Drug Pricing, Shame, and Shortages

By Nicholson Price

Drug prices have been making waves in the news recently.  The most recent case is the huge price hikes of the EpiPen, which provides potentially life-saving automatic epinephrine injections to those with severe allergies.  Mylan, which makes the EpiPen, has raised its price some 450% over the last several years.  The EpiPen is a particularly problematic—and media-friendly—story because the emblematic use case is the kid in school who can’t breathe because she came into contact with peanuts.  Jacking up the price on something that’s not optional—for parents and for schools—seems heartless.  Thoughtful pieces have pointed out how the EpiPen price increases demonstrate problems with our health care system and drug/device approval system in general.

Other big recent cases that have hit the news include huge increases in the price of insulin, and, of course, Turing Pharmaceuticals’/Martin Shkreli’s ~5000% price hike on the drug Daraprim.  The EpiPen and Daraprim are especially notable because patents mostly aren’t involved—the effective monopoly appears to come from the delay or challenge in getting generic products approved by FDA (although the EpiPen itself also seems tough to make).  And, of course, drug prices aren’t regulated in the US the way they are in much of the world.

These stories seem crazy, cruel, and fascinating.  And they raise (for me, anyway) the question: what’s changed?  This seems like a relatively new phenomenon.  But FDA’s had a backlog for a while, and drug prices have long been unregulated. Continue reading

Rawlsian Questions about CRISPR Gene Editing

By Kelly Dhru

We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect. – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

Pessoa may have had an “I told you so!” moment looking at the ethical debates over CRISPR-Cas9, which is the technology that has made the alteration of genomes easier. As we march towards fundamentally altering the code that governs our bodies, it is this very walk towards perfection that seems to scare us.

To start with, not enough can be said about the importance of CRISPR-Cas9, which is one of the most important scientific advances of our times. Because of this technology, we are now looking at the ability to combat some previously “incurable” genetic disorders. This technology is also opening up doors to tackle malaria, Zika and dengue fever in innovative ways and to potentially find a cure for cancer. Continue reading

Still Seeking Contraceptive Compromise After Zubik v. Burwell

[Crossposted from RegBlog]

By Allison Hoffman

Zubik v. Burwell was this year’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) appearance on the Supreme Court stage. Consolidated with six other cases, Zubik challenged the ACA requirement that group health plans and health insurance issuers must provide free coverage of preventative services, including all contraceptive methods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some religious groups believe that the use of some or all contraceptives is morally wrong. In response, the initial preventive services regulation exempted houses of worship, such as churches, from the requirement altogether. For religious nonprofit organizations, such as universities and hospitals, later regulations created an accommodation that enabled employees to receive coverage for contraceptives without the employer having to provide it.

Even though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has tried to make it easy for nonprofit organizations to receive the accommodation, it still requires those organizations, unlike churches and other houses of worship, to ask for it affirmatively through a process of self-certification. Continue reading

Please, Boston Nonprofit Hospitals, Can’t You Join Forces Instead Of Competing?

[Crosspost that originally appeared on WBUR’s CommonHealth]

By Michael Anne Kyle and Lauren Taylor

Here in Boston, cooperation between health care providers is a fraught issue.

Competition is fierce among local, not-for-profit teaching hospitals, and the idea of collaboration brings to mind collusion, mergers and monopolies.

Unfortunately, these concerns may be keeping Boston hospitals from pursuing cost-effective strategies to meet federal tax-exemption requirements and improve community health. Over the next year, each of Boston’s 12 hospitals will have to conduct a community health needs assessment (CHNA) to retain their tax-free status. New requirements in the Affordable Care Act specifically encourage collaboration between hospitals and with other health care agencies, such as public health departments.

We argue that doing one, citywide CHNA presents a rare opportunity for high-value, low-commitment coordination among Boston hospitals. Continue reading

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS! 2017 Annual Conference, “Transparency in Health & Health Care: Legal & Ethical Possibilities & Limits”

Medical care prices against a white background

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce plans for our 2017 annual conference, entitled: Transparency in Health and Health Care: Legal and Ethical Possibilities and Limits.

