HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Drug Label, Maimed Patient and Crucial Test for Justices

The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether plaintiffs have the right to sue when the products that hurt them had met federal standards.  Adam Liptak writes,

Gavel4When Diana Levine starts talking about her rock ’n’ roll days, she plays a little air guitar, mimicking the way she used to handle her electric bass in bands like the Re-Bops and Duke and the Detours. But Ms. Levine is missing much of her right arm, which was amputated below the elbow after a medical disaster.

She sits at her kitchen table, strumming an imaginary guitar with a phantom hand.

In November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether Ms. Levine may keep more than $6 million that a Vermont jury ordered Wyeth, a pharmaceutical company, to pay her for failing to warn her adequately about the risks of one of its drugs. The case, the latest in a brisk parade of similar ones, will help define the contours of a signature project of the Roberts court.

In legal jargon, the cases concern “pre-emption,” a doctrine that can bar injured consumers like Ms. Levine from suing in state court when the products that hurt them had met federal standards. The issue is less boring and more consequential than it sounds, and Ms. Levine’s case is shaping up to be the most important business case of the term.

“Federal pre-emption is the fiercest battle in products liability law today,” said Catherine M. Sharkey, a law professor at New York University. “The court clearly recognizes this, as it has agreed to hear so many cases and seems eager to give clarity to what has been, to date, an undisputably muddled area of law.”

A second pre-emption case, this one concerning cigarette labels, is scheduled for the first argument of the new term, on Oct. 6.

Continue reading

September 20, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Public Needs to Know Vaccines Are Safe, Docs Say

The Washingtong Post reports that a new coalition of 22 major medical groups says public confidence in vaccine safety needs to be restored to avoid risks for deadly disease outbreaks. The Washington Post writes,

Measles_vaccineThursday's message comes from the Chicago-based American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and 20 more of the nation's most influential health-related groups.

Their concern stems from recent measles outbreaks in several U.S. cities. Last month, health officials said 131 children had gotten the measles so far this year _ the highest number in more than a decade. Nearly half of the cases involved children whose parents rejected vaccination and many of the cases were traced to outbreaks overseas.

"The ongoing measles outbreaks in several states are testimony that those who forgo vaccinations are vulnerable to infection from imported disease, and can pose a significant health risk for their communities," said AMA board member Dr. Ardis Hoven, an infectious disease specialist.

Recent government data show that more than 77 percent of U.S. toddlers have gotten all their recommended shots. The doctor groups said that means about one-fourth of toddlers aren't getting the shots they need.

Continue reading

September 20, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2008

FTC Warns Consumers About Bogus Cancer Cures

The Washington Post reports that the FDA along with Canadian authorities are launching a consumer education campaign warning about bogus claims for cures after the FTC charged five companies with making false and misleading claims.  Randolph E. Schmid writes,

Federal_trade_commissionThe Federal Trade Commission charged five companies with making false and misleading claims for cancer cures and said Thursday that it has reached settlements with six others. "As long as products have been sold there has been somebody out there selling snake oil to consumers," said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection.

She said the agency, along with the Food and Drug Administration and Canadian authorities, is launching a consumer education campaign warning about bogus claims for cures.

"There is no credible scientific evidence that any of the products marketed by these companies can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind," said Parnes.

The products the companies marketed include essiac teas and other herbal mixtures, laetrile, black salve, a corrosive ointment, and mushroom extracts.

Continue reading

September 19, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Action Is Sought to Ensure Timely Financing for V.A.

The New York Times reports that a new effort to approve money for veterans' medical care one year in advance is being spearheaded by the chairmen of the Veterans' Affairs Committees in the House and Senate.  Lizette Alvarez writes,

Veterans_affairs_2As the veterans’ health system strains to handle a growing caseload, a move is under way in Congress to avoid yearly delays in financing that can hamper the medical care of the nation’s veterans.

The legislation would allow Congress to approve the money for veterans’ medical care one year in advance. In so doing, it would separate veterans’ health care financing from the crush of appropriations and political horse-trading that take place at year’s end.

The so-called advanced appropriation is already used to ensure the timely delivery of money to other programs, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Housing and Urban Development vouchers for low-income renters.

