George Annas on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

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This week we talked with George J. Annas, Chairman of the Bioethics & Human Rights Department, and William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, at Boston University. George’s work is legendary among health policy experts; a 1998 tribute from Jay Katz gives some sense of its breadth and depth. Having reviewed numerous works, Katz states:”I have barely conveyed the richness of George Annas’ observations on the ambiguities in motivations and actions that persist in current research practices. The many recommendations he makes, should be of valuable assistance to those interested in reforming current rules governing research on humans. Plagued by Dreams…reveal[s] another facet of George Annas’ personality: His commitment to public advocacy. He values scholarship but he also wants it to have an impact on shaping institutions and health care policies…In the many settings in which I have encountered George Annas over the years, I have admired his boldness, intellect, compassion and moral vigor.” Our conversation had the theme  “paternalism & its critics,” based on articles George had recently authored (or co-authored with last week’s guest, Wendy Mariner) on informed consent, genomics, and sugary drinks.

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 iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and 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

Legal Dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences

Please find below my welcome speech at last-weeks mini-symposium on “Legal dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences From Intellectual Property Rights and Global Pandemics to Privacy and Ethics at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).  The event was organized by our Global Genes –Local Concerns project, with support from the UCPH Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research.

The symposium, which was inspired by the wonderful recent  PFC & Berkman Center Big Data conference,  featured enlightening speeches by former PFC fellows Nicholson Price on sufficient incentives for the development of personalized medicine and Jeff Skopek on privacy issues. In addition we were lucky enough to have Peter Yu speaking on “Big Data, Intellectual Property and Global Pandemics” and Michael J. Madison on Big Data and Commons”. The presentations and recordings of the session will soon be made available on our Center’s webpage.

Thanks everybody for your dedication, inspiration, great presentations and an exciting panel discussion.

“Legal Dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences – From Intellectual Property Rights and Global Pandemics to Privacy and Ethics”

By PI Timo Minssen

“Our goal is to create a European Open Science Cloud to make science more efficient and productive and let millions of researchers share and analyze research data in a trusted environment across technologies, disciplines and borders”.

Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation

“!The European Cloud Initiative will unlock the value of big data by providing world-class supercomputing capability, high-speed connectivity and leading-edge data and software services for science, industry and the public sector.”

– Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society

Continue reading

SCOTUS and More Surprises on Zubik

After the 2014 SCOTUS decision in Hobby Lobby, in which a closely-held for-profit employer won the argument that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected it against enforcement of the government’s contraceptives coverage mandate, all eyes have been on what SCOTUS would do in response to a challenge to the very same accommodation it toyed with as a less restrictive alternative in that case.  The Court agreed to hear a consolidated set of challenges to the accommodation brought by several religious non-profit employers who seek outright exemption from the mandate (under the case name Zubik et al.) – but then Justice Scalia passed away, leaving the Court with the unpalatable prospect of a 4-4 decision.

SCOTUS has pulled a few tricks out of its hat to avoid that possibility.  First, it surprised us by seeking supplemental briefs on a possible compromise solution, which would ostensibly allow women to access contraceptives (as the government desires) while not burdening the religious employers (as they desire).  The parties basically responded, as politely as would be expected, that some compromise was indeed possible – but not on terms the other could or would actually accept.  Nonetheless, today, SCOTUS surprised us again – seeing enough glimmer of a possible compromise to decline to decide the cases on the merits, instead returning them to the lower courts to work something out.

So what does that mean?  In my view, count it as a win for the government.  Eight out of nine circuit courts ruled in the government’s favor below, holding that the accommodation it had already offered did not substantially burden employers’ religious beliefs – which means that RFRA’s further protection, demanding a compelling government interest satisfied in the least restrictive way, does not even get triggered. These courts have no reason to change that determination now.  Even if there is a compromise that would be less burdensome on religious employers (which I don’t think there is), such a compromise is not required under RFRA unless there is a substantial burden.  And SCOTUS hasn’t said there is.

