Checking Up on Health

By Benita M. Dodd
May 29, 2012
Benita M. Dodd, Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
– Where to next? While the Supreme Court’s decision is likely a month away, theAmerican people already have made up their minds over the federal health care law, ccording to Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute. Writing in National Review Online, Turner cites opinion polls that show support for the law is at its lowest level since it passed more than two years ago, and two-thirds of Americans say they either want the whole law or the individual mandate overturned.
“Meanwhile, Congress, state governments and businesses across the country are puzzling over ‘what if’ alternatives to try to be ready when the decision is issued,” Turner writes. She offers the three most likely options. If the court upholds the law, expect ballot box battles and “a parade” of new awsuits. If the court upholds part of the law, expect a battle over “fixes.” And if the court tosses out the entire law, “activist groups that have been the strongest supporters of Obamacare will instantly take to the airwaves and possibly the streets. To calm the protests, a new and very different conversation must begin right away about viable short- and long-term solutions.”
– Ongoing litigation: More than a dozen Catholic bishops — including Washington’s — sued the Obama administration last week, ratcheting up the standoff between church officials and the White House over a government mandate requiring employers to provide contraception coverage. Catholic bishops were already leading the fight against the mandate, which requires most religious organizations to provide the coverage, although houses of worship are exempt. Other conservative religious organizations had filed lawsuits this year. But 12 lawsuits on behalf of 43 separate institutions involved only Catholics and for the first time included 13 dioceses — the seats of the bishops themselves.  Catholic dioceses and schools are suing the Obama administration over its birth control mandate. A plaintiff, Catholic University of America, says the rule violates their constitutional rights and turns their teachings into an act of hypocrisy. Source: Washington Post
– Fighting dangerous drugs: As long as Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian businessmen can make fake drugs without much likelihood of discovery or prosecution, someone will always work out ways to get those fake drugs into the U.S. supply chain, notes Roger Bate, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Phake: The Deadly World of Falsified and Substandard Medicines.”  Current U.S. government approaches to this problem focus on increasing intellectual property enforcement and having more FDA inspectors to oversee foreign production plants. FDA inspections will spot some problems; the U.S. IP law is also valuable, but pushing IP law aggressively creates politically influential commercial opponents in nations we need as allies in the fight against dangerous drugs. What the U.S. government should be pushing for, but isn’t, is better international public health law against fake drugs, Bate maintains. “A treaty against fake drugs would help countries currently awash in fake drugs to create laws based on public health considerations and not intellectual property rights.”
– Stem cell breakthroughs: University of Calgary researchers have found a way to generate stem cells by the millions while eliminating a harmful cancer gene from the formula. The new bioreactor technology takes adult skin cells and reprograms them to become stem cells. The type of stem cell — pluropotent, or iPS cells — is the type that can develop into any kind of cell in the body. While stem-cell generation isn’t new, earlier techniques have had major limitations. It usually takes 1 million adult cells to make a single stem cell.  The Calgary researchers, whose study was published in the May issue of the prestigious Nature Methods journal, developed a technique that generates 10 million stem cells from 800,000 adult cells. “The interesting thing about these cells is they can become any cell type in the body. With future research it’s going to be possible to generate tissues, then transplant them into patients,” researcher Derrick Rancourt told the Calgary Herald. Source: BIO SmartBrief
– Why can you make more with Facebook than with pharmaceuticals? The main reason is the stunning cost of inventing a new drug, writes Matthew Herper in Forbes. “Studies have put it a $1 billion or $2 billion dollars; my own survey of the amount of money spent by large drug companies on R&D for every new drug approved showed the costs rose as high as $11 billion per new drug.” Herper cites the cost of the large clinical trials involving hundreds of thousands of patients, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars – only to result in failure. “You can start Facebook in a Harvard dorm room; you can’t do the same with a new medicine. By the time a drug reaches the market, the entrepreneur behind it has given most of the value away to venture capitalists and managers in order to get all that expensive research funded. This leaves us with a curious problem: We overpay for health care, but we underpay the people we expect to fix it. This is a little like wondering why your pipes keep leaking when you won’t spring for a good plumber.” erper has some ideas on health care innovation can generate wealth. “What we really need is to figure out a way to mimic the entrepreneurial ecosystem of he tech business in medicine,” he maintains. Read more at
– Health Savings Accounts save: If consumer-directed health plans grew to one-half of all employer-sponsored insurance, health care spending could be cut $57 billion annually, according to a new report in Health Affairs. The report finds, “Enrollment is increasing in consumer-directed health insurance plans, which feature high deductibles and a personal health care savings account.” The plans are currently at 13 percent of market share. The savings would be “the equivalent of a 4 percent decline in total health care spending for the nonelderly.” Unless, of course, President Obama’s health care law restricts the growth of these plans …
– Quote of Note: “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system of the country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable … it would have complete power to decide what we are to be given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities and services were to be available and in what quantities; it would be able to direct their distributions between persons to any degree it liked.” ― Friedrich A. von Hayek
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