The effort is being spearheaded by the chairmen of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in the House and Senate. They say the long delays in getting the money for health care to the Department of Veterans Affairs is untenable in a time of war.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs operates the largest health care system in the nation, but its funding is untimely and unpredictable,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the Hawaii Democrat who is chairman of the Senate veterans committee.

“Unlike Medicare and Medicaid,” Mr. Akaka said, “V.A. never knows what its level of funding will be for the next year. V.A. health care providers are tied down by uncertainty. This situation is bad for taxpayers, bad for V.A. and bad for veterans.”

Continue reading

September 19, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

FDA Proposes Approval Process for Genetically Engineered Animals

The Washington Post reports that the FDA will release today long-awaited regulatory guidelines governing genetic engineering of animals for food, drugs or medical devices.   David Brown writes,

Poultry_farmAlthough none of the provisions is likely to surprise the biotech industry, their formal appearance after years of discussion is expected to energize a field whose commercial potential is huge but so far unrealized.

The agency's regulatory control of animals will be considerably stronger than its oversight of genetically engineered plants and microorganisms. The latter -- or substances derived from them -- are on the market and, in some cases, have proved controversial.

The guidelines tell companies what the FDA wants to know about their work at virtually every stage of creating an engineered animal.

For example, biotech firms will be asked to provide the molecular identity of snippets of DNA inserted in an animal's genome, as well as where the genetic message lands and whether it descends unaltered through subsequent generations. The FDA also wants to be told how the genetic alterations might change an animal's health, behavior and nutritional value.

The companies also should inform the agency how they will keep track of animals, prevent them from mingling with their non-engineered cousins and dispose of them when they die.

Continue reading

September 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

HIV Epidemic in U.S. A Crisis, Health Officials Say

The Los Angeles Times reports that federal health officials are urging additional programs to protect African Americans, Latinos, and gay and bisexual men about the increased risks and prevention of HIV infections.  Cynthia Dizikes writes,

Red_ribbonThe HIV epidemic in the United States is a crisis, federal health officials told a House panel Tuesday, urging additional programs to specifically protect and educate African Americans, Latinos and gay and bisexual men -- the groups hardest hit by the virus that causes AIDS.

Their testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform came a little more than a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study indicating that new HIV infections in the United States had been underestimated by 40% every year for more than a decade. The study concluded that there are about 56,300 new infections each year, not the 40,000 usually cited.
"We need to do so much more than we're doing right now," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC. "And we need to get AIDS back on the radar screen. . . . This is something that is still posing a threat to college students and to young men and women across our nation's fabric."

The new numbers, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., were found through improved testing and were not an increase in new infections, which have remained relatively constant since the late 1990s.

The higher estimates, however, served as a reminder that preventing transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus is still an issue in the United States, where the prevalence of HIV is greater than in Canada, Australia, Japan or any Western European country except Switzerland.
More than 1 million Americans are HIV-positive, according to the CDC, and more than 15,000 Americans die of acquired immune deficiency syndrome each year.

"The message these new findings sends is clear: We're not doing enough to limit the spread of this deadly disease," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), the committee chairman.

Continue reading

September 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Exposure to Chemical in Plastics Poses Risks

The Los Angeles Times reports that in the first large-scale human study of the chemical, some found with bisphenol A in their urine had more than double the normal risk of heart disease and diabetes.  Thomas H. Maugh II writes,

Baby_bottleThe first large-scale human study of a chemical used to make plastic baby bottles, aluminum can linings and myriad other common products found double the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver problems in people with the highest concentrations in their urine, British researchers reported Tuesday.

The findings confirm earlier results obtained in animals, increasing pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to limit use of the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.
The compound is the primary ingredient of polycarbonate plastics, which are found in a wide variety of modern goods, including DVDs, reusable food storage containers, drinking bottles and eyeglass lenses.

There have been growing concerns about its safety as studies in rodents have linked it to diabetes, brain damage, developmental abnormalities, precancerous changes in the prostate and breast, and a variety of other health problems.

About 7 billion pounds of the chemical are produced worldwide each year, and studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that 93% of Americans have detectable levels in their urine.
The new findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., coinciding with an FDA hearing Tuesday in Washington on BPA.