What we have here is, ironically, precisely the same result we’d have had if SCOTUS had issued a 4-4 decision.  The lower court opinions will almost certainly stand, and we’ll likely still have a bit of a circuit split. So now, we wait on a new president.  The Donald would presumably destroy the ACA/mandate entirely, whereas Hillary would hopefully be able to deliver a ninth justice that will recognize RFRA’s reasonable limits.  Religious freedom is critically important, but so too is accepting the government’s dramatic efforts to be accommodating, short of letting every religious believer be an island unto himself.

When Global Health Norms Meet Medicaid

Special guest post by Nicholas J. Diamond

Medicaid is currently facing a timely, although largely underappreciated, challenge: rebalancing Medicaid long-term services and supports (LTSS). For context, LTSS refer to a broad range of paid and unpaid medical and personal care assistance for individuals who experience difficulty completing self-care tasks due to aging, chronic illness, or disability. According to 2013 estimates, there are approximately 12 million individuals in the U.S. who rely on LTSS, mostly paid for through Medicaid, with a projected increase to approximately 27 million individuals by 2050.

Medicaid has a historical structural bias toward institutional care, such as nursing homes, as opposed to home and community-based services (HCBS), such as home health aides, personal care, chore services, supported employment, rent and food for live-in caregiver, and nonmedical transportation, among many others. Medicaid LTSS rebalancing, therefore, shifts spending away from institutional settings and toward HCBS, which is less expensive and generally preferred by beneficiaries. States may provide HCBS through a complex panoply of federal statutory authorities, including waiver authorities, which afford states wide latitude in designing programs. As you might imagine, with flexibility comes significant variations in how states provide HCBS, which specific types of HCBS they provide, and whether, for instance, cost containment strategies available under certain authorities negatively impact access to needed services. Continue reading

Separating sheep from goats- a European view on the patent eligibility of biomedical diagnostic methods

New publication on the patentability of biomedical diagnostics out:

Abstract: This brief comment complements Dan Burk’s excellent paper ( Dolly and Alice, J Law and the Biosciences (2015), 1–21, doi:10.1093/jlb/lsv042 ) by providing a very brief summary of the European approach regarding patents on medical diagnostic methods. This serves as the basis for a comparative discussion of the current US approach and its’ impact on biomedical innovation. We are concerned that unless the Supreme Court clarifies its two-part test and adopts a more holistic interpretation of the eligibility-test, global standards for medical diagnostic patents will diverge to the detriment of advanced therapies and ultimately patients worldwide. In case that the current US eligibility doctrine prevails without further Supreme Court clarification, we highlight the need for developing a more flexible, well-calibrated system for alternative and complementary forms of drug development incentives. In addition to a better-funded and well-administered prize system (an interesting option for some areas of diagnostics that we did not elaborate upon), our paper highlights the need for an improved and more flexible system for regulatory exclusivities in this sector.

Citation: Separating sheep from goats: a European view on the patent eligibility of biomedical diagnostic methods Timo Minssen; Robert M. Schwartz Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2016; doi: 10.1093/jlb/lsw019

 

 

 

 

Looking Towards 2030 in Patient Safety

There is a clear need for those charged with patient safety policy making to prepare for the future and to take account of emerging trends. This would be so in any commercial or professional organisation. These issues were addressed in the context of patient safety at the recent,Patient Safety Global Action Summit held in March 2016 in London. The conference was designed to mirror the discussions contained in the report  by NIHR (National Institute for Health Research), Patient Safety Translational Research Centre at Imperial College London and The Imperial College NHS Trust on the priorities and direction that the patient safety movement should follow going towards 2030.

There is a lot that is excellent in this report  which is very rich in analysis and detail. Lots of deep thinking about patient safety issues with interesting and novel ideas expressed on nearly every page.

