Headlines: February 3, 2011
by Meg Larkin
First, in political news, the Senate has voted to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In a party line vote, Senate Democrats rejected the Republican-sponsored measure that would have repealed last year’s health reform law. The repeal provision passed the Republican-controlled house earlier this year. Lawmakers from both parties, however, did support the repeal of a portion of the law that would have required increased reporting from small businesses, which had been attacked as unduly burdensome. The failure of the repeal on Capitol Hill means that the main fight over the health reform law will continue to be in the courts.
There, a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Rodger Vinson of Pensacola Florida is causing confusion over States’ obligations in implementing the health reform law. As a result of ambiguous wording in Judge Vinson’s order, it is unclear whether states who are parties to the lawsuit are required to continue implementing provisions of the health reform law in the wake of Judge Vinson’s ruling which found the entire law to be unconstitutional. The Obama Administration is appealing the ruling, and at least one of the many cases challenging the health care law is expected to reach the Supreme Court in the near future. Until then, disuniformity in the law’s application or in States’ implementation efforts may seriously hamper its efficacy.
In research news, medical detectives have found their first new disease. A woman in Kentucky and all of her siblings had the same condition that caused calcium to build up on the insides of the blood vessels in their limbs, restricting blood flow and causing severe pain. Doctors were initially unable to explain the condition, or to provide treatment. Eventually, the patient’s doctor sent her case to the Undiagnosed Diseases Program at the National Institutes of Health, which aims to identify the causes of previously undiscovered or unexplained diseases. The researchers there found that the patient’s condition was linked to a rare genetic mutation, and that knowledge will, they hope, lead to meaningful treatment options for the patient and the handful of others suffering from this condition. Researchers also expressed optimism that insights about this new condition could help in the development of new treatments for more common diseases like osteoporosis.
In other research news, a new study has linked the cancer drug Avastin to certain serious side effects. According to the Wall St. Journal, “The new analysis in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association is based on 16 previously conducted clinical trials involving more than 10,000 patients. It found that 2.5% of patients being treated with Avastin plus chemotherapy died because of a side effect tied to the treatment. That compared with a death rate of 1.7% for patients being treated with chemotherapy alone.” The side effects were a factor in the FDA’s decision to remove Avastin’s approval in breast cancer patients, and the drug already includes a black box warning advising doctors of its risks. Avastin, when used in combination with chemotherapy, can extend life in some cancer patients. Doctors and the drug’s maker emphasized that it can still be the right choice for many patients, but that it is important for a doctor to consider his individual patient’s needs when making the choice to prescribe.
Finally, in global health news, a new book commissioned by the U.N. has criticized AIDS spending. The research found that in spite of increased funding, much of the money is being mismanaged, and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS is keeping many of the most vulnerable populations from seeking help. Although there have been significant increases in treatment and prevention, researchers emphasized that many more people become infected per year than can possibly be treated at current levels of funding. According to the Boston Globe, “The researchers called for a new focus on prevention, and criticized governments for ignoring research that could help guide efforts.” In addition, laws that criminalize homosexual relationships and harassment of drug users were listed as factors that keep many vulnerable populations from seeking help.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.