Articles Posted in Ethics

jjbabypowder-300x300Johnson & Johnson, now facing thousands of lawsuits asserting ties between its famed baby powder and patients’ cancers, has campaigned for decades to keep from wide public view information that its talc was tainted with asbestos, a naturally occurring substance and an established cause of some cancers, news media reports say.

Reuters news service published its investigation of J&J’s long efforts to deny and downplay scientific evidence it had about asbestos in a product that has helped to create and define the company as one of the nation’s family friendly consumer product and pharmaceutical giants.

Tens of millions of Americans grew up, with grown-ups dusting them as infants with Johnson’s baby powder, now contributing just “$420 million to J&J’s $76.5 billion in revenue last year,” Reuters reported.

actelion-300x110Patients now have more than half a billion reasons to wonder whether advocacy groups that purport to speak up for the special needs of folks with diseases and conditions like theirs really do so. Or has Big Pharma corrupted these organizations with cash?

The New York Times reported Actelion Pharmaceuticals, now owned by Johnson & Johnson, agreed to pay a $360 million settlement in an investigation by federal prosecutors of the firm’s allegedly funneling kickbacks through a charity that claimed to assist patients with the cost of drug co-payments. This case involved financial exchanges connected with pricey medications to treat a rare lung disease.

But the newspaper said it was just the latest of several such matters involving Big Pharma and patient advocacy and charity groups in which prosecutors sought to ferret out “contributions” designed to help makers plump up prices for already expensive products:

Although Good Samaritans deserve a great holiday cheer for their part in paying for some of it, medical debt persists as a giant shame of the American health care system. Doctors, hospitals, insurers, Big Pharma, and other providers and suppliers need to step up to shrink the financial burdens of medical care that crush far too many patients and their loved ones.

Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, two retired friends in Ithaca, N.Y., raised $12,500 that they donated to a charitable group. It buys bundled, past-due medical bills and forgives them to help those in need. That became a powerful gift, as RIP Medical Debt leveraged it, buying for a penny on the dollar or so, a portfolio of obligations exceeding $1.5 million.

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NY Atty Gen Barbara Underwood

Profit-hungry hospitals have dived to some real lows in billing and mistreating patients. Seven New York facilities have gotten slapped down by the state attorney general for breaking the law by charging more than 200 women anywhere from $46 to $2,892 for collecting evidence that the patients may have been raped.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, whose office conducted a year-long investigation of the abuses of state laws aimed at protecting victims of sexual violence, said in a statement, quoted by the New York Times: “Survivors of sexual assault have already gone through unfathomable trauma. To then subject them to illegal bills and collection calls is unconscionable.”

Hospitals keep getting bigger, but how about better for their patients, too? The data suggest that the prices they charge are rising in part due to industry consolidation, but consumers also need to be extra skeptical of national, direct-to-patient appeals about the advantages of various institutions.

Credit is due to the New York Times for scrutinzing the frenzy of hospital mergers and consolidations that now exert huge sway over patients’ choices, care, and costs:

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Dr. Otis Brawley, formerly of the American Cancer Society

The rising flood of health care hype, bunk, and conflicts of interst really can harm patients, as has just been emphasized by a $105-million jury verdict, the brave actions of a leading patient advocacy expert, and the commentary of an expert health researcher and New York Times columnist.

In a more perfect world, a patient like Dawn Kali, 45, and a mother of four, wouldn’t give the time of day to the wild claims of Robert Oldham Young. Both live in San Diego, and when she was diagnosed with cancer, she told a court that she found Young persuasive.

docnrecordsUncle Sam more than ever wants it to happen, and patient advocates are pushing hard, too. So, why, when technology can make it easier than ever to do so, must patients struggle still to get easy, convenient, low- or no-cost access to invaluable electronic records about their own health care?

Judith Graham, a columnist focusing on aging issues for the Kaiser Health News Service, has written a timely, troubling update on perplexing challenges consumers still confront when trying to secure their electronic health records (EHRs).

She cites a study recently published by Yale researchers who gathered information from 83 leading hospitals that purport to assist their patients with EHR access. The experts swept up policies and forms the institutions said patients would need, then contacted them, telling hospital staffers not that they were academic researchers but that they were checking on behalf of an elderly relative in need of their records and how soon and how difficult and costly might it be to get them? This is an everyday dilemma for consumers, and the institutions should have dealt with these requests with ease and alacrity.

crowdfunding-300x150Although the sky-high cost of providing medical care to sick or injured friends and loved ones might seem good reason to encourage community altruism to the nth degree, new technologies that have made it easy, fast, and convenient to “crowd source” online donations also may be sending well-intentioned gifts to dubious and dangerous types of treatment.

A new  study by researchers in Atlanta and New York shows that campaigns on GoFundMe and other social media platforms, sought to raise tens of millions of dollars, and brought in millions for sketchy health-related applications. Experts found “1,059 campaigns that raised money for five unproven or possibly risky treatments: homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer, hyperbaric oxygen for brain injury, experimental stem cell therapy for brain or spinal cord injuries, and long-term antibiotics for chronic Lyme disease,” reported Stat, an online health and medicine news site.

CNN reported that online solicitations were targeted to allow patients to seek dubious therapies at “clinics” in Germany and Mexico (homeopathic or naturopathic cancer care), New Orleans (hyperbaric oxygen for brain injury), and Panama, Thailand, India, China, and Mexico (“stem cell” treatment).

anversaTreatments with “stem cells,” therapies that already were sliding into disrepute due to hyped claims and inappropriate use, took another big hit to their scientific credibility when two respected institutions announced they were retracting 31 published studies claiming stem cells could help patients with damaged hearts.

Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston jointly denounced Piero Anversa, a once celebrated cardiologist who had worked at both institutions but left in 2015, for putting out false or fabricated data for dozens of studies he and colleagues published. The works — contrary to accepted science — purportedly showed that damaged heart muscle could be regenerated with stem cells, a type of cell that can transform itself into a variety of other cells.

The medical journals that have published Anversa’s studies must decide for themselves their course of action now with his work. The experts at Retraction Watch, a nonprofit that monitors science publishing and pulled papers as part of an effort to provide greater transparency to the scientific process, say it is rare for one researcher to have so many studies determined to be flawed and subject to removal from public view.

usc-300x279Yet another big university is learning a costly lesson about the perils of ignoring rogue doctors and their harming of vulnerable young people: The University of Southern California has offered to pay $215 million to settle federal lawsuits by hundreds of coeds who say they were sexually harassed and abused by the head gynecologist at the Los Angeles school’s health service.

Women who ever saw Dr. George Tyndall at a campus clinic may receive $2,500 each, while those with claims they were sexually abused by him could be paid up to $250,000 each.

USC said its proposed, tentative settlement has not been reviewed and approved by a federal judge who has been assigned a class-action suit involving hundreds of women.

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