Emerging threats to patient safety

In the report, in chapter one, it is acknowledged that there are many existing issues at the root of patient harm that have yet to be solved. Also that unfortunately trends in healthcare are likely to increase the risks to safety. The report focuses on four emerging trends: Continue reading

Amicus brief in Sequenom v. Ariosa: Why the U.S. Supreme Court should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari

I am happy to announce that on April 20th the New York attorney Robert M. Schwartz and I have filed an amicus brief at the US Supreme Court with Berkeley-based Andrew J. Dhuey as Counsel of Record. The brief, which was signed by 10 prominent  European and Australian Law Professors as amici curiae, adds a European perspective to the many amicus briefs that have been submitted in support of Sequenom’s petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Sequenom’s petition in Case No. 15-1182 was filed on March 21, 2016 and seeks review of the Federal Circuit’s controversial decision in Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc., 788 F.3d 1371, reh’g denied, 809 F.3d 1282 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The case concerns the revocation of Sequenom’s patent claims directed to inventive methods of genetic testing by detecting and amplifying paternally inherited fetal cell-free DNA (cffDNA) from maternal blood and plasma. Before the development of this highly beneficial, non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test, patients were placed at higher risk and maternal plasma was routinely discarded as waste. Distinguishing this case from previous Supreme Court decisions and highlighting the mitigating effects of other patentability requirements, we are concerned that the Federal Circuit’s overly rigid approach to claims eligibility decision might jeopardize the development of new therapies in an increasingly important area of modern medicine.

As most Bill of Health readers know, the US Supreme Court has in a recent series of cases (i.e. the combined effect of Bilski, Prometheus, Myriad and Alice) barred the patent eligibility for many genetic inventions as “products and processes of nature”. In Sequenom the CAFC interpreted these to mean – in essence- that “laws of nature” had to be entirely eliminated from the test of patent eligibility under §101 of the Patent laws. Should this interpretation be institutionalized it will contravene the tests for exclusions and exceptions under the EPC, arguably contradict longstanding US treaty policy and disrupt international patent harmonization. More importantly, we fear that the broader impact of such an restrictive interpretation may have grave consequences for a sustainable global drug delivery system, which should involve both public and private actors.

Although we believe that patents will remain the backbone of the industry, we acknowledge in our brief that  there are certain areas of biomedical innovations, such as antibiotics and orphan drugs, where the patent system does not work particularly well. We further recognize that both in Europe and in the US concerns have been raised about overly pre-emptive patents scope, but these are addressed at different levels. In contrast to Europe, the CAFC has interpreted the uncodified exception as part of a “threshold test” for patent-eligibility applied before other patentability requirements can be assessed. A strict and coherent application of these requirements, however, would invalidate overly-broad patent claims (including some of Sequenom’s arguably too broad and badly drafted claims), while also permitting, well-defined, narrower claims on diagnostic technology. In our view, the current approach conflates the patent eligibility test with issues that can be more sensibly addressed within a strict and coherent assessment of novelty, non-obviousness and sufficient disclosure criteria or at the post-grant level. We believe that, the Federal Circuit’s threshold test has not sufficiently considered the manner in which today’s statutory requirements have developed in both the U.S. and Europe to address policy rationales for patentability exceptions. To entirely transplant those issues into the patent eligibility assessment would categorically close the patentability door on many well-defined and beneficial inventions that deserve patent protection. In absence of sufficient public involvement and appropriate alternative incentives we risk that the wells driving technological progress run dry and that companies engage in business strategies, such as increased reliance on trade secrecy, that are not necessarily beneficial for our innovation system.

Accordingly, we urge the Supreme Court to clarify a patent eligibility test in line with its longstanding jurisprudence and in harmony with international and European law.

