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Allison Kvien, MJLST Staff Member
Have you seen the "flu shots today" signs outside your local grocery stores yet? Looked at any maps tracking where in the United States flu outbreaks are occurring? Gotten a flu shot? This year's flu season is quickly approaching, and with it may come many implications for the future of health care in this country. This year marks the first year with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in full effect, so thousands of people in the country will get their first taste of the ACA's health care benefits in the upcoming months. The L.A. Times reported that nearly 10 million previously uninsured people now have coverage under the ACA. Though there might still be debate between opponents and proponents of the ACA, the ACA has already survived a Supreme Court challenge and is well on its way to becoming a durable feature of the American healthcare system. Will the upcoming flu season prove to be any more of a challenge?
In a recent article entitled, "Developing a Durable Right to Health Care" in Volume 14, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology, Erin Brown examined the durability of the ACA going forward. Brown explained, "[a]mong its many provisions, the ACA's most significant is one that creates a right to health care in this country for the uninsured." Another provision of the ACA is an "essential benefits package," in which Congress included "preventative and wellness services," presumably including flu shots. For those that will be relying on the healthcare provided by the ACA in the upcoming flu season, it may also be important to understand where the ACA's vulnerabilities lie. Brown posited that the vulnerabilities are concentrated mostly in the early years of the statute, and the federal right to health care may strengthen as the benefits take hold. How will the end of the ACA's first year go? This is a very important question for many Americans, and Brown's article examines several other questions that might be on the minds of millions in the upcoming months.
Mayura Iyer, MJLST Staff
When we feel unwell, or have an injury, or are battling a serious condition, we turn to doctors and hospitals to take care of us and return us to health. But what if these professionals are actually adding to the harm? A recent study in the Journal of Patient Safety stated that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death. These numbers are staggering and make medical errors the third leading cause of death in America. With statistics like that, you would expect the problem to be the topic of every major headline, however, these facts are not well documented or disseminated.
John Grout, John Hill, and Arlen Langvardt discussed the prevalence and causes of medical errors and how to mistake-proof the healthcare industry in their article in Volume 14, Issue 1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. Their article stated that medical errors stem from the multi-factorial, complex nature of medical procedures and from the subjective component of providing medical care. However, the article goes on to suggest several ways in which medical errors can be minimized through "mistake-proofing" measures that have had great success in other industries. The article gives examples of a variety of mistake-proofing methods, from using devices to monitor staff hygiene to using computers to aid the process of prescribing medication.
So why, when there are ways to tackle the issue, are the rates of medical errors not improving? Part of the problem is the institutionalized culture of healthcare. There has historically been a pass of sorts for the errors of doctors, granting them a pardon for reasonable human error. Furthermore, there is a culture of overlooking the mistakes of colleagues - partly because of a fear of retaliation and partly because there is an unspoken rule of maintaining and protecting professional reputations. However, when the cost of error is equal to the value of human life, it is necessary to break down harmful practices and implement policies that will adequately address the problem of fatal medical errors.
Academics, administrators, and doctors themselves have recognized this issue and even suggested easily to implement methods of error reduction. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has suggested simple ideas like using cameras to record medical procedures and electronically-published reviews and ratings to make healthcare providers more accountable and thus minimize errors. With the problem only increasing, it will soon be impossible for healthcare providers to ignore. But recognizing the problem is only the first step; the more complicated task will be implementing policies that address the issue and ensuring adequate compliance. However, with the insight offered by practitioners and academics alike, the solution to this problem seems within reach.
Ke M. Huang, MJLST Staff
Once upon a time, a farmer and his new wife, who had no means to support the farmer's first wife's children, decided to abandon the children in the woods. These children--Hansel and Gretel--found in the woods a charming little house made of sweets. A wicked witch lived in that house.
Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Farm Bill of 2014. According to a New York Times article, the President called the Farm Bill a "jobs bill," and "innovation bill," a "research bill," and a "conservation bill." Yet, amid the provisions of the Farm Bill that addressed topics such as crop insurance, conservation, and trade, there were also provisions that touched on the issue of healthy nutrition of families.
Senator Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the author of the Farm Bill, emphasized that part of the Bill's purpose was to improve nutrition choices in families. Changes such as doubling SNAP benefits (formerly called food stamps) for buying healthier foods and financing new grocery stores in underserved areas reflect that purpose.