Transparency is a relatively new concept to the world of health and health care, considering that just a few short decades ago we were still in the throes of a “doctor-knows-best” model. Today, however, transparency is found on almost every short list of solutions to a variety of health policy problems, ranging from conflicts of interest to rising drug costs to promoting efficient use of health care resources, and more. Doctors are now expected to be transparent about patient diagnoses and treatment options, hospitals are expected to be transparent about error rates, insurers about policy limitations, companies about prices, researchers about data, and policymakers about priorities and rationales for health policy intervention. But a number of important legal and ethical questions remain. For example, what exactly does transparency mean in the context of health, who has a responsibility to be transparent and to whom, what legal mechanisms are there to promote transparency, and what legal protections are needed for things like privacy, intellectual property, and the like?  More specifically, when can transparency improve health and health care, and when is it likely to be nothing more than platitude?

This conference, and anticipated edited volume, will aim to: (1) identify the various thematic roles transparency has been called on to play in American health policy, and why it has emerged in these spaces; (2) understand when, where, how, and why transparency may be a useful policy tool in relation to health and health care, what it can realistically be expected to achieve, and when it is unlikely to be successful, including limits on how patients and consumers utilize information even when we have transparency; (3) assess the legal and ethical issues raised by transparency in health and health care, including obstacles and opportunities; (4) learn from comparative examples of transparency, both in other sectors and outside the United States.  In sum, we hope to reach better understandings of this health policy buzzword so that transparency can be utilized as a solution to pressing health policy issues where appropriate, while recognizing its true limitations.

Call for Abstracts

We welcome submissions on both the broad conceptual questions described above and more specific policy issues, including: Continue reading

DUE AUGUST 5: Call for Apps – Petrie-Flom Center Harvard Grad Student Fellowship

THE PETRIE-FLOM CENTER

STUDENT FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM, 2016-2017

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS 

The Center and Student Fellowship. The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the scholarly research of important issues at the intersection of law and health policy, including issues of health care financing and market regulation, biotechnology and intellectual property, biomedical research, and bioethics. The Student Fellowship Program is designed to support closely-mentored student research in these areas. For more information on our recent fellows and their work, see our website.

Eligibility. The student fellowship program is open to all Harvard graduate students who will be enrolled at the University during the fellowship year and who are committed to undertaking a significant research project and fulfilling other program requirements. Although the fellowship is open to all graduate students, including those in one-year programs, we encourage those who are in multi-year programs at Harvard to wait until after their first year to apply.

Requirements. All student fellows will have the following responsibilities: Continue reading

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER! Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics

This volume, edited by I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson, stems from the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2014 Annual Conference “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.” Pre-order your copy today!

Nudging HealthBehavioral nudges are everywhere: calorie counts on menus, automated text reminders to encourage medication adherence, a reminder bell when a driver’s seatbelt isn’t fastened. Designed to help people make better health choices, these reminders have become so commonplace that they often go unnoticed. In Nudging Health, forty-five experts in behavioral science and health policy from across academia, government, and private industry come together to explore whether and how these tools are effective in improving health outcomes.

Behavioral science has swept the fields of economics and law through the study of nudges, cognitive biases, and decisional heuristics—but it has only recently begun to impact the conversation on health care. Nudging Health wrestles with some of the thorny philosophical issues, legal limits, and conceptual questions raised by behavioral science as applied to health law and policy. The volume frames the fundamental issues surrounding health nudges by addressing ethical questions. Does cost-sharing for health expenditures cause patients to make poor decisions? Is it right to make it difficult for people to opt out of having their organs harvested for donation when they die? Are behavioral nudges paternalistic? The contributors examine specific applications of behavioral science, including efforts to address health care costs, improve vaccination rates, and encourage better decision-making by physicians. They wrestle with questions regarding the doctor-patient relationship and defaults in healthcare while engaging with larger, timely questions of healthcare reform.

Nudging Health is the first multi-voiced assessment of behavioral economics and health law to span such a wide array of issues—from the Affordable Care Act to prescription drugs.

Read the introduction on SSRN and pre-order your book now!

NOW ONLINE! Oxford Union Debating Society DNA Manipulation Debate

DNA fingerprints.The Oxford Union Debating Society at Oxford University has published full video of its DNA Manipulation Debate, filmed on May 26. The Motion under debate was, “This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.” Oxford billed its DNA Manipulation Debate as “historic” in a year when rapid advances in gene editing and genome synthesis suddenly confront humans with the possibility of being able to write, edit, re-write, and ultimately control their own genetic destinies.

The team supporting the Motion was led by Sir Ian Wilmut, famous for cloning Dolly the Sheep and now Chair of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and included Oxford’s noted moral philosopher Julian Savulescu and Oxford student debater Lynda Troung, a fast-rising star in RNA research.