If the CAFC’s restrictive interpretation should prevail, however, I believe that it will be crucial to swiftly optimize the framework for PPPs and alternative innovation incentives, such as prizes and regulatory exclusivities. This would have to be done on an international level to allow for greater flexibilities and encompass further technological areas, such as biomedical diagnostics. Regarding regulatory exclusivities, Article 39 of the TRIPS agreement should provide sufficient leeway for such changes. The pros and cons of the different alternative approaches would of course have to be carefully considered.

The Amici curiae have no stake in the parties or in the outcome of the case. A full list of the Amici is appended at the end of the brief.

 

REGISTER NOW! 2016 Annual Conference: Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics

Close-up of fiber optic cables

2016 Annual Conference:
Big Data, Health Law, and Bioethics
May 6, 2016
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East ABC
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

“Big Data” is a phrase that has been used pervasively by the media and the lay public in the last several years. While many definitions are possible, the common denominator seems to include the “three V’s” – Volume (vast amounts of data), Variety (significant heterogeneity in the type of data available in the set), and Velocity (speed at which a data scientist or user can access and analyze the data).

Defined as such, health care has become one of the key emerging use cases for big data. For example, Fitbit and Apple’s ResearchKit can provide researchers access to vast stores of biometric data on users from which to test hypotheses on nutrition, fitness, disease progression, treatment success, and the like. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have vast stores of billing data that can be mined to promote high value care and prevent fraud; the same is true of private health insurers.  And hospitals have attempted to reduce re-admission rates by targeting patients that predictive algorithms indicate are at highest risk based on analysis of available data collected from existing patient records. Continue reading

Virginia’s Proposed Lethal Injection Secrecy Law

By Elizabeth Guo

On Monday, Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia proposed a significant change to the Virginia legislature’s bill to replace lethal injection with electrocution in death penalty cases. Instead of allowing electrocution, the amendment would give greater authority to the Department of Corrections (DOC) for procuring and making lethal injection drugs. Under the proposed amendments, the DOC could contract with a pharmacy to compound drugs necessary to carry out lethal injection. The amendments would also keep the names of drug suppliers and compounders secret by exempting the information from the Freedom of Information Act. Also, the names would not be discoverable “in any civil proceeding unless good cause is shown.”

States with capital punishment are increasingly resorting to state secrecy laws as they are finding it harder to procure the lethal injection drugs they need. At least fourteen states have passed or tried to pass rules keeping the names of lethal injection suppliers confidential. Some states, such as Georgia, define information about the drugs and equipment used in an execution as a “confidential state secret” so that the public prisoners and even courts are prevented from viewing the information. Other states, including Oklahoma, do not designate this information as a state secret but nonetheless, make the information unavailable through litigation. A few states allow litigants to discover the information through litigation, but the state does not need to make the information publicly available.

Continue reading

Health Care Politics in the US South

by Emma Sandoe

Courtesy of Vanderbilt Center for Medicine, Health, and Society http://www.vanderbilt.edu/mhs/the-politi…

This month I attended the Politics of Health Care in the US South conference held at Vanderbilt. This conference was cosponsored by the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest. Instead of a lengthy conference summary, I’ll attempt to capture some of the key lessons I learned to better understand the politics of the South.

What is the South?

There is no other region of the country with such a strong personal identification and complex emotional reaction as the South. Californians don’t identify as “Westerners;” “New Englander” inspires connotations of sleepy scenes of snow and hot chocolate; and while you may get a rare character that strongly identifies as a “Midwesterner,” there is a clear difference in the passion that a Minnesotan speaks of their homeland compared to a Tennessean. But despite the fact that the words “the South” strikes passion in its residents, historical and modern important moments in our nations conversation on race, and a specific cultural identity, there is really no common definition of the geographic South. Modern politics make the inclusion of Maryland and DC counter to our understanding of the deep red political vote. Texas and Florida have their own unique identities and their vast populations often skew any analysis of the region. Each unique issue in the South first requires a definition of what geographic region you are discussing.