A question remains whether the Farm Bill of 2014 will be effective in achieving that purpose. Especially for nutrition among the children, the article by Termini et al. in the Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology offers some answers. In other words, the article addresses the predicament of modern day Hansel and Gretel who are lured by sugared snacks, french fries, and company.
In Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity (2011), Termini et al. (1) provide some alarming data about nutrition-related health complications among American children, (2) discuss the relationship between the health complications and food advertising, and (3) propose several solutions to address these health complications. While Termini et al. mention advocates of consumer choice, the authors primarily propose measures for the food industry, the government, and parents. For example, akin to the SNAP benefits for buying healthier foods, Termini et al. propose tax incentives for buying healthy food.
In final analysis, even if the often-regarded villain in the story of Hansel and Gretel is the witch, at least the government was partly responsible for the predicament of the children. Had the government funded a SNAP benefit program for the children's family, or even subsidized the family farm through a crop insurance program, the parents would not have to leave the children alone in the woods. Just some food for thought.
by Myanna Dellinger, JD, MA - Associate Professor at Western State College of Law and Director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy
Extremely cold weather conditions still haunt the American North and Northeast. Meanwhile, California is suffering through July temperatures in January and the worst drought since 1895. No doubt about it, we are witnessing ever more frequent extreme weather events. Since nations still can't agree on what to do about this urgent problem, it may be up to local actors such as cities, states, companies, and NGOs to take the required action now.
Nations have agreed to "try" to limit global warming to 2° C and to agree on a new climate treaty by 2015 to take effect by 2020, but in reality, we are headed towards a 5.3° C increase. Even if the 2° degree target were to be met, vast ecological and economic damage would still occur in the form of, for instance, severe economic disruptions to our food and water supply.
Disregarding climate change is technologically risky too: to meet the target of keeping concentrations of CO2 below the most recently agreed-upon threshold of 500 ppm, future generations would have to literally pull CO2 out of the air with either machinery that does not yet exist and may never become technically or economically feasible, or with bioenergy crops that absorb CO2, which would compete with food production.
My article "Localizing Climate Change" argues that effective and urgent action is likely to come from the local and not the national or international levels.
by Katelyn DeRuyter, UMN Law Student, MJLST Note and Comment Editor
The fact that many Americans are obese is hardly news. Obesity in America has been a source of news reports, social commentaries and literature for well over a decade. In her book review of "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" by Michael Pollan, published in Issue 8.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Morgan Holcomb discusses how obesity rates in America were part of Pollan's motivation to write "The Omnivore's Dilemma." More recently, American obesity has been described as an epidemic, and the health risks associated with obesity are gradually becoming common knowledge. Obesity is even compared, by some, to smoking and alcoholism. A recent LawSci blog post, "Is Food the New Tobacco: Science, Advertising, and the War against Obesity?" looks at Roseann Termini's article, "Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity: A Call for Action for Proactive Solutions," and draws parallels between the role of advertising in the rise of cigarette addiction and the current obesity epidemic.
A question that is overlooked in this dialogue is whether obesity is, in fact, a disease. Whether obesity is considered a disease has real consequences including altering social stigmas, increasing funds allocated for research and expanding treatment accessibility. The debate over whether obesity should be considered a disease is not new. However, new life has been breathed into the debate following the American Medical Association's (AMA) official recognition of obesity as a disease. The New York Times quoted Dr. Harris, a member of the AMA's board, as stating that "[r]ecognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans." A recent Forbes article, "Declaring Obesity a Disease: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly," provides a closer look at how the AMA reached its decision.
In reaching the conclusion that obesity is a disease, the AMA overruled its own council's recommendation. The AMA's Council on Science and Public Health (Counsel on Science) had been tasked with studying this issue over the past year. The Council on Science's recommendation against categorizing obesity as a disease rested, in part, on the concern that body mass index (BMI) is a simplistic and inaccurate tool; BMI is the tool generally used to define obesity. The Council on Science was also concerned that recognizing obesity as a disease might increase reliance on drugs and procedures and decrease the emphasis on lifestyle changes.
