Archive for the 'Washington DC' Category

Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Farber Libel Suit: Case Continues

20 Nov-New York – After a fifteen-month delay, the Supreme Court of the State of New York has made a decision in the case of Farber v. Jefferys,  Kuritzky & Murtagh. Continue reading ‘Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Farber Libel Suit: Case Continues’

ObamaCare: Bad Medicine

One hundred days after the new federal health care law was passed, Americans remain anxious about how it will impact them and their families. In fact, many Americans still want to know what is in the nearly 3,000 pages of legislation that might represent real health reform for them.

Unfortunately, when measured against the Administration‘s own stated goals, the new health law fails to address the top health care concerns of the American people. According to a March 2009 report released by Health and Human Services, a majority of Americans identified cost as their top concern with American health care.

Independent experts have found that the new health law will increase the cost of health insurance and health care services. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), premiums for millions of American families in 2016 will be 10-13 percent higher than they otherwise would be.  This represents a $2100 increase per family, compared with the status quo.

And, according to a recent memo from the Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the medical device and pharmaceutical drugs fees and the health insurance excise tax will ―generally be passed through to health consumers in the form of higher drugs and device prices and higher insurance premiums, with an associated increase in overall national health expenditures….

This is not the only bad news. According to the same memo, the new health care law bends the cost curve upward and increases national health spending. In other words, health care will cost more because of this new law.

Contrary to the promise that Americans who like their current health plan can keep it, the Administration published a regulation regarding ―grandfathered health plans – plans that are exempt from the changes under the law.  According to the published regulation, as many as seven out of every 10 businesses across the country will lose their ―grandfathered health plan. This means that about half of the more than 150 million Americans enrolled in employer plans will lose their current plan and either remain without employer coverage, or see the cost of that employer-provided coverage increase due to government mandates and regulation.  (Full report posted here.)

This report was written and published by United States Senators Tom Coburn, M.D. and John Barrasso, M.D.

A View from the Exam Room

I learned a lot about the cost of health care when I had a hybrid general surgery practice in California ‘s rural San Joaquin Valley.  My practice consisted of uninsured women with breast cancer combined with a smaller percentage of cosmetic patients whose cash payments for “vanity care” subsidized the treatment of women unable to pay for needed medical treatment.
Although patients seeking cosmetic services tend to be healthy, I evaluated them like any other patient.  I asked about medical history, allergies, medications and genetic disorders.
Upon questioning Sherry S., a pretty 46-year-old seeking wrinkle relief, I learned that four of her immediate family members had been diagnosed with breast or colon cancer before the age of 50.  Alarmed, I asked why she had not had the recommended screening mammogram for more than four years.
She said that she knew already that her risk for developing breast cancer was likely higher than that of most women.
“But I don’t have insurance,” she replied.
A screening mammogram could be obtained for about $90 and was discounted or free at local facilities every October for “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
She smiled when I proposed a deal: if she were to get a screening mammogram within sixty days of her treatment, I would offer a discount on what she paid me for cosmetic services.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, then shelled out over $400 for BotoxTM injections that took me ten minutes to administer.
Five months later, when she returned for her next wrinkle treatment, she reported that she still had not obtained a mammogram.
I encountered patients who gladly paid upwards of $1000 in cash for laser hair removal treatments.  The paperwork filled out during their initial consultation asked them to indicate whether or not they had health insurance.
 
Several hair removal patients reported being covered by Medi-Cal, the government funded health coverage for California ‘s low-income population.
 
A friend of mine sells private health insurance plans.  He told me of the 39-year-old father of two whose family was quoted a monthly insurance premium of $250.
“Are you kidding?” he said, refusing the coverage. “That’s almost as much as my boat payment!”
When serving in the Rural Health Center in my community, my colleagues and I offered free or discounted care for a large number of patients.  Many were covered by Medi-Cal or one of dozens of state programs paid for by the taxpayers of California.
The following items were commonly seen on patients or carried by their dependent children, who were also covered by subsidized programs:
• Cell phones and “BlackBerry” PDAs, including just-released models with a price tag of $400, plus an ongoing monthly service fee of $65-$150
• iPods and portable DVD players
• GameBoys and handheld electronic games
• Artificial fingernails requiring maintenance every two weeks at a cost of $40-$60 per salon visit
• Elaborate braided hair weaves, $300 per session plus frequent maintenance
• Custom-designed body art, including tattoos covering the entire torso, neck and arms, as well as body jewelry piercing every skin surface imaginable-and a few unimaginable ones.  Custom tattoo work, particularly the “portrait-type” and “half sleeve” art popular in this area, runs from $100-$300 per hour and can require up to 20 hours of work, depending on the complexity of the design. 
[Author's note: in three years, I performed over a dozen operations as the result of complications related to infected or abnormally healed body piercings.  Breast abscesses were the most common pathology, followed by cauliflower-shaped keloid scars that interfered with function.  Blood-borne diseases can be contracted during amateur and prison tattoos and piercings, and patients self-reported Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV infections.  Treatment of the complications of body art among my patients was largely covered by Medi-Cal or left unpaid.]
 
