Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Medical error: does it kill 195,000 annually?

When the IOM study, To Err Is Human (report brief), came out in 1999, it caused an uproar with its estimate that as many as 95,000 Americans a year die as the result of preventable medical error. According to HealthGrades, that estimate would have been twice as large if the IOM had included (1) failure to diagnose and treat a serious medical problem in time and (2) unexpected death in a low-risk

Monday, July 26, 2004

Health care reform redux.

Tonight's Democratic National Convention kick-off will be punctuated by a lot of applause lines.  One of the biggest will be for health care reform.  The Clintons proved in 1993 just how volatile this issue can be, but the National Coalition on Health Care -- which claims to represent nearly 100 of the nation's largest businesses, unions, provider groups, insurers, pension funds, and other groups

Patient safety, quality bill heads to conference

Thanks to AHLA's Health Law Highlights for this summary of last week's events on the long-delayed patient safety and quality bill:
The Senate approved July 22 legislation intended to improve patient safety by promoting medical error reporting (Congressional Record). The "Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act" would encourage voluntary error reporting by protecting patient safety data from

Sunday, July 25, 2004

FDA, preemption, & tort reform.

Preemption is one of those issues -- along with issue and claim preclusion, exhaustion of remedies, and justiciability -- that only a lawyer can love. It's technical, messy, and a one-way ticket to Palookaville for plaintiffs unlucky enough to bump up against it in their state-law-based tort suits.

Preemption starts off easy: Under the Supremacy Clause, federal laws take precedence over state

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Death penalty & psychotropic drugs.

On July 21st, U.S. District Judge Royal Fergeson (U.S. District Court for the Western District, Pecos Division) granted a Texas death-row inmate's petition for habeas corpus relief in an 80-page opinion that (1) blows the state's case out of the water; (2) includes harrowing accounts of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel; (3) depicts the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Friday, July 23, 2004

Drug reimportation: video conference.

The Alliance for Health Reform and Kaiser Family Foundation put on a 1.5 hour conference on reimportation yesterday. The video plus PowerPoint slides are available here. Of especial note are the slides from Donna Vogt and Susan Thaul (both of the Congressional Research Service) comparing and contrasting the competing bills, which are:
HR 2427 (not yet available; try here) (Gutnecht)S 2307 (

FTC/DOJ: Abolish CON laws.

It had to happen sooner or later: One of the mainstays of federal health care policy for 20 years -- state Certificate of Need (CON) laws -- are now being vilified by the joint FTC/DOJ task force on competition in health care. The group also counseled states not to pass laws that authorize collective bargaining by physicians (too late, in the case of Texas, but our law is so cumbersome and

Long-term care: crisis.

Molly Ivins isn't the first, only the latest, in a long and growing line of commentators who see long-term care as The Next Big Thing in health care. This part of the health care industry is woefully undercaptalized and underdeveloped, and if things seem bad at the local nursing home now, wait until the Boomers start hitting those places (the oldest Boomers start turning 60 next year). Molly's

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

JCAHO hit in GAO report for CMS.

If you can understand the title of this post without a translator, you're a true health-law nerd!

As the Associated Press reports today (courtesy of the Indianapolis Star), the Government Accountability Office (GAO (formerly the "General Accounting Office")) has filed a report that is extremely critical of the performance of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Genetic screening and . . .

Amy Harmon has a good article in today's N.Y. Times about genetic screening -- pre- and post-conception -- and (i) the lack of uniform professional standards for when to offer screening, (ii) the lack of government regulation of the field, and (iii) the growing belief that prospective parents are entitled at least to the information about which tests are available, which ones are covered by

Drug reimportation.

Here's a terrific audio report from Congressional Quarterly's Capitol Hill Bureau Chief Mary Agnes Carey on the status of the House and Senate reimportation bills, the prospects of anything coming out of this week's markup session, and the political angle on this issue in 2004. If you have trouble opening the audio file, here's a link to the transcript of this broadcast.

Blame the lawyers.

Today's on-line Wall Street Journal has the results of an interesting survey about Americans' concerns over health care quality (requires subscription). 
Public concern about medical, surgical and diagnostic errors is high and many Americans have doubts about the ability of medical institutions to prevent these types of errors, according to the latest WSJ Online/Harris Interactive health poll.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Class actions suits against non-profit hospitals.

Julie Appleby has a review piece in today's USA Today. From the sidebar:
Several high-profile law firms have filed 31 cases against non-profit hospitals and hospital chains since late June. The cases make similar allegations, including: Some hospitals violate an implicit contract with the government to provide charity care in exchange for tax-exempt status by charging uninsured patients more than

Sunday, July 18, 2004

More on designer babies.

The Sunday Independent (U.K.) has a report in today's issue: A two-year-old boy who needs urgent treatment to cure a rare and potentially fatal blood disorder is at the centre of a fresh row over creating "designer babies" with human embryos. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is poised to relax its rules on using genetic screening for medical treatments on Wednesday. The

Conceiving a child to save another.

