Friday, February 28, 2014
A big part of the job of being a Health Law Prof is to help students understand the intersection of the many legal specialties that comprise the big tent of "Health Law." Wellness Programs are a good way of doing that because one of the key features of the Affordable Care Act is the flexibility it provides employers to link the cost their employees pay for health insurance with the individual employee's participation in a company sponsored "welleness program." Here's an article I wrote explaining how PPACA went about doing that. Here's a link to the Department of Labor's summary of the current rules and a good overview by the law firm Nixon-Peabody. This report from Rand is an overview of what these programs are and how companies have increasingly fallen in love with them. At this point just about every insurance company is offering to create one--here's some information from Aetna.
The problem is, there's very little evidence that these programs do anything to demonstrably improve health (whatever that may mean). And quite a bit that they may promote many different kinds of social injustice.
This article in the Harvard Business Review does a great job describing the kinds of programs that are now descending on employees and how they are creating disatsifaction without any scientifically supportable improvement in "health."
There is also a growing literature suggesting that these programs may disproportionately discourage workers who employers aren't that unhappy to see go--but might not legally be able to actually fire. Here is some very interesting testimony by Jennifer Mathis Director of Programs, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
On Behalf of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.
Michelle Mello at Harvard has coined the term "life-style discrimination" to describe the ways Wellness Programs may target individuals employers may perceive as undesirable because they are obese, smoke or have other non-job related characteristics.
Studying Wellness Programs--and the issues they raise--can be an accessible entry point for students who can easily be intimated by the regulatory complexity of health law and can also be a bridge to understanding how fundamentally the Affordable Care Act has affected the way health care will be paid for and delivered as our students begin their careers in advising those struggling to implement these new regulations.
February 28, 2014 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Coverage, Disabilities, Effectiveness, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Genetics, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Insurance, Mental Health, Obesity, Policy, Politics, PPACA, Prevention, Public Health, Quality, Reform, Workforce | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 20, 2014
What are We Learning About Brain Death from the McMath and Munoz cases?
By Jennifer S. Bard, J.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
With the understanding that this is one of those topics that health law professors are supposed to know something about, here is a quick update of what’s going on. Along with my own views about the possible misuse by hospitals of declaring brain death in what are really medical futility cases.
Jahi McMath, age 12, in California who lost consciousness after a routine tonsillectomy and Marlize Munoz, age 32 in Texas who collapsed on her kitchen floor have both become involuntary public figures as their families struggle to make sense of both their medical conditions, which are complex, and of the laws which have declared them both legally dead based on a lack of brain activity. In legal terms, a person declared “brain dead” has the same status as any other dead person. Each state is entitled to make its own decision of whether or not to adopt a brain death statute. California’s and Texas’ are similar in that they require the “complete cessation” of all brain activity. The declaration of death is, in all states, a legal act. Most hospitals have a policy similar to this one which set criteria and require the participation of at least two doctors. A declaration of death cuts off any rights of the individual. The family of someone declared dead is no longer a surrogate decision maker. Rather, they have something like property rights to the disposal of the remains. More pointedly, a declaration of death ends all eligibility for medical insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare. If a family decides to release the organs for donation, their host becomes not a patient but rather a “heart beating organ donor.”
When a family wants to donate their loved one’s organs, a declaration of brain death is helpful mechanism for doing so. Indeed, a series of high profile cases involving anencephalic infants in the 1990s pointed out the frustrations of parents who wanted to donate their children’s organs but could not because they retained minimal brain function. However, there is never any legal need for a declaration of brain death in order for a family to withdraw life sustaining treatment. In 1993 bioethicist Robert Veatch wrote an important article in the Hastings Center Report in which he pointed out that “no one really believes that literally all functions of the entire brain must be lost for an individual to be dead.” And indeed, no one really believes that a piece of paper converts a warm, breathing body from alive to dead.
Many families in the McMath’s situation would have, even in their shock, heeded the doctors advice and stopped treatment. Although we do not, yet, know what actually happened, I suggest that it is possible that cases like the McMath’s can arise when hospitals and doctors seek to pressure families into withdrawing treatment by, essentially, taking away their right to receive care. This can be a lot more direct than the often times consuming and complex process of withdrawing "futile" care. Indeed, in the actual absence of all brain function there are no interventions that can replace the complex functions of the human brain and deterioration and decay are inevitable.