The team opposing the Motion included Dr. Norman Fost, professor emeritus of pediatrics and director of the medical ethics program at the University of Wisconsin; Professor Barbara Evans, Director of the Center for Biotechnology & Law at the University of Houston Law Center and a frequent participant in Petrie-Flom conferences; and Oxford student debater Dr. Rahul Gandhi, a young medical doctor and monk focusing on rural healthcare, who is pursuing an MBA at Oxford this year as a prelude to seeking an MPH at Harvard next year.

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UPDATED – Dental Hygiene Practitioners: Why they’re needed in Massachusetts, and why the amendment failed

Special guest post from Kelly Vitzthumoral health policy analyst at Health Care For All, a Massachusetts health policy and consumer advocacy organization. This post has been updated to reflect the non-inclusion of the Dental Hygiene Practitioner amendment in the final version of Massachusetts’ FY 2017 budget.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher described poor oral health as “a Silent Epidemic.” Oral health diseases are by and large preventable, and yet they are incredibly widespread. Disadvantaged and marginalized populations suffer disproportionately from poor oral health, and children are especially vulnerable. Many low-income individuals and families are priced out of needed care and struggle to find providers who accept Medicaid.

Though Massachusetts is a leader in health care and health reform, oral health is still often overlooked in state health policy discussions. Though MassHealth – Massachusetts’ Medicaid program – covers 40% of the state’s children, most dentists do not accept it. A shocking proportion of children have untreated oral decay, which affects their ability to eat, learn, and play. A full tenth of the population currently lives in a federally-designated Dental Health Professional Shortage Area (DHPSA), and emergency department visits for preventable dental conditions cost the state millions annually. Continue reading

New Resource: BPCIA Legislative History Documents

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to announce the availability of a new resource on its website: the legislative history of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA).  The BPCIA, passed as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), created a pathway for the approval of biosimilar products and awarded innovator biologic companies twelve years of exclusivity for their products.  Modeled after the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, which established our system of generic small-molecule drug approvals while simultaneously creating a five-year period of exclusivity for new drugs, consideration of the BPCIA’s history is often lost in the discussion over the ACA’s history as a whole.  This resource selects only those documents relating to the BPCIA and may thus prove particularly useful for scholars of FDA law.

This new resource comes at an opportune time, as the courts and Congress have both turned their focus to the provisions of the BPCIA.  In 2015, the Federal Circuit issued a divided opinion interpreting the BPCIA’s instructions to biosimilar and innovator drug sponsors, and that opinion has now been appealed to the Supreme Court.  Just last month, the Justices called for the views of the Solicitor General on this question, a step which may significantly increase the likelihood of an eventual cert grant.  At the same time, several members of Congress have introduced a bill that would decrease the BPCIA’s grant of exclusivity from twelve years to seven years, bringing it more in line with the five-year period in the Hatch-Waxman Act or seven-year period in the Orphan Drug Act.  The twelve-year period of exclusivity may have been the most contentious aspect of the BPCIA as passed, with even the FTC arguing strongly against such a lengthy period at the time.

Members of the public may also be interested in an article written by Professor Erika Lietzan and colleagues providing an excellent analysis of the BPCIA’s legislative history.

National Academies Report Recommends Withdrawing the NPRM and Calls for a New Belmont Report

[Crossposted from Ampersand – The PRIM&R Blog]

By Elisa A. Hurley

On June 29, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering released Part 2 of their report, Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century. The report, written by the Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements in response to a Congressional request, examines the impact of regulations and policies governing federally funded academic research in the United States. Part 1, released in September 2015, concluded that the continued expansion of federal regulations is “diminishing the effectiveness of the U.S. research enterprise, and lowering the return on federal investment in basic and applied research by diverting investigators’ time and institutional resources away from research and toward administrative and compliance matters” (xii). It made specific recommendations to reduce regulatory burden, and also recommended the creation of a “public-private Research Policy Board to streamline research policies.”

Part 2 concludes the analysis of regulations governing federally funded research and includes, in Chapter 9, a critical examination of the ethical, legal, and regulatory framework for human subjects research. The chapter begins by acknowledging that the research landscape has changed dramatically since the publication nearly 40 years ago of the Belmont Report, which established the three basic principles that provide the ethical foundation for the conduct of human subjects research in the United States. Changes in research methodologies and technologies, including comparative effectiveness research, research on de-identified biospecimens, observational studies of large datasets, cluster randomized trials, and research in emergency settings—as well as longstanding questions about the applicability to social and behavioral research of rules written for the biomedical research context—raise challenging questions about how to apply and balance the Belmont principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice across much of today’s research enterprise. Continue reading

Introducing our 2016 Summer Student Bloggers

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to welcome Kelly Dhru and Shailin Thomas to Bill of Health as our 2016 Summer Student Bloggers!

