provision of 24 hour instead of nursing home care to result in substantial cost savings. The lawsuit has alarmed disability advocates who fear that it will encourage the city to put people in nursing homes who could have a more fulfilling life at home.
In other legal news, the State of Oregon is suing Johnson and Johnson over its Motrin buyback. McNeil consumer healthcare, a division of Johnson and Johnson that has been involved in a substantial number of consumer recalls since the beginning of last year, hired independent contractors to go into stores and buy back bottles of defective Motrin. The company did not issue a formal recall, and the buyback has been called a “phantom recall” by members of Congress who allege that the company did not issue a formal recall in order to avoid negative publicity. The New York Times quoted Oregon Attorney General John Kroger as saying “It would be a disaster if these kinds of phantom recalls became an acceptable business practice. The real significance is to send a message to pharmaceutical companies and other companies that make medical products that they have to do proper recalls that give consumers real notice.” The lawsuit accuses McNeil and Johnson and Johnson of violating Oregon’s illegal trade practices act by misrepresenting the quality of the Motrin.
In political news, biotechnology companies are fighting to protect their drugs from generic competition. The companies are working to weaken provisions of the health care overhaul law that would allow generic versions of their drugs to be produced 12 years after initial FDA approval. The companies are looking to reform the regulations to allow an additional 12 year period of exclusivity if the patent holder reformulates the drug in a way that improves its safety or effectiveness. In the past, biologic drugs, unlike their chemical counterparts, rarely faced substantial competition, even after their initial patents expired. A bipartisan group of Senators has sent a letter to the FDA supporting the drug makers. However, other lawmakers have criticized the proposal as an “outrage” that would increase costs and run contrary to the aim and purpose of the health reform law.
Finally, in public health news, the decline in the U.S. abortion rate has stalled. The rate had been falling steadily for the past two decades, but appears to have hit a plateau. While the causes of the stabilization are unclear, some commentators have suggested that it may be due to the recession, and the financial burdens associated with having children. The latest study examined abortion data between 2005 and 2008, and has led to concern over the pricing and availability of contraception. While the overall abortion rate remained the same, there were wide regional variations and variations among the different states.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.