Articles Posted in Conflicts of Interest

chriscollins-300x201At a time when prescription drug prices keep skyrocketing and Americans pay hundreds of billions of dollars for medications that account for as much as 15 percent of all U.S. health care spending, federal law enforcers provided a rare and jarring sight with the public arrest of a congressman on charges he engaged in insider trading involving an Australian drug maker.

Chris Collins, a Republican who represents a western New York district and was among President Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters in Congress, insists he committed no wrong. He says he will be exonerated, but he has pulled the plug on his plans to seek reelection in November.

The sordid details of his financial dealings, as laid out in news stories and a damning indictment, however, may keep front and center not only the charges against him but also troubling questions about members of Congress and their private investing, corporate board roles, and especially their tenacity as Big Pharma lapdogs, instead of being watchdogs on behalf of besieged, too often bankrupted American patient-consumers.

VA-300x202So, see, Ike, Marc, and Bruce may be pretty swell guys. They’ve done well in business: Ike in comic books and entertainment, Marc in the law and consulting on white collar crime, and Bruce as a medical  concierge who gets affluent patients in to see big name doctors.

But this odd trio —Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz and Marc Sherman — never served in the U.S. military. They’re certainly not veterans. Perlmutter and Sherman have zero experience in health care. And Moskowitz, while a doctor, is a respected primary care practitioner — not someone known for his direct experience in running big, complex operations.

They also, however, happen to be FOT — Friends of (President) Trump. They pay him to belong to his Mar-a-Lago country club. And, apparently at his request and with the assistance of powerful partisans and the acquiescence of sheepish bureaucrats, Perlmutter, Moskowitz, and Sherman have become  “shadow rulers” of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

MRI-300x142The health policy wonks and those who purport to “reform” the U.S. health care system may be long on academic and other fancy credentials. But they also persist in demonstrating they can be short on old-fashioned common sense, especially about the way most of us lead our lives.

That’s a point emphasized in a recent column in the evidence-based “Upshot” feature of the New York Times, written by Austin Frakt. He directs the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System and is an associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health and an adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Frakt looked at some recent research to dissect a question that occupies many experts: Could Americans cut their health care costs by shopping around more for medical services? This is a fond notion held by a slice of health care “reformers,” whom Frankt proceeds to disabuse.

cdc-opi-aug-300x227When Big Pharma pursues rapacious profits and regulators snooze, patients suffer terrible consequences, as new revelations about the opioid crisis show.

Kaiser Health News Service , via the Washington Post, and The New York Times both have done excellent investigative digging into drug makers’ role in fueling the prescription painkiller mess that authorities estimate claims 116 lives a day due to overdoses.

Fred Schulte, writing for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser service, reported that rival makers — seeing how much money Purdue Pharma was making with its powerful and addictive OxyContin drug and that it was encountering law enforcement and regulatory challenges — stepped in with “similarly dangerous painkillers, such as fentanyl, morphine and methadone.”

kiddocs-300x107Moms and dads who have tried to safeguard their kids’ health by emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet may need to take yet more steps to protect youngsters from harms associated with chemicals found in common foods and their packaging.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a formal, research-based caution to consumers about “colorings, flavorings, and chemicals deliberately added to food during processing (direct food additives) as well as substances in food contact materials, including adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other polymers, which may contaminate food as part of packaging or manufacturing equipment (indirect food additives).”

As the New York Times reported of the advisory from the group representing 67,000 doctors who care for kids:

debtyoungmed-300x177Big Data may be a business buzzword that puts most consumers into a big sleep, but big alarms are sounding for Americans about Big Brother intrusions into their lives via the collection and analysis of vast amounts of highly personal information. Of course, Big Pharma and medical insurers are at the fore of invasive practices — some of which patient-consumers themselves are helping, likely without knowing they’re doing so.

Millions of Americans may be little aware, for example, that they’re now working for GlaxoSmithKline, a global pharmaceutical conglomerate with $9 billion in revenues in just the most recent quarter. GSK just struck a $300-million deal with 23andMe, the company that has persuaded roughly 5 million consumers to spit in a test tube to get a glimpse of their genetic information, notably information about their ancestry and purportedly some of their genomic health risks.

Firms like 23andMe, with promotions at events like Baltimore Ravens pro football games, also have amassed highly personal genetic and medical data on millions of patient-consumers, promising to protect the information but also offering, casually and by the way, that this vital information could be shared — ostensibly for the betterment of public health.

buckeyes-300x295Soon, many young people  will be back to school and signing up for  sports teams. Many will have to undergo physical exams before they can play.  And it’s a tragic reality that grown-ups may need to think a lot how to protect young people from sexual predators who also are doctors.

That’s because Ohio State University, sadly, has joined the University of Southern California, Michigan State-USA Gymnastics, and Penn State University in the notoriety of dealing with a sexual abuse scandal involving adults and students. In the case of the Buckeyes, it’s Big Ten male wrestlers.

OSU said it had hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations against Richard Strauss, who had blue-chip credentials and served as the team doctor to university wrestlers roughly from 1979 to 1997. The doctor killed himself in 2005. Lawyers interviewed more than 200 one-time OSU students, with 100 of them accusing Strauss of sexual misconduct, “including former athletes from 14 different sports teams.”

Robots are the shiny new toys of surgery in American hospitals. They promise ultra-precise, tiny cuts that give patients faster healing and better outcomes. Wherever you live, your local TV news outlets have likely run uncritical, gee-whiz stories about hospitals and surgeons bringing in these robots, featuring glowing patient testimonials.

So what’s not to like? You need to watch a new documentary airing Friday night on Netflix to get the other side of the story, and there’s plenty. And also about other medical devices that promise much but deliver more pain than benefit.

cpidrugs-300x182Uncle Sam long has allowed states to set the rules governing how Medicaid works, and a dozen or so of them have decided, with the purported goal of increased fiscal rectitude, to impose harsh rules to force poor, sick, disabled, and aged program participants to work more or to seek employment.

But taxpayers might be better served if the frugal-minded turned greater attention to Big Pharma’s insidious role at the state level in causing Medicaid costs to skyrocket, threatening budgets and creating conflicts in funding other public programs like education and transportation.

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and National Public Radio deserve praise for investigating how corruptive, drug-maker money has overwhelmed state officials’ efforts to corral soaring costs of prescription medications covered by Medicaid and governed by a patchwork of rules in each of the nation’s 50 states.

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Americans should be wary lest they get in between Big Pharma and a buck.

That’s what investigators for a U.S. Senate subcommittee showed when scrutinizing how industry middlemen inundated the Show Me State with more than a billion doses of powerful prescription painkillers, making big profits but asking few questions how so many opioid drugs could be taken by so few patients.

It’s also what patients might see as drug makers retreat from research to develop needed new antibiotics and therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

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