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The Unintended Uninsured: The Affordable Care Act’s Coverage Gap

[Cross posted from the Harvard Law and Policy Review]

By Julian Polaris

This is a golden age for access to healthcare in America. In 2015, over 90% of Americans had health coverage, the highest insurance ratein the 50 years the federal government has collected insurance data. This astonishing progress is due in large part to the Affordable Care Act (ACA): President Obama recently announced that 20 million people are covered thanks to the ACA. The victory is bittersweet, however: had the ACA been implemented as designed, an additional three million people would have insurance today. This is the story of the “coverage gap,” a crack in the ACA created by the Supreme Court and left unrepaired in nineteen states. A crack so wide that three million low-income people have fallen through it.

The ACA, as originally passed, aimed to increase access to health coverage in two main ways. First, the Act expanded Medicaid, the public health plan for people with low income. Previously, most states had limited Medicaid eligibility to specific groups like children and pregnant women. The ACA enlarged and standardized the Medicaid program to cover all people who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). The federal government picks up 90% of the cost of healthcare services for newly eligible beneficiaries, whereas costs in traditional Medicaid are split closer to 50-50.

Second, the ACA established the health insurance “exchanges,” portals in each state where consumers can shop for standardized plans that aren’t tied to a particular employer. Federal tax credits are available to subsidize exchange coverage for those earning 100 to 400% of the FPL. Continue reading

The Petrie-Flom Center & Coalition to Transform Advanced Care Launch “The Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy”

The Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy will foster development of improved models of care for individuals with serious advanced illness nearing end-of-life, through interdisciplinary analysis of important health law and policy issues.

March 28, 2016 – The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC) today announced a new collaboration, The Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy.

This initiative is prompted by the fact that current health law policy and regulation, developed largely in a fee-for service environment with siloed providers, creates barriers that may impede widespread adoption of improved models of care for those with advanced illness. The Project will seek to address this problem through policy and research projects that will identify and analyze these barriers, and propose policy solutions that promote development and growth of successful programs. This may entail developing proposed regulatory approaches for the advanced care delivery model that could be adopted by policymakers at the state and federal levels, as well as exploration of potential payment methodologies for this model of care.  Continue reading

Regulating genetically modified mosquitoes

By Dalia Deak

Fears of spreading zika virus have renewed interest in the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to suppress disease, with recent attention focused on the UK firm Oxitec. Last week, the developing public health crisis around zika prompted the federal government to tentatively clear a small-scale field test for the first time in the United States, pending a public comment process on a draft environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec. It should be noted that a final approval for the trial will not be made until the FDA completes the public comment process.

The genetically modified insects, which are male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, are designed to breed with the female Aedes aegypti mosquito (primarily responsible for transmitting zika, dengue fever, and other diseases) and contain a gene lethal to their offspring. The female mosquitoes lay eggs but the larvae die well before adulthood. Oxitec claims that recent tests have shown up to a 90% decrease in the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, with a recent test in Piracicaba (~100 miles from Sao Paulo in Brazil) showing an 82% decline. Tests have also been conducted in the Cayman Islands and Malaysia.

In the United States, Oxitec is in the process of waiting for FDA approval to conduct trials in the Florida Keys. However, this is relatively unclear and uncharted territory for the federal government in terms of what group should be responsible for the review, and the decision for the CVM jurisdiction in this case remains hotly debated. Jurisdictional debate exists between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) and Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).

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PANEL (4/5): The National Security Implications of the Genetics Revolution

 

Technology Concept

The National Security Implications of the Genetics Revolution
April 5, 2016 12:00 PM
Pound Hall, Room 101
Harvard Law School, 1536 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

 

Panelists:

  • Jamie Metzl, JD ’97, Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security of the Atlantic Council. He has served on the U.S. National Security Council, State Department, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Executive Vice President of the Asia Society and with the United Nations in Cambodia. A globally syndicated columnist and regular guest on national and international media, he is the author of a history of the Cambodian genocide and the novels The Depths of the Sea and Genesis Code.

