Paul Osterman on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

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This week’s pod features labor economist Paul Osterman, Professor of Human Resources and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His research concerns changes in work organization within companies, career patterns and processes within firms, economic development, urban poverty, and public policy surrounding skills training and employment programs.

His most recent book is “Who Will Care For Us: Long Term Care and the Long Term Workforce,” which is the basis for our discussion. Paul digs deep, exposing a byzantine non-system of care for the elderly and disabled. (This week’s episode complements our earlier engagements with eldercare in the work of political scientist Laura Katz Olson (Episode 98) and law professor Allison Hoffman (Episode 73).

He offers a nuanced and multifaceted program for improving the lives of both the disabled in need of care, and the workers who provide that care. He argues that the expansion of the role of direct care workers, including more and better training for them, “will save the system money, both by obtaining better health outcomes—thereby reducing visits to emergency rooms, hospitals, and nursing homes—and by shifting some tasks to lower-paid occupations.” Our discussion covers the demographics of care workers, scope of practice issues, the role of Medicare and Medicaid, possible technological innovations, and quality regulation.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, listen at Stitcher Radio Tunein, or Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on Twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw.

Medical Abortions and the Internet

by Clíodhna Ní Chéileachair

Early last summer, Facebook removed Women on Web’s page for ‘promoting drug use’. The Amsterdam-based organization connects women with doctors who prescribe the pills necessary for medical abortions and provides information on taking abortion pills, on contraception and on accessing abortion services in states where access to safe abortions is restricted or illegal. This followed an earlier interaction in which Facebook removed a photo of the organization’s founder, Rebecca Romperts, superimposed with instructions on the use of the pills. Facebook later apologized and reinstated the Facebook page, claiming that the removal was an error, and that the page served Facebook’s function of allowing individuals to organize and campaign for the issues that matter most to them.

Leaving aside the question of whether it was indeed an error, WoW have never existed without controversy. In February of last year, their sister organization Women on Waves made headlines when their boat was detained by the Guatemalan authorities while campaigning in Guatemalan waters. Women on Waves provides medical abortions to women once they are in international waters and thus operating under Dutch law, which allows abortions up to 21 weeks. Both organizations will provide access to abortion services up to 9 weeks, using a combination of medicines – misoprostol and mifepristone – which together induce abortion. The WHO estimates that the drug combination is used by 26 million women globally per year and is recommended as an abortifacient up to 9 weeks of pregnancy. Women on Waves are one of many organizations that aim to allow women to access abortion services that are either explicitly illegal, or practically unavailable in their home countries. There are risks associated with taking the drug combination, but these are minimal, and far riskier is the danger of leaving women with access to illegal abortions which is often the reality of full abortion bans. In Guatemala, 65,000 women have illegal abortions every year, with a third of that number admitted to hospitals from complications associated with the backstreet procedure. A medical abortion before 10 weeks is safer than childbirth, and as safe as a natural miscarriage. Both drugs have been on the WHO’s list of essential medicines since 2005. Studies show a high level of effectiveness in self-sourced and administered abortion pills, such as the service offered by Women On Web, and outcomes generally compare favorably with in-clinic administration. Underscoring the importance of safe access to the drug combination, use of the pills is often studied as a self-administration method alongside getting punched in the stomach, taking herbs or homeopathic medicines, deliberately taking a high dose of hormonal pills, alcohol and illegal drugs.

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Slightly Hazy: An Insurer’s Emergency Room Policy Draws Congressional Scrutiny

By Oliver Kim

Last year, I had the good fortune to present at the Petrie-Flom Center’s conference on transparency and I started with an anecdote about a congressman who decided to wait rather than take his son immediately to the emergency room after he injured himself. The congressman assumed his son only had a sprain, but he had actually broken his arm. So why the wait? Because of a difference in his co-pay. In an interview, the congressman argued for policies to push consumers to understand—and be exposed to— healthcare costs in order to make better decisions about their care: “Way too often, people pull out their insurance card and they say ‘I don’t know the difference or cost between an X-ray or an MRI or CT Scan.’ I might make a little different decision if I did know (what) some of those costs were and those costs came back to me.”

The congressman’s policy prescription is becoming reality: last year, the largest Blue Cross Blue Shield plan Anthem announced a new policy where it would deny coverage for care provided in an emergency room that was later deemed non-emergent (except in certain circumstances). It seems a far cry from simply charging an ER co-pay, but Anthem argues it has seen a rise in non-emergency care being provided in emergency rooms. How are patients supposed to know if the ache or pain they are experiencing is not an emergency? Apparently there is a spreadsheet of over 1,900 ailments that Anthem considers non-emergent.

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