Although it is easy enough to say that Jahi’s family’s refusal to accept reality stems from ignorance or grief, it is not fair, as some have done, to call them crazy for mistrust of a diagnoses that is based in theory, not reality. Jahi may be irrevocably brain injured, but there are increasing signs that she may indeed have some brain function. Her thrashing movements may be reflex, not purposeful—but corpses do not have reflexes. This week, neonatologist Dr. Paul Burn notes, without citation so we do not know if it is true, that Jahi, has regained sufficient hypothalamus function to regulate her own body temperature. A corpse does not regulate its own body temperature.
This is not to suggest that the doctors are wrong about the amount of brain damage she has sustained or her chances of even retaining a sliver of consciousness—but that is not the same as “complete cessation” of all brain activity.
In contrast to the case in California, Marlize’s family, in Texas, want to let her go. The hospital is invoking a provision of the Texas Advanced Directives Act law which prohibits a hospital from withdrawing life sustaining treatment from a pregnant women. It may be, as bioethics experts law Tom Mayo at SMU explain, that this law does not apply after a declaration of death, but only when the mother is in a permanent coma. But, again, this points out the limits of using the legal concept of brain death to describe the medical condition of any particular person. Marlize may well be dead, but her fetus certainly is not. But until Marlize’s family gets clarification in the case it has filed in Tarrant County, or, ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court this distinction does not change their situation.
So where does that leave a health law professor? One of the reasons brain death is so hard to define is that we know relatively little about how the brain works. As the American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines Determination Of Brain Death In Infants And Children,“ No randomized control trials examining different strategies regarding the diagnosis of brain death exist.” It even seems increasingly likely that we are not even sure where all of what we consider to be brain function happens—it turns out-—as folk wisdom has always believed—that a lot of it may happen in our guts. .
It may be that these two cases spur changes to the law—although other equally publicized situations have not-but for teaching purposes they both are helpful in exposing law students to how much we actually do not know about the human body and, especially, our brains.
Wired Magazine, in August 2011, ran a fascinating article called, “7 Creepy Experiments That Could Teach Us So Much (if they weren’t so wrong). These “7 Creepy Experiments” include some truly creepy things like using “a synthetic virus” to insert into an embryonic cell a “reporter” gene (green fluorescent protein, for example) in order to track embryonic development throughout the life cycle or deliberately separating twins at birth in order to study them.” I use it in my Human Subject Research Law class to get students thinking about the limits of consent, but more generally it and these cases tell us something about the reality that we need to make and enforce law in the face of limited information.
Friday, January 17, 2014
On Wednesday, Judge Friedman (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) granted summary judgment to Secretary Sebelius in Halbig v. Sebelius (2014 WL 129023). Individual plaintiffs and small businesses, supported by the Cato Institute, Competetive Enterprise Institute, and others, challenged the availability of tax credits in federally-run Health Insurance Exchanges as exceeding the IRS's administrative authority. The court found that the statute, Congress's intent, and the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act supported the IRS's regulations. Thus, tax credits will be available in Exchanges whether the insurance is purchased on an exchange created by a state or an exchange created by the federal government standing in the state's shoes. The opinion engaged in careful statutory analysis and found the first part of the Chevron test answered the legal questions the plaintiffs presented (though a footnote provided a quick second step analysis anyway). Professor Gluck called this decision a big win for the ACA given that Chevron deference was not necessary in the court's analysis, and the court's methodical statutory analysis is certainly persuasive. (Professor Bagley posted a similarly sanguine analysis here.) By all accounts, this decision is a win for the Obama Administration.
This solid decision ought to end this frivolous litigation, but the plaintiffs have already stated that they will file an appeal. As I discussed here and here, even though these challenges have no statutory traction, the plaintiffs are financially well supported, and they have the means to continue pressing their theories up the federal court ladder. And, the political climate inspires unhappy policy losers to pursue their desired outcome through the judicial branch when they have lost in the legislative and executive branches. Although the decision in NFIB v. Sebelius allowed the ACA to move forward, it opened the courthouse doors to litigation such as this, which pushes legal reasoning in directions that would not have been considered serious before the successes of the NFIB litigation. While I do not believe that Halbig et al. have a real case for preventing tax credits in federally-run exchanges, that will not necessarily prevent another federal court from finding a differently.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Today’s New York Times describes the Republican Party’s search for an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With millions of Americans about to receive their health care through ACA health insurance exchanges, GOP members of Congress recognize that reform rather than repeal is the more sensible strategy.