Topic: The National Security Implications of the Genetics Revolution

  • George J. Annas, JD, MPH, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health; Professor in the Boston University School of Medicine, and School of Law

Topic: Post-9/11 Uses of Public Health and Medicine by National Security Agencies 

  • Jonathan D. Moreno, PhD, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of Ethics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Topic: National Security and Biology

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided.

Cosponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, the Harvard National Security & Law Association, the Harvard National Security Journal, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan: Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes To Fight Zika Is The Right Thing To Do

A new piece by Bill of Health contributor Art Caplan on Forbes:

When most of us think of mosquito control, we think of repellent, sprays and DEET. You might think long sleeves, window screens or mosquito control trucks, too. We’ve gotten pretty used to the idea that mosquitoes live around and among us–even when those mosquitoes carry diseases like West Nile, dengue, malaria and Zika. The best we can do to avoid their pesky, and sometimes lethal, bites is make our bodies unreachable or unappetizing.

The Zika outbreak sweeping through South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean–and steadily moving north–has made mosquito control a top priority for national and international leaders, including the CDC and WHO. Transmitted primarily by the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, Zika has been linked to microcephaly in babies born to mothers infected during their pregnancies, as well as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes paralysis and even respiratory failure. Zika can get into the blood supply. A few cases of Zika appear to have been sexually transmitted. […]

Read the full article here.

The Economics Of Paying For Value

This new post by Nancy Beaulieu, Michael Chernew, Soren Kristensen, and Meredith Rosenthal appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

The notion that the American health care system should transition from paying for volume to paying for value has become nearly ubiquitous. There is a broad consensus that health care providers should be paid more if they deliver higher value care (i.e. care that results in substantial health gains per dollar spent).

These beliefs have led to a proliferation of value-based payment programs in both public and private sectors. For example, at the beginning of 2015, Sylvia Burwell announced the federal government’s commitment to tie 90 percent of fee-for-service Medicare payments to quality or value measures by 2018. In January of 2015, a newly formed alliance of health care providers, insurers, and employers called the Health Care Transformation Task Force committed to shifting 75 percent of their business to contracts that provide incentives for quality and efficiency by 2020.

The details of existing value or quality-based payment programs vary enormously and without regard to any conceptual framework. For example, they vary in the size of incentives and the measures used. They also vary in whether quality payments are contingent on financial savings and whether the value-based payment model is budget neutral. Even the term value is inconsistently defined. […]

Read the full post here.

Breaking Good? The Arc Of Antitrust Policy In The Health Sector

This new post by Barak Richman appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

It appears that 2016 will follow 2015 as another year of massive consolidation in the health care sector. It therefore follows that 2016 will, also like 2015, be another year in which assorted health care industries receive significant antitrust scrutiny. Against this backdrop, it is timely and revealing to examine the current state and trajectory of antitrust law as it intersects and shapes health care policy.

Beginning in the late 1980s, when hospitals and hospital systems started an intense consolidation trend that continues today, many were challenged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for creating anticompetitive and therefore illegal pricing power. Yet the FTC was unsuccessful in convincing courts that this was a harmful trend, and the Commission earned a costly, long losing streak, suffering defeats in each of six landmark cases between 1994 and 1999 (Note 1). The district courts reasoned that the hospitals’ mergers would provide better and more efficient care, that patients would travel to obtain cheaper care, and in any event, because the hospitals were nonprofit, they would not exercise market power to increase prices.

All these predictions have been proven incorrect. Hospital mergers (including those involving nonprofits) have significantly increased prices, and there has been no evidence of increased efficiencies. In fact, evidence suggests that, because the administration of health insurance both reduces the impact of marginal price increases and limits demand in close substitutes, hospital monopolists are even more costly than “typical” monopolies. One significant development in 2015 is new research which revealed that cost variation in the US is largely determined by hospitals market power. The string of FTC losses and the consequent wave of hospital consolidations can only be described as a collective and massive failure of antitrust policy. […]

Read the full post here.

