Health Policy News and Views
Compiled By Benita M. Dodd
Several friends have raved about the healing/soothing/therapeutic/calming/antidepressant benefits of essential oils, but I’m still not buying them. (Although, if you want to give me some, I’ll gladly try them!) I would love to hear from readers about their experiences, but truth be told, I’m as skeptical about the multilevel marketers’ claims regarding these costly essential oils as I am about the overrated cures that some chiropractors promise. There, I put it out there.
And then there’s Whole Foods Market. I was reading about the Affordable Care Act on Forbes.com when up popped a story titled, “The Three Dumbest Things About Whole Foods Market.”
If there’s one thing I’m touchy about, it’s paying an arm and a leg for elitist, “organic” products and produce that have not been proven to do anything in more healthy fashion than the regular aisles in Kroger, Publix or – better yet – Aldi!
So, in a nutshell, writer Steven Salzburg complains that 1) Whole Foods sells homeopathic medicines that are little more than snake oil.2) Whole Foods has an anti-GMO policy, adopted across all their stores, that ignores the science of GMOs. 3) Whole Foods won’t sell the pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen, because they’re not “natural.” He writes:
It’s ironic that on the one hand, Whole Foods proclaims “We’ve long believed that consumers have a right to know what’s in your food”. But when it comes to homeopathic remedies, they neglect to inform consumers that these remedies do not contain the ingredients on the bottle at all. That’s because homeopathic preparations are so diluted that not a single molecule of the original substance remains. Even more absurd, though, is that even if they weren’t diluted to nothing, most homeopathic ingredients have never been shown to have any health benefits to begin with.
As for GMOs: I’ve readily admitted that I used to be opposed to “Frankenfoods.” But I’ve seen the light. And to those who believe that “organic” is superior to the decades of agribusiness advances that have saved lives and thwarted malnutrition across the globe … well, I’m taking an ibuprofen because the thought gave me a headache. You try an essential oil …
Ice buckets and ALS: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen at least one celebrity accept the ALS ice bucket challenge, or as many social media users know it, the #ALSIceBucketChallenge that has gone viral. Even Georgia Governor Nathan Deal wrote a check for this dare, which requires that you dunk yourself in ice water to raise awareness and/or donations for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research. ALS is technically an “orphan disease:” It afflicts about 30,000 Americans, or about two in 100,000 people, and is fatal within three to five years of diagnosis. The low numbers mean there’s little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to pour billions into R&D and pursue the market for a cure. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently allocates $40 million to ALS research this year. A Forbes article points out that it’s $10 million less than the NIH spends to research Attention Deficit Disorder ($50 million – but then again, 5.9 million diagnosed there) and $22 million less than it spends on anthrax research ($72 million on the deadly bioterrorism agent). The ALS Association and its chapters collectively raised about $64 million last year, but in the past three weeks, the organization has seen more than a 750 percent increase in year-over-year donations – all attributable to the challenge.
At-home test for colon cancer: The Food and Drug Administration has approved an at-home, DNA-based colorectal screening test from Exact Sciences that can spot genetic mutations linked to cancerous and precancerous growth in the colon. The Cologuard test was able to detect more cancers during clinical trials compared with blood testing. Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said the test isn’t meant to replace more thorough evaluation methods, such as colonoscopy, but rather to encourage more people to be screened. Source: Wall Street Journal
About vaccinations and illegal immigration: Thomas Sowell made a great point in his recent column: “Amid all the things being said on all sides about the massive, illegal influx of children from countries in Central America, we have yet to hear some American parent saying, ‘I don’t owe it to anybody to have my child exposed to diseases brought into this country, no matter what problems exist in other countries!’”
Speedier yet cumbersome: Since the 1992 enactment of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, the Food and Drug Administration’s drug review process has been accelerated, but the rate of safety warnings and withdrawals has increased, too, researchers reported in Health Affairs. Drugs that have been on the market longer have stronger safety records, so older drugs should be preferred unless newer drugs represent breakthroughs in treatment, the researchers said. Source: Medscape.com
Ebola update: West African nations are trying to contain the worst-ever outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. The World Health Organization said today that the death toll has exceeded 1,200; the spread is outpacing containment, The New York Times reports. Several companies are working to develop antibody drugs for the deadly virus, but among all experimental drugs Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s monoclonal antibody cocktail ZMapp appears to be the unapproved treatment of choice so far, and has already been used to treat infected patients. The vast majority of the experimental treatments, are unlikely to be ready for at least a year, according to BioPharmaReporter.com.
Case in point: In Halbig v. Burwell, King v. Burwell, Pruitt v. Burwell, and Indiana v. IRS, the question is whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act grants the IRS the authority to issue subsidies solely (as the statute says) through health-insurance Exchanges “established by the State,” or also (as the IRS maintains) through Exchanges established by the federal government in the 36 states that failed to establish one themselves. The D.C. Circuit recently ruled in Halbig against the IRS and found the PPACA offers subsidies only in state-established Exchanges; that subsidies the IRS is issuing in those 36 states are illegal; and so are the taxes on employers and individuals that those subsidies trigger. The Fourth Circuit disagreed. It ruled in Kingthat because the IRS “provide[d] an equally plausible understanding of the statute,” the PPACA is ambiguous on this point. Under a doctrine known as “Chevrondeference,” the court then deferred to what it found to be a reasonable attempt by the IRS to resolve the statute’s supposed ambiguity. Writing in Forbes, my learned friend Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute explains how the Fourth Circuit’s opinion “violates at least three canons of statutory construction: (1) it not only departs from the plain meaning of the text, but completely inverts the text’s meaning; (2) it leads to absurd results; and (3) it creates surplusage in the subsidy-eligibility rules and throughout the statute.” Find his entire article here; it’s worth a read as the issue heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Quotes of Note
“Proponents who want to bring the salaries of U.S. doctors in line with those from Europe must also offer government-subsidized medical education and nationally regulated medical malpractice systems that many European nations enjoy. Doctors abroad don’t graduate with over $175,000 of medical education debt or pay tens of thousands of dollars in annual medical malpractice premiums as they do Stateside. Such a proposal has yet to materialize in our health reform conversation.” – Kevin Pho, MD, “Are American Doctors Paid Too Much or Too Little?”