Interestingly, proposals by leading Republicans look very much like ACA and especially like the favored reform proposal of former Obama senior staffer, Ezekiel Emanuel. While Emanuel has embraced ACA’s individual mandate, his preferred approach to reform is a universal voucher for health care coverage (also discussed here). According to the Times, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan soon will release a revised version of a universal voucher that he and U.S. Senator Tom Coburn proposed in the past. The main difference between Emanuel’s voucher and the Ryan-Coburn voucher is in the amount of coverage. Emanuel would cover the full cost of an insurance plan with standard benefits (akin to the essential benefits requirement of ACA), while Ryan and Coburn pegged the value of a voucher at a fixed dollar amount, about 50-60 percent of the cost of a standard insurance policy. As with ACA, Ryan and Coburn would have established health insurance exchanges, required insurers to meet minimum standards and protected persons with pre-existing conditions from discrimination (though perhaps not to the degree that ACA protects them).
There are good reasons to prefer universal vouchers to ACA. When all Americans, rich and poor, are in the same program, the program works much better. Consider in this regard the differences between Medicare and Medicaid. ACA may promise nearly universal coverage, but persons at higher incomes still will receive their health care mostly through their employers rather than through ACA’s health insurance exchanges or the Medicaid expansion. That gives the political influential a much smaller stake in the success of ACA than they would have in a universal voucher program.
It’s not surprising that there is more agreement than disagreement on the specifics of health care reform. As many observers noted during the health care reform debate, the individual mandate for health care coverage began as a conservative alternative to Clinton health care, and Mitt Romney championed an individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts. As with immigration reform and other policy initiatives, the chief stumbling block to progress is not the lack of common ground but the strong political incentives for elected officials to pursue a policy of conflict.
[cross-posted at orentlicher.tumblr.com]
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Stacey Tovino, a rock-star health law professor and Lincy Professor of Law at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and I were nearly knocked off our chairs at a presentation by Wellesley College Professor Charlene Galarneau, PhD on The ACA Exemption of Health Care Sharing Ministries at the ASBH- American Association of Bioethics and the Humanity’s annual Meeting last month. If you are a health law professor (or hobbyist) and do not yet know what a Health Care Sharing Ministry is, prepare to be surprised. It is NOT insurance but rather a non-binding agreement among people of faith to share their health care costs. As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.” It specifically does not provide the essential services of an ACA qualified plan. Yet those without health insurance who are participating in one of these ministries are exempt from the obligation to purchase insurance or pay a penalty—even though it is highly likely that the cost of their care will fall on the community where they become sick and seek treatment. Read more about it here and here. Health Care Sharing Ministries are among the 9 exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, yet have not attracted significant attention. Given their important role in exempting large numbers of people from the obligation of obtaining health insurance, they deserve a place, or at least a shout-out, in all of our classes.
December 17, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Health Care, Individual Mandate , Policy, Politics, PPACA, Private Insurance, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Court's decision striking down section 3 of DOMA in United States v. Windsor was unsurprising, yet still a relief to many. Section 3 defined marriage for federal statutory purposes to mean only marriage between one man and one woman. Based on the late March oral arguments in Windsor, as well as Justice Kennedy's majority opinions in Lawrence v. Texas and Romer v. Evans, the common wisdom was that federalism would be the prevailing reasoning because the states historically have governed family law matters, including marital status. One of Justice Kennedy's projects has been revitalization of the Court's enforcement of federalism to protect the states, especially as a method to protect individual liberties (see, e.g., Bond v. United States).
And so it was. Justice Kennedy provided both structural and substantive reasons for striking down section 3 of DOMA. From a structural perspective, Justice Kennedy's majority emphasized traditional state dominion over marriage, writing: "By history and tradition, the definition and regulation of marriage ... has been treated as being within the realm of the separate States." Though the opinion walked right up to the federalism line, it stopped short of holding that DOMA exceeded congressional authority or violated the Tenth Amendment. Instead, the majority moved forward on substance and held that the federal government cannot take away the marriage right and its attendant societal status once conferred by the states. To do so was a violation of gay couples' liberty and dignity. The Court also hinted at an equal protection analysis, condemning Section 3 as creating second class marriages in states that recognize same-sex unions. The majority applied only rational basis review, rather than heightened scrutiny, holding that DOMA was motivated by anti-gay animus and served no legitimate governmental purpose.
Neither the federalism, nor the equal protection, nor the due process analysis was either complete or clear cut, and each opens more questions than it closes. For example, Justice Kennedy views the experiment of the states to protect individual liberty, and here, it happens that twelve states do protect liberty, more than the federal government. But, this view of federalism's aspirational work does not address the 37 or so states that do not protect the liberty interests of their gay citizens from state discrimination let alone the federal government's limited view of gay rights. And, this reversion to assessing traditional state law domains does not advance modern conceptions of federalism that acknowledge most state law is ineffibly intertwined with federal law by virtue of statutory interconnectedness, conditional spending, or other cooperative federalism mechanisms. Instead, Justice Kennedy seemed to be reaching back to the dual sovereign model of doctrinal federalism.
