Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

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Congress passed – unanimously in the Senate and without debate – and President Obama will sign, H.R. 2019, the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” (named after a 10-year old child who died last year of brain cancer). If the legislation actually did what it touts – to finance pediatric research – it would be a noble bill for a noble cause.

But it is a fig-leaf bill. Its real purpose is to begin dismantling the presidential public financing system, and is very unlikely to produce any revenues for pediatric research.

The bill was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. After Harper was unable to persuade Congress to approve earlier legislation that would have entirely defunded the public financing program, Harper re-worked the bill into what it is known now.

The legislation transfers public funds used to pay for the nominating conventions into the general treasury, then states that those funds may be used for pediatric research, if Congress ever decides to appropriate the funds for that purpose.

This same Congress slashed National Institute of Health (NIH) funding by $1.55 billion, which finances the pediatric research program, in the appropriations bills, and then placed caps on any further spending by NIH. The Kids First Research Act, if ever implemented, would transfer from the presidential public financing system to pediatric research, a pittance of what Congress slashed from the research budget. And even that pittance is not likely to happen. Given current spending caps on governmental agencies, Congress also would have to pass legislation lifting the spending ceiling for the National Institutes of Health to carry through with this appropriation, something that this Congress is very unlikely to do.

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By Sabrina Morello

“If equity and social solidarity in access to health care and financing health care were fundamental goals of a health care system, the single-payer system provides an ideal platform for achieving these goals” said Tsung-Mei Chen, MA Health Policy Research Analyst at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Health at Princeton University. Last week, Chen and other experts, including those from Canada, Denmark and Taiwan, provided testimony outlining the benefits of single-payer health care systems in their respective countries to members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.

Subcommittee chair U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began the hearing by laying out an array of issues with our current fragmented health care system, with an emphasis on the fact that we are the only major industrialized nation that does not guarantee health care as a fundamental right. Senator Sanders cited 2012 data showing 15 percent of our population (more than 48 million Americans) are left uninsured and even more have high deductibles and co-pays or caps on coverage that end up driving citizens into bankruptcy.

This statistic stands out sharply from countries like Taiwan, which established a single-payer system in 1995, and currently has more than 99.6 percent of its population covered by national health care, according to Dr. Ching-Chuan Yeh, former Minister of Health for Taiwan, Professor at the School of Public Health, College of Medicine at Tzu-chi University. Dr. Yeh’s testimony was a poignant example of a far more equitable system than exists in the U.S.: “[a]ccess to health care is an inalienable right in [Taiwan’s] constitution. Residents living in remote mountainous areas and offshore islands, and the poor, the disabled, the aged get pretty much the same access and health care as anyone else.”

In addition to being inequitable, the care we do provide in America seems to lag behind single-payer nations in regards to health outcomes. Victor Rodwin, PhD, MPH, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at NYU, notes that among 19 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations, France, a single-payer nation, has the lowest rate of avoidable mortality (an important indicator of quality of care) while the U.S. has the highest rate. Our nation could avoid about 101,000 deaths if we were able to decrease our avoidable mortality levels to those seen in France.

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By Samantha Aster

Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said it will abandon its feverish efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it appears to be fighting to block funding for the law rather than trying to kill the program outright. With an eye toward making the ACA unworkable, The Chamber is now focusing on repealing two key funding components: the medical device tax and the annual fee on health insurance companies.

Were the Chamber to succeed in removing funding, parts of the law would cease to function properly and would eventually fail altogether. Public Citizen does not endorse the ACA, but we do support the law being fully funded in order to move toward state-level single-payer systems, which the law’s waiver process enables. States that want to establish stronger programs can do so using this mechanism, and by establishing state level single-payer systems we hope to clear a path to eventually move toward Medicare-for-all at the federal level.

The Chamber in its lobbying efforts and messaging argues the ACA imposes substantial financial burdens on employers and individuals, and frequently labels the law a “job killer.” In making these claims, the Chamber consistently relies on exaggerated and overstated data which, when given a second look, undermine the integrity of its argument.

The medical device tax: A necessary revenue stream

The ACA is funded in part by a 2.3 percent excise tax on manufacturers and importers of medical devices. The medical device industry and the Chamber argued that the tax would increase costs, “suppress innovation” and “kill jobs,” but this could not be further from the truth.

Not only can the medical device industry afford the tax – with estimated total sales of over $100 billion – but the industry has been accused of relying on anti-competitive practices that result in almost no price competition in the market. The lack of transparency in pricing and the industry’s coziness with physicians stifles innovation, since manufacturers have little incentive to create or improve devices that increase quality of care. This tax, coupled with the ACA’s focus on cutting costs, may provide incentives for manufacturers to find ways to deliver more cost-effective care.

The U.S. Chamber pointed to a recent survey to support its opposition to the tax. The survey, conducted by the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the trade group representing medical device manufacturers, claims that the tax has forced medical device manufacturers to eliminate jobs, reduce innovation and move jobs overseas.

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The joy of parenting a newborn is irrefutable. But unfortunately the support that parents receive from Maryland employers is dismal, and, to make matters worse, occupational safety and health is at risk. In Maryland an estimated 300,000 workers do not receive parental leave under federal or state law. This requires new mothers to return to work immediately after having a baby, when they should instead be resting and caring for their newborn.

The Family Medical Leave Act requires an employer to have 50 employees before providing parental leave. This archaic threshold leaves a majority of Maryland businesses without any obligation to require parental leave to new parents.

The Maryland legislature so far has failed to offer direction to small sized employers under these circumstances, and the implications for the safety and health for working parents is overwhelming.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it takes four to six weeks for a cesarean section (C-section) incision to heal. More than 34 percent of all babies in Maryland are born through cesarean section. This means many new mothers are forced to work with surgical stiches or staples.

After a C-section, simply transitioning from sitting to standing is not only painful, but also very hard to do for the first couple of weeks. But workers in Maryland do more than just get in and out of chairs; these women stack boxes, clean hotel rooms and work in fast-food restaurants.

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By Samantha Aster

In a growing trend, technology companies are seeking to combine medicine and social media into a field now known as “social medicine.” New technologies like Scanadu’s Scout measure vital signs through mobile applications and utilize social media to discover real-time, personal health information and diagnoses.

While there are potential benefits to social medicine in improving health and lowering costs, there are concerns about the trend that consumers should be aware of.

Over-reliance on social medicine may have negative consequences regarding cost and health. Testing by these applications may not be as technologically advanced as those performed in hospitals and doctor’s offices, and may not be strong enough to accurately detect smaller or less obvious abnormalities. Over-reliance on good readings may lead to fewer visits to personal physicians, or even missed or late diagnoses. Conversely, since the testing may not be as accurate, people may receive false positives or may overreact to readings without a verified medical explanation.

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