Kelly Dhru - photo1 (2)Kelly Amal Dhru is an incoming LLM student at the Harvard Law School, and a 2016-17 Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellow in Public Health Law and Bioethics from India. Previously, Kelly has completed her BCL (Distinction) and MPhil in Law from University College, University of Oxford, where thesis focused on the gap between rights and duties in the context of laws preventing cruelty to animals. Kelly holds a law degree from Gujarat National Law University, and has been the Research Director at Research Foundation for Governance in India, where she has been involved in drafting laws relating to public health, bioethics and human rights. Kelly has been a research assistant for Public Health Law at King’s College London, taught the Law of Tort, Jurisprudence and Bioethics at the University of Oxford, and Ethics and Philosophy at Ahmedabad University in India. She is a co-founder and storywriter for Lawtoons: a comic series on laws and rights, and been involved spreading awareness about public health and human rights through the use of street theatre.

Thomas Shailin PhotoShailin Thomas is a second year law student in a joint MD/JD program between Harvard Law School and the New York University School of Medicine.  He received a B.S. from Yale University, where he studied cognitive neuroscience — exploring the anatomy and physiology underlying social phenomena.  His interests lie at the intersection of clinical medicine and the legal forces that shape it.  Prior to law school, Shailin worked on both the administrative and clinical sides of health care, and as a research associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.  He is currently an affiliate of the Berkman Center and Outreach Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.  A fervent proponent of privacy and freedom of expression, Shailin has also served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

Zika May Place Burden On Medicaid

Emma Sandoe, 2015-2016 Petrie-Flom Student Fellow

Full post at Health Affairs Blog.

Aedes_Mosquito_300x300Congress is currently debating the level of federal funding that should be made available to fight to reduce the spread of Zika. Administration officials working with local public health agencies on the ground have recently expressed fear that the funding levels are insufficient to prevent the disease from spreading. What is one overlooked concern? State budgets.

Medicaid is jointly funded by states and the federal government and serves as a key financer of health care services if Zika spreads across the country this summer. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released a bulletin to state Medicaid Directors outlining how Medicaid funds can be used to both prevent the spread of Zika and treat people infected by the disease and infants born with microcephaly. With Medicaid covering roughly half of the births in America today, the program will finance many pregnancies potentially affected by Zika. […]

Read the full post at the Health Affairs Blog!

Harvard Grad Students Apply Now! Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship, 2016-2017

PFC_Logo_300x300The Center and Student Fellowship: The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School is an interdisciplinary research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to the scholarly research of important issues at the intersection of law and health policy, including issues of health care financing and market regulation, biotechnology and intellectual property, biomedical research, and bioethics. The Student Fellowship Program is designed to support student research in these areas. More information on our current fellows and their work, is available on the Center’s website.

Eligibility: The student fellowship program is open to all Harvard graduate students who will be enrolled at the University during the fellowship year and who are committed to undertaking a significant research project and fulfilling other program requirements. Although the fellowship is open to all graduate students, including those in one-year programs, we encourage those who are in multi-year programs at Harvard to wait until after their first year to apply.

Resources: The Center will award each fellow a $1,500 stipend, paid at the end of the academic year once all fellowship requirements (including submission of an acceptable paper) are completed. Additionally, fellows may be eligible to request additional funding to cover reasonable costs associated with their research projects (e.g., copying, publications, conference fees, travel).

Application: Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until 9AM, Friday, August 5, 2016. Notifications of awards will be made by August 19, 2016.

Apply now! View the full requirements and application instructions on our website: http://petrieflom.law.harvard.edu/fellows/student-application.

REGISTER NOW! Aligning Policy and People: Why the Time is Right to Transform Advanced Care

hands_Ingram Publishing_slideJune 21, 2016, 9am – 1pm

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036), Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Register now!

Description

Please join us for the inaugural event of the Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy, a collaboration between the Coalition for Advanced Care (C-TAC) and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. This conference will feature policymakers, thought leaders, family caregivers, clinicians, consumer advocates, and others working to identify the timely, practical, and actionable opportunities to transform care for people with advanced illness nearing end-of-life.