Fortunately, this regressive model of federalism does not seem to hinder the work that Windsor is likely to do with regard to DOMA's far-reaching effects on healthcare. For example, marital status influences not only access to affordable private health insurance (which is usually easier and cheaper through marriage), but also qualification for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program as well as Social Security, the gateway for Medicare at age 65. Section 3 also affected Medicaid enrollment and spend-down requirements for the elderly entering nursing homes. The Medicaid/DOMA issue was presented to the Court in a petition for certiorari that the Court has not granted or denied yet. Back in October, I highlighted the First Circuit's decision in Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, which was mentioned in passing by Justice Kennedy as a case that would suffer vacatur if the Court dismissed for lack of standing. It seems fair to read approval of the First Circuit's decision into Kennedy's cite, which makes me think the Court will not grant the petition.
In addition to public and private health insurance issues, some healthcare delivery issues are likely to be resolved by Windsor as well. For example, many stories have detailed how hospitals have turned away same-sex partners under the guise of HIPAA privacy. Other tales have highlighted how substituted decision-making at the end of life can devolve to estranged family members when same-sex partnerships are not recognized as giving the gay spouse decisional authority that would ordinarily be given without a second thought to a heterosexual spouse. Doctors' offices have refused to recognize same-sex spouses as parents of children who need medical attention. And, care for infants of same-sex couples may become easier now that the Family Medical Leave Act will apply to same-sex marriages. It seems that the federal recognition of gay marriage that will flow from Windsor will be beneficial in many healthcare situtations, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Federal agencies have much work to do interpreting the word marriage in the coming days, but it seems that these decisions will facilitate a more functional approach to families' experiences in the healthcare system.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Remembering the Bad Old Days of HIV/AIDS Exceptionalism--and How News from Kansas, an HBO Documentary, and Dancing with the Stars Can Teach Students To See it When it Happens Again
The controversy in Kansas over Sub HB 2183, which was passed into law on April 17th, 2013, puts me in mind of how difficult it is to explain the period of time when "aids specific" laws emerged. My purpose in highlighting this situation is not to get deeply involved in Kansas law or politics. It is pull together some material that may be helpful for teaching public health law to students unaware of the lessons we have learned from the laws proposed, and passed, specifically in response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS during the 1980’s. Without an understanding of the fear and panic that accompanied a disease for which there was no test, no treatment, no vaccine and which quickly killed young, healthy people within months of starting symptoms, it is easy to minimize the risk of such a thing happening today.
What Happened in Kansas
As I understand it, Sub HB 2183 was presented as a statute similar to those in almost every state intended to protect first responders and others who face occupational exposure to infectious
diseases and pathogens. It gives the State’s Department of Health the authority to develop a mechanism for mandatory testing or even isolation of the person who is the possible source of infection
if he is unable to give consent or if no surrogate decision maker can be found. Time is of the essence in these situations and the goal is to provide prophylactic treatment as soon as possible—not to stigmatize the source of infection.
One of the effects of Sub HB 2183 was to eliminate a bill passed in 1986 which specifically prohibited the State from quarantining individuals based on a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. This led to concerns that people living with HIV/AIDS in Kansas would no longer be protected. Ann Gotlib explains these concerns, and their historical context, clearly in IJFAB-the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics.
In an open letter to concerned citizens, the Secretary of Kansas’ Department of Health & Environment explained that “This bill was never about isolation or quarantine related to persons with HIV infection.” Instead, the bill “provides the authority for the secretary…to adopt administrative regulations for prevention and control of HIV in addition to the other specified infectious diseases under current law.” He continues to explain that the Bill reflects an attempt to modernize an old statute from that era, KS 65001, that specifically prohibits the state from quarantining or isolating individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Without getting in to Kansas politics and law any deeper, KS 65001 is indeed is a good example of an “AIDS specific” law of that era in that it prohibits the State from quarantining individuals based on a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Indeed, according to the Kansas Equality Coalition, the Bill passed based on a compromise that involved creating “a list of diseases ‘not’ subject to quarantine, and to include HIV/AIDS in that list.”
What Kansas Can Teach
Public Health Students Today
Whatever the motivation for the legislation or its effect on
the citizens of Kansas, the controversy deserves attention and study just as would thediscovery of a “living fossil.” It gives us direct access to studying the past.
For anyone else looking for ways to bring that time alive, here are a few words about my experience