Checking Up On Health: July 9, 2013

Benita Dodd Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Benita Dodd
Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

Presumed consentGenomeWeb reports that Wales has taken action to address the shortage of organs that are available to patients needing transplants by voting to shift to a system that assumes people are organ donors unless they, or their families, specify otherwise. Meanwhile, the journal Nature notes that while organ donation is a last option for many people who are facing death, new regenerative medicine technologies may in the future make donor lists less necessary. You didn’t need that kidney, did you?

Maybe just a spoonful of sugar? Most voters continue to view President Obama’s national health care law unfavorably and believe more strongly than ever that free market competition is a better way to drive health care costs down. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 39 percent of likely U.S. voters have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act, while 55 percent view it unfavorably. This includes 15 percent with a very favorable opinion and nearly three times as many (42 percent) with a very favorable one. 

One more way to swell exchange rolls? Douglas Holtz-Eakin of American Action Forum writes about the White House announcement that it will delay enforcement of the employer mandate in ObamaCare until 2015: “It will simply be much too busy to penalize those violating the mandate, an executive power grab that is familiar from their playbook on education, climate change, and elsewhere. The policy implications are fairly straightforward. Essentially for calendar 2014 the act of dropping coverage and dumping employees into the exchanges is on sale. Drop and dump, but no penalty. Accelerating the rush of employers to the exits is bad news for taxpayers. At a minimum, the federal revenue from fines is gone. More realistically, the costs of already-bloated insurance subsidies will escalate and the red ink will rise. … Why do it? Politics. Democrats no longer face the immediate specter of running against the fallout from a heavy regulatory imposition on employers across the land. Explaining away the mandate was going to be a big political lift; having the White House airbrush it from the landscape is way better.” 

Honor system? The 606-page final rule that the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department published on July 5 now says the feds will no longer attempt to verify individual eligibility for insurance subsidies and instead will rely on self-reporting, with minimal efforts to verify if the information consumers provide is accurate. Since HHS now won’t require business to report those benefits or enforce the standards until 2015, it says it can’t ask ObamaCare’s “exchange” bureaucracies to certify who qualifies either. As The Wall Street Journal points out, “This change has nothing to do with the employer mandate, even tangentially. HHS is disowning eligibility quality control because pre-clearance is ‘not feasible’ as a result of ‘operational barriers’ and ‘a large amount of systems development on both the state and federal side, which cannot occur in time for October 1, 2013.'” Whoa. We didn’t see that coming from a bill you had to pass in order to know what was in it, said no one ever.

Smokescreen: Some smokers trying to get coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act may get a break from tobacco-use penalties that could have made their premiums unaffordable. The Obama administration – in yet another health care overhaul delay – has quietly notified insurers that a so-called computer system glitch will limit penalties that the law says the companies may charge smokers. A fix will take at least a year to put in place. Source: Foxnews.com

Not just liver spots: Scientists used human stem cells to create precursors to human livers like those in fetuses, and the early organs functioned as livers when transplanted into mice. These “buds” didn’t grow into regular livers and any treatment for humans is at least a decade away, the journal Nature reports. The study demonstrates the first steps toward potentially creating new organs for transplants, researchers said. The liver buds were created using induced pluripotent stem cells, or skin cells that were tricked into becoming stem cells that, like embryonic ones, can grow into any type of tissue. Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Skin in the game: Swiss company Novartis says its new psoriasis drug is superior to Amgen’s Enbre, putting it in line to become the first of a clutch of new treatments to gain market approval. A phase III trial involving 1,307 patients showed that Novartis’ secukinumab was more effective than Enbrel in clearing skin in patients with moderate to severe plaque-type psoriasis, a painful and unsightly skin condition that causes itching and scaling and affects about 125 million people. It’s thought to be caused by an inflammatory response initiated by the body’s immune system.

In Brief  

Transparency vs. proprietary: How do you balance the need for transparency in research with the need to protect companies’ product research and development? In Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, John Sterling cites the need for compromise in industry-sponsored research.

An aspirin a day could keep cancer away: Researchers have had little idea exactly why aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) appear to stave off the accumulation of disease-causing mutations. Writing in PLOS Genetics, researchers now say that aspirin slows the accumulation of mutations in abnormal cells in cases of the precancerous condition Barrett’s esophagus. One hypothesis is that aspirin lowers mutation rates due to its inflammation-reducing properties.

Calling for oversight: A New York Times editorial board calls on the Food and Drug Administration to take a stand on regulating lab-developed tests (LDTs) and publicly release the draft guidelines it has been working on to regulate LDTs. “The FDA has always had the authority to regulate laboratory-developed tests but chose not to do so when tests were used locally. … But the landscape has changed with the advent of more sophisticated tests and the rapid expansion of commercial laboratory companies,” the editorial notes.

Disincentives: ObamaCare proposals to impose price controls on Medicare’s prescription drug program and to shorten the patent-protection period for biologics could stifle innovation and make biotech firms hesitant to spend money on drug discovery and development, warns Scott Eldridge of Global Pharma Analytics in a Baltimore Sun op-ed.

Biotech burgeons: The global biotechnology sector secured nearly $11 billion in funding during the first half of 2013, 37.6 percent higher compared with the same period last year, according to BioWorld Snapshots. Public offerings accounted for around 63 percent of the total. Global biotech firms raised nearly $6 billion in the second quarter, 20 percent more than in the first quarter.  

Quotes of Note 

“What have I gained by health? Intolerable dullness. What by moderate meals? A total blank.” – Charles Lamb

“It’s no longer a question of staying healthy. It’s a question of finding a sickness you like.” – Jackie Mason

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