Continue reading

September 17, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

FDA Bans Imports of 28 Indian-Made Drugs

The Washington Post reports that the FDA is halting importation of 28 drugs made by the giant Indian generic drug maker Ranbaxy Laboratories because of manufacturing deficiencies at two of the company's plants.  David Brown writes,

Pills13Douglas Throckmorton, a physician with the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said there was "no evidence of harm to consumers" from drugs made at the Dewas and Paonta Sahib plants, both in India. He called the import ban "a preventive action."

FDA officials said numerous tests of the drugs have found they are not contaminated, sub-potent or unsafe and urged patients taking the drugs not to stop.

The drugs on the list include numerous antibiotics and antivirals, as well as medicines for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, seasonal allergies and acne.

FDA officials said the action is not expected to disrupt availability of the medicines to U.S. consumers. All but one -- oral capsules of the antiviral drug ganciclovir -- are made by other companies. Supplies of that medicine will be allowed in after batch-by-batch testing and assurances by the company on the manufacturing process.

Continue reading

September 17, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

FDA Defends Plastic Linked With Health Risks

The New York Times reports that although the FDA has defended their assessment that bisphenol A used in plastic baby bottles and water bottles is safe, studies are still being conducted that suggest adults exposed to higher amounts of bisphenol A are more likely to report having heart disease and diabetes.  The FDA concedes that further research is needed.  The New York Times writes,

Water_bottles2Federal regulators on Tuesday defended their assessment that a chemical widely used in plastic baby bottles and in food packaging is safe, even as the first major study of health effects in people linked it with possible risks for heart disease and diabetes.

''A margin of safety exists that is adequate to protect consumers, including infants and children, at the current levels of exposure,'' Laura Tarantino, a senior Food and Drug Administration scientist, told an expert panel that has been asked for a second opinion on the agency's assessment of bisphenol A or BPA.

However, a study released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a new concern about BPA. Because of the possible public health implications, the results ''deserve scientific follow-up,'' the study authors said. Using a health survey of nearly 1,500 adults, they found that those exposed to higher amounts of BPA were more likely to report having heart disease and diabetes.

But the study is preliminary, far from proof that the chemical caused the health problems. Two Dartmouth College analysts of medical research said it raises questions but provides no answers about whether the ubiquitous chemical is harmful.

FDA officials said they are not dismissing such findings, and conceded that further research is needed. ''We recognize the need to resolve the concerning questions that have been raised,'' said Tarantino. But the FDA is arguing that the studies with rats and mice it relied on for its assessment are more thorough than some of the human research that has raised doubts.

Continue reading

September 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

China Makes Arrests Over Tainted Infant Formula

The Los Angeles Times reports that two brothers are held in Hebei province, home to Sanlu Group, which sold the contaminated milk powder.  Don Lee writes,

Infant_milk_powder_from_chinaChinese police Monday announced the first arrests in the spreading scandal over tainted milk powder as health officials reported that a second infant had died and 1,253 others had been sickened after ingesting the formula.

The arrest of two brothers in Hebei province, home of the state-owned Sanlu Group that sold the contaminated product, was among a flurry of actions announced by authorities in the wake of the latest food safety problem to hit China. Officials have seized or recalled more than 10,000 tons of Sanlu formula and have ordered a nationwide inspection of fresh milk and cattle feed.
The official New China News Agency, quoting a police spokesman in Hebei, said the brothers, surnamed Geng, had been running a private milk-collecting station since May 2004. The 48-year-old older brother had begun to put melamine into milk at the end of last year, and the younger brother sent the milk to Sanlu. The brothers were among 19 people detained.

Continue reading

September 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Risks Found for Youths in New Antipsychotics

The New York Times reports on a new study that finds medicines most often prescribed for schizophrenia in youth are no more effective than older, cheaper drugs and are more likely to cause some harmful side effects.  Benedict Carey writes,

Pills9A new government study published Monday has found that the medicines most often prescribed for schizophrenia in children and adolescents are no more effective than older, less expensive drugs and are more likely to cause some harmful side effects. The standards for treating the disorder should be changed to include some older medications that have fallen out of use, the study’s authors said.

The results, being published online by The American Journal of Psychiatry, are likely to alter treatment for an estimated one million children and teenagers with schizophrenia and to intensify a broader controversy in child psychiatry over the newer medications, experts said.