An article in today's Arizona Daily Star discusses the practice of conceiving a child in order to produce a donor (bone marrow, cord blood . . . ), which the editors describe as "deeply controversial." In and of itself, it's hard to see where the moral objection, or the argument for regulation, comes in. The article identifies a few problems, only one of which focuses on the decision to conceive

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Reimportation bill stalls in Senate.

Ruby L. Bailey wrote a good piece on reimportation in yesterday's Detroit Free Press (provided here courtest of the San Jose Mercury News). In particular, she provided a concise comparison of the competing Senate bills:
COMPARING THE BILLS Two U.S. Senate bills would allow drug importation into the United States from Canada and other countries. How they compare: Pharmaceutical Market Access and

Gary Hart: no joke.

Gary Hart.  Mention his name and you are bound to get a snicker.  Donna Rice . . . "Monkey Business" . . .  But consider this from tomorrow's review (in the N.Y. Times) of his new book, The Fourth Power:
Few Americans have more right to say ''I told you so'' than Gary Hart. During the 1990's, when the foreign policy establishment was obsessed with Star Wars and other issues left over from the

Readers respond to PAS column by Kristof.

As noted here recently, Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed piece lauding the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide. Four readers respond in today's N.Y. Times. The responses range from the syllogistic (killing is wrong; suicide is a subset of killing; suicide is wrong) to the empathic. That latter category includes both sentiments both pro (PAS is a humane

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Assisted suicide and Ashcroft.

As previously noted here, John Ashcroft has tried to halt Oregon's "Death With Dignity" experiment by threatening action against any physician who participates in assisted suicide by writing a prescription for a drug that appears on the federal government's list of controlled substances. His legal theory appears to be that the exception allowing physicians to prescribe controlled substances

House votes to allow Canada drug imports.

The Associated Press is reporting (via Yahoo! News) that the House of Representatives voted 389-31 to approve a $16.8 billion appropriations bill for the Dep't of Agriculture and the FDA that includes a measure that would legalize prescription drug purchases from Canadian sources. That's the good news. The bad news: "The provision is not expected to remain in the final spending bill to be

Federal marriage amendment dies in Senate.

According to this afternoon's Washington Post web page, the federal marriage amendment died in the Senate this afternoon. Here's the link to the Senate's roll-call vote on the motion to close debate (which is how anything gets to a vote on the Senate floor - 60 votes are required, and this motion got only 48). Because 6 Republicans broke ranks and voted with all but 3 Democrats against cloture,

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

CMS: Lying to Congress.

Lying to Congress ought to get a person into a lot of trouble. Tom Scully, the former head of CMS, is poised to skate on the charge that he directed the head auditor of CMS to lie to Congress about the actual budget projections for last fall's Medicare reform proposal. Threatened with the loss of his job if he told Congress the truth, the auditor shaded his estimate by nearly 50% (or $150

Physician recruitment on FBI's radar.

According to a talk given at a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association news conference, the FBI is focusing increased attention on hospitals' physician-recruitment deals, according to a news item (requires subscription) in today's "Daily Dose" from Modern Healthcare. Tim Delaney, head of the Bureau's healthcare fraud unit, also said the top areas of growing fraud are pharmaceutical and DME cases,

Monday, July 12, 2004

Nonprofits under scrutiny.

More on the legal woes of nonprofit hospitals under attack for their billing and collections practices with respect to unfunded patients: the cover story of the July issue of HealthLeaders magazine, "Aggressive Collections," by Philip Betbeze, provides an excellent overview of recent developments.

Late-term abortion law struck down again.

As reported in Friday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a federal judge has struck down Missouri's late-term (or "partial-birth") abortion law. The grounds for the decision are similar to those relied upon in June when the federal court in San Francisco declared the similar federal law to be unconstitutional: the absence of an exception to the prohibition to protect the life of the mother, a provision

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Bush's marriage thing.

Bush 41 was famous for his desire to have "the vision thing." Bush 43 seems to have visions galore, including a "marriage vision." In this vision, gays aren't married and "welfare mothers" are. And just to make sure his marriage vision becomes a reality, the President favors a federal marriage amendment to nail down that first notion and is proposing to spend $200 million to achieve the second

Science & politics redux.

Today's N.Y. Times has an article by Mireya Navarro ("Experts in Sex Field Say Conservatives Interfere With Health and Research") that sounds a familiar theme:For years, Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based organization devoted to adolescent sexual health, says, it received government grants without much trouble. Then last year it was subjected to three federal reviews.

James Wagoner, the

Stem cells and cloning.

The United States' failure to work out a comprehensive and comprehensible set of policies on stem cell research and human cloning is emblematic of a wider, international failure. In an excellent review piece in this week's issue of The Lancet, Carol A. Tauer (Univ. of Minn.) surveys the wreckage and suggests a new approach to forging a consensus.

Mixing science & politics (again).