From a legal perspective, this classification raises interesting questions regarding future interpretation of Congressional intent when "disease" is used without a specific definition. While only time will be able to tell the actual effects of this classification, this is certainly a "must watch" area for health law attorneys.
by Daniel Schueppert, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
The USDA has recently lifted restrictions on the practice of shipping US Chicken to China for processing, for an eventual return to the US. Under the present regulations, chicken originating from US farms can be shipped to China for processing, then shipped back to the US for sale. This chicken need not include Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to indicate that it has been processed in China. This change comes in the wake of a years of food safety scares relating to China's food supply. Although the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has completed audits of the China's "poultry processing inspection system" and certified some of the Chinese processing plants and procedures, American consumers have retained some reservations about the safety of chicken processed in China. As it stands, this system leaves consumers in the position of not knowing which country their chicken products have been processed because the Chinese operations are considered a comparable food component to what results from US processing.
This recent action by the USDA clearly raises questions concerning the United States' food safety, and perhaps security. A sophisticated consumer may nevertheless be able avoid chicken products known to be processed in China, but absent COOL disclosures this may be a difficult task and arguably involve some guess work. This is not necessarily the case with generic pharmaceuticals, an area in which there are substantial parallels to the chicken debate. Some of the concerns raised relating to the quality and safety of chicken processed in China also bring to light the COOL requirements for other consumables like pharmaceuticals. Import screening and labeling for pharmaceuticals, and particularly off patent generics, is a convoluted area of regulatory law where Federal agencies to not always agree. Currently many of the various components of just one pharmaceutical drug are manufactured all over the world and come from a variety of sources. Manufacturing in India, China, and Eastern Europe account for a large part of the market.
The FDA's main measure on determining the quality of components in generic drugs is a fuzzy spectrum concerning the "bioavailability" of certain chemicals but this measure does not necessarily take account of inert components or varying quality or quantities of active ingredients. Much like chicken, a consumer or regulatory agency would be hard pressed to find a problem with these products until a quality control issue develops and American consumers are put at risk. COOL labeling regarding Chicken and Drugs are developing issues without a clear regulatory action in sight. Stay tuned to the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology for further updates.
by George David Kidd, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Globally, obesity and its underlying ailments have overtaken tobacco as the top preventable cause of death. But, while eating right and exercising might go a long way towards solving the problem, the solution might not be that simple. What drives consumer buying behavior, through more modern forms of how we interact with the world, might substantiate food science and advertising as powerful mechanisms to attack the obesity epidemic.
by Maya Suresh, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Bringing new drugs to the market has turned into a time consuming and costly process. Resulting in a process that takes roughly 12 years and 1.2 billion dollars to develop a single new drug and move it through the approval process, the current laws administered by the FDA have the potential to stifle potential economic growth. Current laws and FDA regulations require new drugs to go through three phases of clinical trials focusing on safety, optimal dosage, and effectiveness. It is in the prolonged third phase (where effectiveness is tested through extensive clinical trials) that many manufacturers decide to pull the drug from the program as the clinical trials threaten the firm's financial viability. Ultimately, it is consumers that are hurt by the process, as they are unable to benefit from the drugs.
by Eric Nielson, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
This entry discusses some of the challenges identified in Grout et al.'s article Mistake-Proofing Medicine: Legal Considerations and Healthcare Quality Implications from Volume 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology. If you don't have any health problems, have family with health problems, or pay taxes then the problem probably doesn't impact you. The rest of this paragraph is about me establishing my credentials on the subject, if you don't care, feel free to skip ahead. I have worked as an R&D engineer developing medical devices for more than 15 years. I have a Masters in Medical Engineering from the University of Washington. I am an inventor on several medical device patents. I have worked for a very large company and for several startups. I have conducted market research, physician training, product design, FDA filing preparation, process development, product development, and implementation, etc. I have worked at nearly every stage of medical device development. Devices I have worked on are in literally millions of people in the United States.
by Brianna Rohne, UMN Law Student, MJLST Articles Editor
Proponents of the Affordable Care Act breathed a collective sigh of relief in June 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the law in its decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. As Minnesota Lawyer reports, the health care law will have a major impact in 2013 as state and federal agencies rush to implement the ACA's key features.
Chief among those features are the Health Insurance Exchanges, which are insurance marketplaces designed to help carry out the ACA's key feature--the individual mandate--by simplifying the process for purchasing health insurance for consumers and small businesses in every state. As Kathleen Sebelius comments, the Exchanges will provide "one stop shopping for health insurance with better information about plan benefits, quality and cost." The Exchanges, which will be administered at the state level, must be ready for open enrollment in October 2013 and full operation on January 1, 2014.