HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Call For proposals For Petrie-Flom Center For Health Law Policy, Biotechnology And Bioethics At Harvard Law

The Globalization of Health Care: Legal and Ethical Challenges

The increasing globalization of health care and its inputs provides new challenges for health law and bioethics. This conference will bring together leading scholars and policy-makers to discuss several overlapping and diverging instances of this globalization, to try and develop new strategies and paradigms. The one and a half day event will take place in early summer (exact dates to be announced shortly) at the Harvard Law School. 

For further information and details regarding the conference and proposal requirements, please see Please contact for further information. Brief initial proposals are due before October 25, 2010.


September 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Will The Proactive Recall Of Baby Formula Contaminated With Bugs Protect Consumer Confidence?

Taking the high road, Abott Laboratories has recalled certain lot numbers of its Similac baby formula in light of a possible contamination with beetle parts and larvae. This possibility was discovered by an internal quality control review, not by an outraged consumer. Following lessons learned from other manufacturers who lost consumer confidence when they failed to promptly initiate a recall when quality concerns were discovered (e.g. Johnson & Johnson's tardy recall when consumer's complained about problems with its Tylenol line of products for adults and children), Abbott's quick and proactive recall will likely minimize any public relations fallout from the possible contamination.

The message Abbott's proactive stance sends to consumers? Abbott takes quality control measures to identify problems. If a problem is discovered, Abbott reacts quickly to eliminate the problem. The take away is that these types of responsible actions protect consumer trust in product quality. Now, if only other product manufacturers would suit.     

In an interview, Abbott spokeswoman Melisssa Brotz stated that the product being recalled is sold in cans and plastic containers, and only the powdered versions are part of the recall. The liquid versions are not part of the recall. Abbott has created an online tool to check if a container is contaminated. The Wall Street Journal Health Blog explains:

The handy online tool  that can check, by lot number, whether a container of Similac was part of the recall has been strained by heavy use, as has a consumer hotline (1-800-986-8850). 'Abbott is aware of a significant amount of call volume and website traffic, resulting in longer wait times,' the company said in a statement. 'We are increasing our call center resources and expanding the bandwidth of our websites,' it said.

If you can’t make the online tool work and the telephone line is busy, you can also check out this (long) list of recalled lots.

Some quick rules of thumb, from Abbott: the recall only affects customers in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and some Caribbean countries, and it affects all Similac powdered formula sold in rectangular plastic tubs and selected formula in other packaging. Liquid Similac and powder and liquid specialty formulas including Similac Expert Care aren’t part of the recall.



September 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Widely Used But Flawed Calculator for Heart Attack Risk May Cause Improper Treatment

A new study published last month in The Journal of General Internal Medicine suggests that a commonly used web tool that calculates a person's heart attack risk misclassifies 15 percent of the people who use it. This tool improperly pushes almost four million people into a higher risk category which means that these people are more likely to be treated with medication. A disproportionate number of those placed in a higher risk category are women. An older, equally user friendly tool is far more accurate. The NY Times article explains:

The newer [flawed] calculator was devised in 2001 as a simplified, pencil-and-paper version of a complicated mathematical formula developed from evidence accumulated over decades by a well-known epidemiological survey, the Framingham Heart Study, a joint project of Boston University and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Both formulas require the same seven pieces of information: age, sex, total cholesterol, “good” HDL cholesterol, smoking status, systolic blood pressure and whether one takes drugs for hypertension. The simplified system was developed so doctors and patients would not need a computer to calculate heart attack risk. Each risk factor corresponds to a number of points; the more points you have, the higher your risk of a heart attack.

Now that computers and hand-held electronic devices are all but universal, however, the original, more complicated formula is accessible to nearly everyone. Yet the simplified tool remains in broad use because it has been programmed into many Web sites and computer applications. And because most of these programs do not tell the user which method is being employed, it is impossible to tell the difference.

 “Even if it’s just a 5 percent difference of undertreatment versus overtreatment — why use a less accurate method?” said Dr. Kevin Fiscella, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester. “Especially when it’s quite easy to use a more accurate method with electronic devices.” Dr. Fiscella is a co-author of an editorial in the same journal about the study. Among the sites that use the simplified tool are those of the American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic and many drug companies.

The risk calculator on, the heart association’s Web site, carries the logo of the Pharmaceutical Roundtable, a drug industry group, with a note that says, “The Pharmaceutical Roundtable is a proud sponsor of this risk calculator.”

In a telephone interview, Dr. Fiscella said he suspected the drug industry of promoting the less accurate method to expand the market share of patients who are eligible for cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

September 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Small Business Gets a Tax Credit for Health Care

Small business pays 18 percent more for the same health care coverage for employees that large businesses have, according to John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority.  With astronomical increases in premiums over the past several years, many small business owners are considering dropping health care coverage.  For these business owners, the new small business tax credit for employee health coverage comes just in time to avoid making this hard choice.