Prescription rates for the newer drugs, called atypical antipsychotics, have increased more than fivefold for children over the past decades and a half, and doctors now use them to settle outbursts and aggression in children with a wide variety of diagnoses, despite serious side effects.

A consortium of state Medicaid directors is currently evaluating the use of these drugs in children on state Medicaid rolls, to ensure they are being prescribed properly.

The study compared two of the newer antipsychotics, Zyprexa from Eli Lilly and Risperdal from Janssen, with an older medication and found that all three relieved symptoms of schizophrenia, like auditory hallucinations, in many young patients. Yet half of the children in the study stopped taking their drug within two months, either because it had no effect or was causing serious side effects, like rapid weight gain. The children receiving Zyprexa gained so much weight that a government oversight panel monitoring safety ordered that they be taken off the drug.

Continue reading

September 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Ruling Inspires New Hope For Transgender People

The Washington Post reports that with the decision by Maryland's highest court last week to block a referendum petition, Montgomery County's law banning discrimination against transgender people takes effect immediately. The measure, passed by the County Council last year, prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.  Ann E. Marimow writes,

New_ruling_for_transgender_peopleTo Allyson Robinson, it means accompanying her young children to public restrooms in Montgomery County without worrying that someone will call the police.

For Colleen Fay, it brings the hope that the next time she applies for a driver's license she won't be badgered about her previous life as a man.

And for Chloe Schwenke, it means other people like her will be able to enjoy the job security she has found in her international development work in the District.

With the decision by Maryland's highest court last week to block a referendum petition, Montgomery County's law banning discrimination against transgender people takes effect immediately.

The measure, passed by the County Council last year, prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. It was to take effect in February but was put on hold when some religious and conservative groups launched a petition drive.

The court's ruling was an important political and symbolic victory for gay and transgender rights advocates. Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), the bill's main sponsor, and Equality Maryland, the group that led the legal challenge, hosted a celebration Friday night at Jackie's Restaurant in Silver Spring.

But in interviews after the court's decision, transgender people throughout the Washington region said Montgomery's new law would be most meaningful in making the mundane details of day-to-day life a little bit easier. And they hope that it spurs action in neighboring jurisdictions.

"So I can walk into the office, wear a skirt and not be quite so afraid," said Fay, a transgender woman who lives in Prince George's County. "The little tiny things in life that most of the rest of humanity take for granted, we look at and say, 'That could be a hurdle as tall as the Empire State Building.' "

Continue reading

September 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Legal Fight Over Drug Liability Law

The Los Angeles Times reports that a Supreme Court ruling may reinterpret a statute that now allows consumers to sue drug makers over serious side effects.  Jill U. Adams writes,

Pills11Prescription drugs sometimes cause serious side effects. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court expected this fall could radically alter consumers' ability to seek recourse from drug makers should they suffer harm. The case, called Wyeth vs. Levine, may lead to a new interpretation of federal law, which would shield pharmaceutical companies from the most common kind of lawsuit.

If you experience a serious reaction that you suspect may be linked to a medication you took, what can you do now, and how would a ruling in favor of the drug companies change that? We asked some consumer healthcare advocates.
The first hurdle is to determine whether the drug is very likely to be the cause. You should talk to your doctor about what's happening to you, and maybe stop taking the drug after consulting with him or her.

If the drug seems to be to blame, you can report it to the Food and Drug Administration on its MedWatch website ( www.fda.gov/med watch). The FDA encourages you to seek your doctor's help in filling out the form, but it's not required.

These actions will not be affected by the Supreme Court ruling, but your ability to seek damages will be.
Now, if a medication has caused you severe or irreparable harm, you can consult with a lawyer and consider suing those who gave you the drug (the healthcare provider that prescribed or administered it) or those who made the drug (usually a pharmaceutical company).

Continue reading

September 14, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Controlled Drugs Dumped Uncontrolled Into Water

The Washington Post reports that because of strict rules meant to keep controlled pharmaceuticals out of the wrong hands, it is nearly impossible to handle controlled drugs safely as waste and often end up being thrown down sinks and toilets by hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities.  Jeff Donn writes,

Sink3In a frustrating quirk in government policy, the most tightly controlled drugs, like painkilling narcotics prone to abuse, are the ones that most often elude environmental regulation when they become waste.