From the office I shared with another doctor at the clinic, I had a clear view of the patient parking lot.  It was not unusual for me to see clinic patients drive away in late model SUVs or cars customized in the style popular in my area.   I was given an education about the after-market accessories I saw daily, including “mag” wheels, chrome trim, spinning hubcaps and fancy custom paint jobs.  Gasoline prices were particularly high in central California at that time.
I overheard patients and their children chatting as I wrote in their charts.  Many had an excellent command of the plotlines of cable television shows aired only on premium channels.  Basic cable in my area cost over $50 per month, with premium channels extra.
I also overheard the front desk clinic staff members explain politely to angry patients that they did, in fact, have to make $5 co-pays for an office visit or meet their $20 “Share of Cost” on a $600 bill as required by Medi-Cal.
Like many of my colleagues in rural communities with few resources, I did care for patients who actually lived in poverty.  For them, luxury meant keeping the utilities on and having clean clothes for a rare visit to the doctor.  In California ‘s Central Valley , “dirt poor” is not just a phrase.  But these patients, who rewarded me in ways that don’t fit in the lines on any tax return, were outnumbered by others who considered health care a lower budget priority than decorated skin and expensive toys.
Individuals in this country have a right to decide how — and how not — to spend their money.
But that right does not include accepting entitlements without sharing responsibility.  Doing so contributes to the high cost of care that burdens every unsubsidized patient.
If individuals prefer to buy luxury items rather than pay for their healthcare needs, that preference should not be rewarded while taxpayers struggle to foot their own bills.
Dr. Linda Halderman was a Breast Cancer Surgeon in rural central California until unsustainable Medicaid payment practices contributed to her practice’s closure. She now serves as the healthcare policy advisor for California’s Senator Sam Aanestad while continuing to provide trauma and emergency services in rural communitieswww.americanthinker.com

Wyeth Faked Reports – Harmed Thousands

The New York Times reports that pharmaceutical company ghostwriters played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers that backed the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, suggesting that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known.

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia. That supposed medical consensus benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm to draft the papers, as sales of its hormone drugs, called Premarin and Prempro, soared to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

But the seeming consensus fell apart in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. A later study found that hormones increased the risk of dementia in older patients.

The ghostwritten papers were typically review articles, in which an author weighs a large body of medical research and offers a bottom-line judgment about how to treat a particular ailment. The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The International Journal of Cardiology.

The articles did not disclose Wyeth’s role in initiating and paying for the work. Elsevier, the publisher of some of the journals, said it was disturbed by the allegations of ghostwriting and would investigate.

The documents on ghostwriting were uncovered by lawyers suing Wyeth and were made public after a request in court from PLoS Medicine, a medical journal from the Public Library of Science, and The New York Times.

A spokesman for Wyeth said that the articles were scientifically accurate and that pharmaceutical companies routinely hired medical writing companies to assist authors in drafting manuscripts. (Story here)

Although the reporting of this story by the NYT is new, the practice is not. According to former Eli Lilly marketing executive John Virapen, fake stories and reports are part of the overall marketing strategy throughout the pharmaceutical industry. Because the industry funds the FDA, CDC and NIH officials, no one investigates the corruption because they profit from them.

As a result, thousands of people are unnecessarily killed or injured from adverse drug reactions. In the case of Prozac or hormone replacement therapy, the eventual lawsuits are merely part of the cost of doing business. If a drug like Prozac generates $10 billion in profits over 20 years and generates $4 billion in lawsuits (with confidentiality agreements), the $6 billion net profit makes it worthwhile.

The problem is not that the pharmaceutical industry harms and kills patients millions of patients for profit, but that there are no competent investigative agencies or politicians who aren’t paid to ignore the mayhem.

In this related story, pharmaceutical lobbyists have successfully pressured White House officials to stand by their behind-the-scenes deal to block Congressional efforts to extract more than their agreed-upon $80 billion.

GAP Hosts National Whistleblower Events

(Washington) – As part of the National Whistleblower Assembly conference currently underway, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) will host a panel discussion on Capitol Hill examining the past, current, and future state of the controversy surrounding the warrantless wiretapping scandal.   

Further information about the panel and Whistleblower events can be found in this press release and the GAP website.

Stimulus Agreement Fails to Protect Federal Workers

(Washington, D.C) – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today praised congressional negotiators for passing 2009’s first major whistleblower rights law as part of the $790 billion stimulus spending bill. The final stimulus package includes “best practices” anti-retaliation rights for any workers at recipients of the new federal spending. This includes contractors, grantees, and state and local government employees who work in programs that receive stimulus funding.
 
However, GAP expressed deep frustration at the conferees’ failure to extend whistleblower rights to federal government workers, who are best positioned to keep the spending honest. Senate conferees rejected a key, bi-partisan accountability provision, sponsored by Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) and Todd Platts (R-Pa), which the House had adopted without dissent.  The Platts/Van Hollen amendment is a much needed overhaul of the federal employee Whistleblower Protection Act. That whistleblower legislation had been approved overwhelmingly by the House in 2007 as well.
 
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine emphasized, “It is not too late for accountability. After nearly ten years of hearings and votes, there is no excuse to spend nearly a trillion dollars without safe passage for federal employees who risk their careers to keep it honest. Congress has more than enough time, though, to finish locking in best practice rights for federal whistleblowers before the money starts getting spent in 120 days. The politicians owe it to the taxpayers.”
 
By contrast, the final stimulus package includes state-of-the-art whistleblower rights for any recipients of the unprecedented spending. GAP Legislative Representative Adam Miles explained, “The stimulus law is a ‘best practices’ blueprint for modern contractor whistleblower rights. This accountability breakthrough for the taxpayers is the result of tireless efforts by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) and her staff. The Senator wisely recognized that the best means of protecting the taxpayers is to ensure that employees can speak out about waste, fraud and abuse in stimulus spending without fear of retaliation.”
 
The new law offers protection enforced by jury trials for contractor and state or local employees who challenge fraud, waste and abuse. The conferees did not address, however, the issue of state sovereign immunity, which means that the right to a jury trial in federal court by a state employee is uncertain at best.
 
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. 
 
Dylan Blaylock
Communications Director, Government Accountability Project
202.408.0034 ext. 137; 202.236.3733 (cell)
1612 K. St, #1100   Washington , D.C. 20006
 
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