Confirmed Speakers

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Making Big Data Inclusive

Guest post by Sarah Elizabeth Malanga, Fellow, Regulatory Science Program, James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona, based on her presentation at the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2016 Annual Conference, “Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics,” held on May 6, 2016, at Harvard Law School.

Cross-posted from the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum.

Big Data, which is derived from a multitude of sources including, social media, “wearables,” electronic health records, and health insurances claims, is increasingly being used in health care and it can potentially improve the way medical professionals diagnose and treat illnesses.

But what happens when Big Data only captures a snapshot of the population, rather than an overall picture of the population as a whole? The sources that generate Big Data – the Internet and credit card use, electronic health records, health insurance claims – are not utilized by everyone. Certain demographics may be missing from or underrepresented in Big Data because they do not own smartphones, have access to the Internet, or visit doctors on a regular basis because they lack health insurance. These sectors of the population disproportionately include low-income individuals, minority groups such as blacks and Hispanics, and the elderly. Continue reading

Radical Redesign of Health Care and Its Implications for Policy: A Lecture by Donald Berwick, MD, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2010-2011)

stethoscope with puzzleSpecial Lecture to Open ASLME’s 39th Annual Health Law Professors Conference

June 2, 2016, 6:00pm

Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036), Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Reception to follow.

Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please register for the lecture and reception here.

Introduction by Martha Minow, Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor, Harvard Law School

Moderator: I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

MAGAZINE- 12/17/03; Boston- Dr. Donald Berwick poses for a portrait at his Boston organization The Institute of Healthcare Improvement. Photo by Laurie Swope (DIGITAL IMAGE)

Donald Berwick, MD, is one of the United States’ leading advocates for high-quality healthcare. From July 2010 to December 2011, he served as the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For 22 years prior to that, he was the founding CEO – and now President Emeritus and Senior Fellow – of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit dedicated to improving healthcare around the world. A pediatrician by background, he has also served on the faculties of the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Use of Estimated Data Should Require Informed Consent

Guest post by Donna M. Gitter, Zichlin School of Business, Baruch College, based on Professor Gitter’s presentation at the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2016 Annual Conference, “Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics,” held May 6, 2016, at Harvard Law School.

Cross-posted from the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum.

The Icelandic biotech firm deCODE Genetics has pioneered a means of determining an individual’s susceptibility to various medical conditions with 99 percent accuracy by gathering information about that person’s relatives, including their medical and genealogical records. Of course, inferences have long been made about a person’s health by observing and gathering information about her relatives. What is unique about deCODE’s approach in Iceland is that the company uses the detailed genealogical records available in that country in order to estimate genotypes of close relatives of individuals who volunteered to participate in research, and extrapolates this information in order to make inferences about hundreds of thousands of living and deceased Icelanders who have not consented to participate in deCODE’s studies. DeCODE’s technique is particularly effective in Iceland, a small island nation that, due to its largely consanguineous population and detailed genealogical records, lends itself particularly well to genetic research.

While Iceland’s detailed genealogical records enable the widespread use of estimated data in Iceland, a large enough U.S. database could be used to make similar inferences about individuals here. While the U.S. lacks a national database similar to Iceland’s, private companies such as 23andme and Ancestry.com have created rough gene maps of several million people, and the National Institutes of Health plans to spend millions of dollars in the coming years sequencing full genome data on tens of thousands of people. These databases could allow the development of estimated data on countless U.S. citizens.

DeCODE plans to use its estimated data for an even bolder new study in Iceland. Having imputed the genotypes of close relatives of volunteers whose DNA had been fully catalogued, deCODE intends to collaborate with Iceland’s National Hospital to link these relatives, without their informed consent, to some of their hospital records, such a surgery codes and prescriptions. When the Icelandic Data Protection Authority (DPA) nixed deCODE’s initial plan, deCODE agreed that it will generate for only a brief period a genetic imputation for those who have not consented, and then delete that imputation from the database. The only accessible data would be statistical results, which would not be traceable to individuals.

Are the individuals from whom estimated data is gathered entitled to informed consent, given that their data will be used for research, even if the data is putatively unidentifiable? In the U.S., consideration of this question must take into account not only the need for privacy enshrined in the federal law of informed consent, but also the right of autonomy, which empowers individuals to decline to participate in research. Although estimated DNA sequences, unlike directly measured sequences, are not very accurate at the individual level, but rather at the group level, individuals may nevertheless object to research participation for moral, ethical, and other reasons. A competing principle, however, is beneficence, and any impediment to deCODE using its estimated data can represent a lost opportunity for the complex disease genetics community.

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