Federal narcotics regulators impose strict rules meant to keep controlled pharmaceuticals out of the wrong hands. Yet those rules also make these drugs nearly impossible to handle safely as waste, say hospital environmental administrators.

Many would like to send controlled substances to landfills or incinerators to keep them out of waterways as much as possible. Instead, they are nearly always dropped into sinks and toilets by hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The problem is huge, because more than 365 medicines are controlled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration - almost 12 percent of all prescriptions, the agency says. They include widely used narcotics, stimulants, depressants and steroids - drugs like codeine, morphine, oxycodone, diazepam (often sold as Valium) and methylphenidate (often sold as Ritalin).

At Abbott Northwestern Hospital here, nurse Keri Osborne recently was opening a locked room at a spine surgery unit, where a machine must check her fingerprints before she pours unused controlled drugs into the sink.

"Back pain, so there's a lot of narcotics here," she explains. Much of the waste consists of liquid in syringes that aren't completely emptied when used to treat patients.

Though a leader in incinerating drug waste, this hospital still puts four gallons of controlled substances down the drain each year, says hazardous waste manager Steven Waderich.

Continue reading

September 14, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

FDA Expands Use of Cervical Cancer Vaccine

The Washington Post reports that federal health officials have approved expanding the use of Gardasil to protect against other cancers.  The Washington Post writes,

Gardasil_vaccineThe cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil also works to prevent cancers of the vagina and vulva, federal health officials said Friday, as they approved expanding its use to protect against those diseases as well.

The Food and Drug Administration first approved Gardasil in 2006 for the prevention of cervical cancer in girls and women ages 9 to 26. The vaccine works by protecting against strains of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. The HPV virus, transmitted by sexual contact, causes genital warts that sometimes develop into cancer.

"There is now strong evidence showing that this vaccine can help prevent vulvar and vaginal cancers due to the same virus for which it also helps protect against cervical cancer," said Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the FDA center that oversees vaccines.

Continue reading

September 13, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Youths' Drug of Choice: Prescription

The Los Angeles Times reports on the federal government's National Survey, which finds that among teens and young adults 12 to 25, one-third of those who use illicit drugs say they recently have abused prescription drugs.  After years of declining American use of street drugs, prescription medications have begun moving front and center as the nation's drug of choice.  Melissa Healy writes,

Pills10It's been four decades since the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but aging baby boomers haven't stopped turning on. The federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released earlier this month, finds that as boomers move into their 50s in large numbers, drug use among older adults in the United States has hit its highest point ever.

In the government's latest report -- reflecting drug use in 2007 -- 1 in 20 Americans ages 50 to 59 told researchers they had taken illicit drugs in the last month.
More than half of these older users still like their street drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. But as they contend with the aches and pains of aging, boomer drug users are adding prescription drug use to their mix of vices, according to the report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A new generation of drug users, by contrast, isn't waiting to reach middle age to add prescription drugs to its portfolio of abuse, the report says. Among teens and young adults 12 to 25, one-third of those who use illicit drugs say they recently have abused prescription drugs -- including painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants. Among kids 12 to 17, 3.3% had abused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the last month. Among 17- to 25-year-olds, 6% had abused prescription drugs in the last month.

Those generational trends are driving a significant change on the landscape of American drug abuse. After years of declining American use of street drugs -- cocaine, hallucinogens and even marijuana -- prescription medications have begun moving front and center as the nation's drug of choice.

Continue reading

September 13, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2008

FDA Issues Warning on Imported Chinese Baby Formula

The Washington Post reports that FDA officials are urging US consumers to avoid all infant formula from China, after several brands sold in that country came under suspicion of being contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics.  Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes,

Baby_bottleTainted infant formula from China may be on sale at ethnic groceries in this country, even though it is not approved for importation, federal officials warned on Thursday.

However, the Food and Drug Administration stressed that the domestic supply of infant formula is safe.

FDA officials are urging U.S. consumers to avoid all infant formula from China, after several brands sold in that country came under suspicion of being contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics. Officials said there have been reports from China of babies developing kidney stones as a result. There have been no reports of illnesses in the U.S.

"We're concerned that there may be some infant formula that may have gotten into the United States illegally and may be on the ethnic market," said Janice Oliver, deputy director of the FDA's food safety program. "No infant formula from China should be entering the United States, but in the past we have found it on at least one occasion."