In an editorial in this week's issue, the editors of the British medical journal The Lancet take the Bush Administration to task for its new policy by which DHHS' Office of Global Public Health will choose which, if any, US Government scientists can serve as advisers to WHO. Instead of going directly to the experts they want as technical advisers, as WHO has done in the past, the organisation

2 new cases from Texas Supreme Court.

The Texas Supreme Court had a pretty heavy opinion day on Thursday and handed down a couple of cases of potential interest to health care providers. Providers prevailed in both actions, thus maintaining a winning streak in the Supreme Court that must stretch back years.

Utica National Insurance Co. of Texas v. American Indemnity Co., ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex., No. 02-0090, July 9, 2004): majority

French ban human cloning.

According to the International Herald-Tribune, France has banned human cloning (now punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of over US$ 9 million). They also suspended their ban on stem cell research on human embryos for five years. AP reports (courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) that the prison term is 20 years. It also says that the new bioethics law, originally introduced

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Studies Look at Health Care in the U.S.

The N.Y. Times ran a short article in today's paper surveying some of the emerging theories, and the developing consensus, among health care economists. After reviewing the usual benchmarks that place the United States at or near the bottom of developed countries in health-care measure despite spending more, and more per capita, than the others, author Jeff Madrick, continues:What may surprise

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

OIG's statement re: Scully, the CMS chief auditor, and the price of Medicare reform.

The Acting Principal Deputy Inspector General's statement is on the OIG website. Chairman Grassley released a brief statement about the IG's report and posted it to the Senate Finance Committee's website. The IG's statement says the report has been forwarded to the Secretary of HHS, but so far there's nothing in that agency's web site about the report. The folks who should be really upset at

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Health Affairs' mega-med-mal issue.

The July/August issue of Health Affairs was released today, and it's a doozy: half the issue is devoted to observations, empirical studies, and prescriptions for what is universally described as a medical-malpractice crisis. Here are some of the highlights (from the free previews and abstracts on the journal's web site):
The Forgotten Third: Liability Insurance And The Medical Malpractice Crisis

Scully pressured actuary, didn't break law: OIG reports

According to a report in this afternoon's "Daily Dose" (by Modern Healthcare), the DHHS OIG has concluded that Tom Scully did, indeed, pressure the CMS chief actuary to withhold the true price tag ($524 billion over 10 years) of the Medicare prescription drug benefit from Congress last fall. More than that, the Administration's earlier (and affirmatively false) figure of $395 billion was allowed

Monday, July 5, 2004

Do pediatricians need lawyers in order to provide good care?

That's the tantalizing question in an article in the July 2004 issue of Pediatrics. The full article isn't available on the web, but an abstract is:PEDIATRICS Vol. 114 No. 1 July 2004, pp. 224-228



Why Pediatricians Need Lawyers to Keep Children Healthy
Pediatricians recognize that social and

Medicine and literature.

Catching up on some reading . . . the May 22 issue of The Lancet continues its series of articles by (or, in earlier installments, about) physician-writers with a truly splendid piece by Brazilian physician and author Moacyr Scliar. All are available for free (albeit with a brief registration form). Here are all the articles in this series that I know of:Moacry ScliarMartin WincklerRichard

Health reform and the presidential election.

Last month (June 5), the British medical journal The Lancet hopefully titled its editorial on U.S. health care and the November election, "Bush vs Kerry: health is a critically decisive issue" (free). After surveying the relatively tepic health-reform proposals of both the Bush and the Kerry camps, however, and reminding us that the Clintons' experience in 1993 has probably turned ambitious

The Vice-President's physician.

This week's New Yorker has an article by correspondent Jane Mayer on VP Cheney's physician's battle with addiction. The New York Times and The Washington Post picked up the story in this morning's editions, too. Specifically, the physician who famously declared Cheney fit for office four months before Cheney suffered his fourth heart attack has been battling an addiction to narcotics for nine

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Medical ethicist: Honesty isn't always the best policy.

Daniel Sokol, a medical ethicist of the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, London, has an interesting piece in the International Herald Tribune defending the use of deception in the rare case in which honesty (i.e., respecting a patient's autonomy) might lead to death or serious harm -- that is, when truth-telling is clearly not in the patient's best interests. Sokol's presentation is pretty

July 4: George III & George II.

Cheers to the N.Y. Times editorial editors for running Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant op-ed, "Their George and Ours." As she works her way through the Declaration of Independence's bill of particulars against George III, the parallels to our own present leaders' policies keep mounting. They will catch some flak for running this piece, I'll wager, but who can object to the closing three

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Mammalian cloning continues to pose safety concerns.

From the BBC, there's a story today about U.S. researchers from Cornell who reported to the European Fertility Conference in Berlin that mouse experiments comparing assisted reproduction techniques with cloning showed "significantly impaired development in the cloned embryos compared with those derived from more conventional ART techniques and this has made us more convinced that reproductive