According to the NY Times:

Just over one-third of Americans work for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. If you’re one of those workers, you know that very few small companies offer comprehensive health insurance — or for that matter, any health insurance at all. Even  when they do, premiums can be prohibitively expensive, because small businesses can’t  negotiate the discounts given to large group plans.

To help close that gap, the government this year is offering a tax credit to companies  with fewer than 25 full-time workers and average wages of less than $50,000 a year. To  qualify, employers must pay at least 50 percent of their employees’ health care  premiums.

Small businesses with 10 full-time employees or fewer earning an average of $25,000 or  less are eligible for the largest credit, 35 percent of their health insurance premium  costs. Companies with larger numbers of employees earning more receive smaller  credits on a sliding scale.

Not every small shop will qualify for the credits, but a recent study by two advocacy  groups, Small Business Majority and Families USA, estimated that 84 percent of small  businesses were eligible. (This includes firms that currently offer some type of  coverage.)

A simple worksheet on the I.R.S. Web site   helps to show whether your firm has the proper number of employees  and average salaries to qualify for the new tax credits. The site also has clear  explanations of how the credits work.

There is no application process; the business owner simply files one additional form with  the company tax return. Start pulling together the figures now, though. The tax credit  begins in the 2010 tax year, so the payoff will come as soon as next January ….

September 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Neuromarketers Score a Win By Using Brain's Response to Magazine Cover Choices

The magazine New Scientist chose its August cover based on tests of three covers by neuromarketers who study the brain's response to products. Did it work? Apparently, yes. The NY Times reports that

Graham Lawton, the deputy editor of the magazine, said in a release last week that the issue had sold 12 percent more than the same issue a year ago, sales “much higher than we would expect for a similar cover story at that time of year, so we would certainly say the experiment was a big success.”

NeuroFocus, a California company, tested three covers prepared by the magazine, using an electroencephalograph machine to measure brain waves of the subjects in the test. It then rated the results on a scale of 1 to 10, based on factors like memory activation and emotional engagement.

A. K. Pradeep, chief executive of NeuroFocus, said a magazine cover was no different than the packaging of a consumer good, something his company regularly tests.

The top-scoring cover had the logo in red (emotionally involving) and a single main image of space (limited distractions) with a curve at the bottom split open to reveal fabric. That split, when combined with the tagline, “Has the fabric of the universe unraveled?” gave a dose of brain candy. Over all, the cover scored 8.2.

When the issue was on the newsstand, Mr. Lawton said he would be interested in testing other parts of the magazine, and acknowledged that any apples-to-apples comparison over an issue from a year prior was difficult to come by, as there were many uncontrollable variables.

Still, he said, “we found this to be tremendously useful. It confirmed some of our hunches.”

It wasn’t too bad for the bottom line, either

September 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Costs Are Being Shifted Onto Workers For Family Coverage

The amount that workers are paying toward the cost of family health coverage increased this year by 14 percent, or $482, according to the benchmark 2010 Employer Health Benefits Survey released September 3 by the Kaiser Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET). This means that workers are paying on average nearly $4,000 per year for family health coverage. Selected findings were published September 3 as a Health Affairs Web First article.

The jump occurred even though the total premiums for family coverage, including what employers themselves contribute, rose a modest 3 percent to $13,770 on average in 2010. The amount employers contribute for family coverage did not increase.

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) continue to dominate the employer market, enrolling 58 percent of covered workers. Average PPO family premiums topped $14,000 annually in 2010.

Since 2005, workers' contributions to premiums have gone up 47 percent, while overall premiums rose 27 percent, wages increased 18 percent, and inflation rose 12 percent. Many employers are also raising the annual deductibles workers must pay before their health plans begin to share most health care costs. A total of 27 percent of covered workers now face annual deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 22 percent in 2009, the survey finds. Among small firms (3-199 workers), 46 percent face such deductibles.

September 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Prescription Drug Use Continues to Rise

Almost one-half of Americans used at least one prescription drug last month according to a study released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The following chart shows the increase in prescription drugs from 1999 to 2008.

 Figure 1 is a line graph showing the trends in prescription drug use in the United States from 1999 through 2008.

Other key findings:

Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44% to 48%. The use of two or more drugs increased from 25% to 31%. The use of five or more drugs increased from 6% to 11%.

In 2007-2008, 1 out of every 5 children and 9 out of 10 older Americans reported using at least one prescription drug in the past month.

Those who were without a regular place for health care, health insurance, or prescription drug benefit had less prescription drug use compared with those who had these benefits.

The most commonly used types of drugs included: asthma medicines for children, central nervous system stimulants for adolescents, antidepressants for middle-aged adults, and cholesterol lowering drugs for older Americans.


September 4, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)