After hearing of the latest food safety scandal in China, the FDA checked with formula manufacturers who have approval to market here. But none receive formula or ingredients from China. Formula manufacturers get close scrutiny from the government. They are required to register with the FDA and comply with specific nutritional standards.

Continue reading

September 12, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Health Net to Reinstate 926 Dropped Policyholders in California

The Los Angeles Times reports that under an agreement with the state, Health Net Inc. will pay $3.6 million in penalties and as much as $14 million in medical reimbursements it had earlier denied. It does not admit wrongdoing.  Lisa Girion and Marc Lifsher writes,

Medicare_3In a continuing state crackdown on health insurers, Health Net Inc. of Woodland Hills has agreed to offer new coverage -- no questions asked -- to 926 people whose policies it canceled after they got sick.

One of the state's largest insurers, Health Net signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with the California Department of Insurance, agreeing to pay $3.6 million in penalties, plus as much as about $14 million in reimbursements for medical charges that the insurer had refused to pay. The company, however, did not admit to any wrongdoing.
This was the first such action by the Department of Insurance but only the most recent in a string of similar insurer fines and penalties imposed mainly by the state Department of Managed Health Care. The two agencies together regulate health insurance in California.

"These practices damage the trust of consumers who pay their premiums and believe they are protected," said Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. "Moreover, stripping away someone's coverage can have devastating medical, emotional and financial effects."

Poizner's agency said it would continue to oversee Health Net's compliance at the same time it investigates rescission activities at other insurance companies.
The Health Net agreement came under immediate fire from critics, who called it a partial solution at best. They suggested that the deal announced Thursday might short-circuit plans to sue the insurer and eliminate the potential for more lucrative court damage awards.

Continue reading

September 12, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Analysis Confirms AIDS Epidemic Hits Men Hard

The Washington Post reports that according to an analysis published on Thursday, AIDS remains largely a disease of gay and bisexual men in the United States, but also disproportionately infects black women.  Maggie Fox writes,

Red_ribbonLast month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 56,000 people in the United States become newly infected with the human immunodeficiency virus each year, far more than previous estimates of about 40,000.

Now the CDC has further analyzed those numbers to find the fatal and incurable virus largely infects men who have sex with men, or MSM -- a group that includes gays, bisexuals and men who may have the occasional sexual encounter other men.

"The male-to-male sexual contact transmission category represented 72 percent of new infections among males, including 81 percent of new infections among whites, 63 percent among blacks, and 72 percent among Hispanics," the report said.

Of the new infections in 2006, more than half were among gay and bisexual men, the CDC found. Of these, 46 percent of new infections were among whites, 35 percent among blacks and 19 percent in Hispanics.

But among the overall U.S. population, more blacks are affected -- 46 percent of new infections were among blacks.

Continue reading

September 11, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Few Hospitals Meet Colon Cancer Care Standard

The Washington Post reports that according to a study advising patients to ask about quality of care before surgery, nearly two-thirds of hospitals fail to check colon cancer patients well enough for signs that their tumor is spreading.  Lauren Neergaard writes,

Emergency_sign2National guidelines say when colon cancer is removed, doctors should check at least 12 lymph nodes for signs of spread. Checking fewer than 12 isn't considered enough to be sure the cancer is contained.

But a study of nearly 1,300 hospitals found that overall, just 38 percent fully comply with the guideline, Northwestern University researchers report Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"It's a fairly simple thing we can do to try to improve care for our patients," said lead author Dr. Kyle Bilimoria, of Northwestern and the American College of Surgeons.

Colorectal cancer is the nation's second leading cancer killer, set to claim almost 50,000 lives this year.

Some 148,000 Americans are diagnosed annually. For many, the node check can be crucial. Whether cancer has entered these doorways to the rest of the body is an important factor in long-term survival _ and thus helps doctors decide who gets chemotherapy after surgery and who can skip it.

"Patients who could benefit from additional chemotherapy may not be getting complete treatment and have a higher chance of relapse," said Dr. Durado Brooks of the American Cancer Society, who wasn't involved with the study. "It is something that consumers need to begin asking. ... Frankly, that is most likely to change medical practice."

Continue reading

September 11, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)