Headlines: February 22, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in policy news, the new long term care insurance program included in the health reform law is already facing questions about its financial sustainability. According to the New York Times, “Under the current law, the program will allow workers 18 and older to buy insurance from the government to cover the costs of long-term care. After paying premiums for at least five years, they are then eligible for benefits if they become unable to perform basic activities of daily living because of chronic illness or crippling injury.” The program is intended to help individuals live independently in the community and avoid institutionalization. However, the sustainability of the program has been questioned by a number of policymakers on both sides of the aisle. The lawmakers expressed concern that the program was more likely to attract sicker people at the beginning, and that it would not be able to both charge affordable premiums and shoulder the burden of initial insurance payouts. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has said that she has adequate powers under the law as it stands to reform the program in light of these concerns, but many Republican lawmakers have called for the repeal of the program altogether.
In research news, a robot may make it safer and easier for doctors to perform angioplasties. Ordinarily, doctors performing the procedure are required to wear 40 pounds of protective lead gear while guiding a series of wires, and possibly a stent towards a patient’s heart. The lead is necessary to protect doctors from the radiation produced by the constant X-Rays needed to monitor the procedure. A new machine, the CorPath 200 designed by Corindus, could make it safer for doctors to perform angioplasties because it enables the doctor to perform the procedure remotely: eliminating the need for the lead gear and the exposure to radiation. According to the Boston Globe, “After a doctor inserts the initial wires and catheters necessary to send the balloon and stent into the patient’s artery, he attaches a robotic arm to the lines. The doctor then moves to the cockpit a few feet away, and without needing the lead gear, finishes the job using two joysticks. The cockpit has screens above the console that show the X-ray images and other vital signs.” The CorPath is currently undergoing clinical trials prior to seeking FDA approval. The key question for FDA approval is whether it is as safe as the traditional angioplasty procedure for the patients involved, regardless of its benefits to the physicians.
In business news, French drug maker SanofiAventis has acquired the Cambridge biotech firm Genzyme. The deal has been under negotiation since last fall, and finally ended with Sanofi paying over $20 billion for the biotech firm. Genzyme will keep its name and remain a largely independent unit within Sanofi, focused on rare diseases. Genzyme has shown strong growth recently after manufacturing problems led to the shut down of one of its main production facilities in 2009, causing shortages of a number of drugs. The Wall St. Journal reported that, “Sanofi is paying $74 a share, or $20.1 billion, plus a contingent value right, or CVR—a pledge of additional payment of up to $14 a share if Genzyme meets certain sales and manufacturing targets. Genzyme shareholders will get extra money if Lemtrada, Genzyme's experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis, makes it to market and achieves certain sales. Shareholders will receive additional money if Genzyme restores manufacturing to certain levels at the plant that has experienced problems.” Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer will step down after seeing the transition to Sanofi fully completed.
Finally, in public health news, more doctors are trying innovative treatments for sports injuries in older athletes. As the baby boom population is beginning to age, doctors are starting to see a rising number of chronic sports related injuries. Unlike their predecessors, many baby boomers are unwilling to sit on the sidelines, and are eager to try new therapies that can help them maintain an active lifestyle. However, many of the new therapies are still in the experimental stages and have yet to undergo rigorous controlled testing. In particular, it is important to determine how soon after an injury the new interventions must be applied, and whether there are any significant risks in using them in older populations that may be more prone to treatment-related complications.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.