Articles Posted in Conflicts of Interest

azar-235x300Members of Congress have scattered back to their districts for Thanksgiving, giving the nation a bit of a break from the health policy turkey shoot that has besieged the nation’s capital. The health- and medical-related actions have piled up so fast and furious that it can be daunting.

But let’s not overlook:

  • The hot mess that’s supposed to be a GOP wish list of tax changes has, instead, turned into yet another attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, this time by eliminating the “individual mandate” that requires Americans to show through their tax returns that they have health insurance coverage. Tax policies invariably are complicated. Let’s simplify this one: Partisans want to slash the ACA, so they can take money from it — $300 billion or so — to help “pay for” $1 trillion or more in tax cuts for giant corporations and the wealthy. This legislative legerdemain will mean 13 milllion Americans will lose health coverage and insurance premiums for millions will rise 10 percent, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office.

urine-sample-cup-263x300With opioid drugs now the leading cause of death for Americans 50 and younger and killing more than 64,000 people last year, was it inevitable that some shady characters are profiteering off the miseries of those struggling to get off potent painkillers?

And is it predictable that key politicians keep talking big but still haven’t backed up their boasts with the money and means to attack a public health crisis that is claiming more lives than cars or guns and at a faster pace than HIV-AIDS did at the peak of that epidemic?

Americans have plenty cause to be — forgive the vulgar word play — pissed off at the doctors and labs that are raking in profits on urine testing for drugs. This business has exploded but with little or no oversight. As reporters Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas have written:

epipen-300x119Big Pharma’s rapacious profit-seeking can seem to hit no bounds, even if it afflicts millions: Just consider what federal and state regulators are mulling about the makers of a popular anti-allergy therapy and those who supply a critical diabetes medication.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has replied to Bloomberg News Service that, so far, in 2017, it has recorded 228 reports of EpiPen or EpiPen Jr. failures, and the failure of EpiPens to deploy correctly has been cited in seven deaths through mid-September.

The agency said it is monitoring closely these “adverse event complaints.” These are unconfirmed reports that do not necessarily tie a product to a harm. But they might constitute sufficient grounds to investigate further and to potentially order product recalls, though, so far, the FDA says it believes patients can keep using EpiPens on the market without worry.

bowser-240x300Even as District of Columbia officials struggle with deepening woes at the United Medical Center (UMC), advocates from a national, independent, and nonprofit group have offered a dim review of hospitals in the DC area.

The bad news keeps piling on at UMC, a leading provider of medical care for communities of color in the District’s Southeast area and in Prince George’s County, Md.

To its credit, the sometimes locally slumbering Washington Post has put out a disturbing, well-documented report about the death of a 47-year-old HIV-AIDS patient in UMC’s nursing home care. As others witnessing the scene clamored for them to help, UMC nurses, the Post says, let the patient fall to the floor, where he sprawled in his own waste for 20 minutes while his caregivers argued with a security guard. When the patient finally was returned to his bed, he was dead.

reuters-300x153Although countless doctors and nurses put in untold blood, sweat, and tears to provide quality care to their patients, health care profiteers can undo these good works in an instant with shameful plundering. Here is a roundup from multiple fronts.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service deserves credit for its painful reporting on the rising problems in the once much-admired area of hospice care.

Reporters JoNel Aleccia and Melissa Bailey have written, in a story carried by Time Magazine, that they “analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, revealing that missed [hospice worker] visits and neglect are common for patients dying at home. Families or caregivers have filed over 3,200 complaints with state officials in the past five years. Those complaints led government inspectors to find problems in 759 hospices, with more than half cited for missing visits or other services they had promised to provide at the end of life.”

trumpdrugs-300x177As the Republican-controlled Congress rams through a national budget and a package of changes to the tax system, President Trump and his partisans are staying true to course. They’re determined to slash taxes for the rich, even if they only half-heartedly tackle one of the biggest public health crises in decades, and if they inflict great harms on the health of the poor, sick, young, and old.

In answer to long and increasing criticism, Trump finally declared the opioid drug abuse epidemic a “public health emergency” (with zero new dollars in spending)  but not a “national emergency,” which would have opened the door for millions in new spending.  He scored points with some commentators with his discussion of how alcoholism destroyed his older brother Fred’s life, and, how his brother’s advice and example had kept him from any temptations of substance abuse. (He also reminded critics of ineffectual “Just say no” anti-drug campaigns.)

But for all his pronouncements, the president’s actions fell short of what many anti-drug experts and advocates had hoped would be White House leadership against opioids abuse and overdose deaths, a scourge that has claimed almost 60,000 lives since 2016.

eyedropWhether it happens in the drip, drip, drip of costly eye drops or it occurs in the flash of a pricey imaging scan, patients get gouged by modern medicine’s wasteful practices. The inefficiencies can be traced to many and different causes. But Americans need to keep asking whether they can allow or tolerate profit-seeking enterprises to keep getting bigger and ever more expensive.

It’s good to see that two online news organizations, Vox and Pro Publica, are digging into soaring costs for medical goods and services.

Vox is aiming to crowd-source some of its investigation, and it has tantalized its audience with a motivating source of outrage—a story detailing a sky-high bill for a 30-minute imaging scan for Elodie Fowler, an ailing 3-year-old girl. The site says her parents got socked with a $25,000 tab for her test. That sum was far higher than they expected, even after they researched and shopped around to find their most affordable option, given their insurance and various providers operating the service.

Darkchocolate-300x180Although most of our elders have preached at us from a chapel of common sense, dietary nonsense seems to rain on our heads faster than the autumn leaves.  It ought to go without saying that dark chocolate really isn’t a health food. And, to repeat again something that many pregnant women ought to know already: Getting your placenta commercially prepared after your baby’s born, and eating it isn’t a great idea.

Vox, the online news site, deserves credit for debunking a long campaign by candy makers and Big Sugar to persuade consumers that dark cocoa products somehow are “superfoods” like red wine, blueberries, and avocados.

Special interests, Vox reports, have poured tens of millions of dollars into “nutrition research” that purports to show chocolate’s health benefits. The problem is the science here is less than objective and sound: “Here at Vox, we examined 100 Mars-funded health studies, and found they overwhelmingly drew glowing conclusions about cocoa and chocolate — promoting everything from chocolate’s heart health benefits to cocoa’s ability to fight disease.” The Vox story later points out:

marino-300x169Some powerful political players deserve a big dose of public condemnation for bungling and stalling the nation’s desperately needed war on the epidemic abuse of opioid drugs.

President Trump  can step up for the first of a series of smacks for nominating yet another dubious candidate for one of the nation’s high offices—in this case the “drug czar,” who plays a critical role in the campaign to curb the tens of thousands of deaths now blamed on opioids’ abuse.

Trump had put up for the position Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican congressman (photo above). The president spoke with enthusiasm on his behalf. He did so even after CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” and the Washington Post put out their joint investigation of Marino, showing how the congressman had acted as a Big Pharma tool. Marino arm-twisted the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and congressional colleagues to get a law passed that gutted regulators’ authority to prevent Big Pharma’s wholesale distributors from flooding parts of the country with tens of millions of opioid doses, drugs that caused untold addictions and deaths.

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