Intelligent Transparency and Patient Safety: New UK Government Patient Safety Plans Launched

By John Tingle

One thing is clear when commentating on patient safety developments in the UK is that there is hardly ever a dull moment or a lapse of activity in patient safety policy development .Something always appears to be happening somewhere and it’s generally a very significant something. Things are happening at a pace with patient safety here.

On the 3rd March 2016 the Secretary of State for Health,The Rt Honourable Jeremy Hunt announced a major change to the patient safety infrastructure in the NHS with the setting  up from the 1st April 2016 of the independent Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch. In a speech in London to the Global Patient Safety Summit on improving standards in healthcare he also reflected on current patient safety initiatives.This new organisation has been modelled on the Air Accident Investigation Branch which has operated successfully in the airline industry. It will undertake, ‘timely, no-blame investigations’.

The Aviation and Health Industries
The airline industry has provided some very useful thinking in patient safety policy development when the literature on patient safety in the UK is considered. The way the airline industry changed its culture regarding accidents is mentioned by the Secretary of State in glowing terms. Pilots attending training programmes with engineers and flight attendants discussing communications and teamwork. There was a dramatic and immediate reduction in aviation fatalities which he wants to see happening now in the NHS. Continue reading

Taking A Data-Driven, Patient-Centric Approach To Pharmaceutical Company Communication With Health Care Professionals

This new post by James M. “Mit” Spears appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

This post is based in part on a debate which took place between Jerry Avorn and Mit Spears. After reading this piece, check out the counter argument. You can also watch a video of the debate.

The ability of pharmaceutical companies to provide information about medicines to health care professionals beyond that which is contained in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved labeling is a topic that has generated a great deal of discussion, particularly in light of the August 2015 Amarin decision rendered by a US District Court in the Southern District of New York, and the FDA’s recent settlement of the case.

In Amarin, Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled that the FDA’s regulation of information provided by pharmaceutical companies violated the First Amendment’s Commercial Speech doctrine to the extent that they prohibited the communication of truthful and non-misleading speech, even where the information provided went beyond the FDA-approved labeling. On March 8, FDA and Amarin settled the case in a way that preserves Amarin’s ability to share truthful, non-misleading information about its medicine. In fact, the FDA even agreed to provide advisory review of two such communications per year with a 60-day timeline.

This case followed on the heels of the Second Circuit’s 2013 decision in Caronia and the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., in which the Courts affirmed that the First Amendment’s protections of commercial speech extended to pharmaceutical companies and their employees. […]

Read the full post here.

The First Amendment And Pharmaceutical Promotion

This new post by Jerry Avorn appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

This post is based in part on a debate which took place between Jerry Avorn and Mit Spears. After reading this piece, check out the counter argument. You can also watch a video of the debate.

Traditionally, communication about medications has been granted a privileged status different from that accorded to other forms of communication. This makes sense for several reasons.

Unlike other marketplace transactions, most consumers are not able to acquire all the information they need to make appropriate purchasing decisions. This is obviously true of patients, but it is also true of doctors. Most physicians simply do not have the expertise or the time to review the voluminous information that a manufacturer submits to the Food and Drug Administration when it applies for approval of a new product. Even more important, a great deal of information provided to the FDA by a manufacturer is considered proprietary to that company. As a result, although this data is evaluated by FDA scientists, it is simply not accessible to physicians or patients outside of the agency.

Large teams of FDA scientists with expertise in pharmacology, clinical trials, epidemiology, statistics, and several other disciplines take six to 10 months to review the massive dossiers submitted by manufacturers to win drug approval. The idea that unfettered “commercial free speech” would make it possible for prescribers to come up with equally useful determinations on their own is simply implausible. […]

Read the full post here.