Articles Posted in Ethics

logombh-300x61Nonprofit hospitals added almost $40 billion to their bottom lines in the last year and lavished a $3.5 million average salary on their chiefs. But their relentless grubbing for cash apparently was unsated still. The institutions, exempted from federal, state and local taxes in exchange for “community benefits” like charity care and financial support for patients in need, are acting like Dickensian debt collectors, harassing patients with lawsuits and wage garnishments.

Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative web site, partnered with MLK50, a local news organization, to describe the avalanche of financial travail with which Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has inundated its poor and middle-class patients in Memphis, Tenn. The hospital, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has filed more than 8,300 lawsuits pursing “aggressive collection practices [that] stand out in a city where nearly 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line.” As the journalists reported of Le Bonheur:

“Its handling of poor patients begins with a financial assistance policy that, unlike many of its peers around the country, all but ignores patients with any form of health insurance, no matter their out-of-pocket costs. If they are unable to afford their bills, patients then face what experts say is rare: A licensed collection agency owned by the hospital. Lawsuits follow. Finally, after the hospital wins a judgment, it repeatedly tries to garnish patients’ wages, which it does in a far higher share of cases than other nonprofit hospitals in Memphis. Its own employees are no exception. Since 2014, Methodist has sued dozens of its workers for unpaid medical bills, including a hospital housekeeper sued in 2017 for more than $23,000. That year, she told the court, she made $16,000. She’s in a court-ordered payment plan, but in the case of more than 70 other employees, Methodist has garnished the wages it pays them to recoup its medical charges.”

ECMO-300x212Medical ethicists and patient advocates are raising concerns about a big, costly, and often unsuccessful procedure that “pumps blood out of the body, oxygenates it, and returns it to the body, keeping a person alive for days, weeks or months, even when their heart or lungs don’t work,” the Kaiser Health News Service reported.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO (eck-moe) is considered an appropriate treatment for some patients on death’s door.

But hospitals, to maintain their competitive business standing, are battling to get the equipment and staff to provide this therapy, which costs on average half a million dollars per patient.  The number of hospitals that can do ECMO has increased from 108 in 2008 to 264 now, with the number of ECMO procedures tripling since 2008 to almost 7,000 in the last count in 2014.

covervf-300x210As the nation’s opioid and drug overdose crisis deepens, it can be hard to watch as the “Not My Fault” crowd clucks about its blamelessness in pushing potent painkillers that have played a part in killing more Americans in 2016 and 2017 alone than lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

The latest NMF protagonists include:

NaitoRon Naito already had been rebuffed by one specialist about the severity of his illness. He was awaiting in a doctor’s examining room for his lab test results and a consultation with a second expert about his already advanced cancer. What happened next stunned the Portland, Ore., resident. But now he’s doing something to help other patients in this way too common situation.

Naito overheard his doctor and a medical student talking about him and his lab results as they passed by the open room door, saying a tumor in his pancreas was “5 centimeters,” and was “very bad.”

That was the way Naito, who has practiced as an internist for 40 years, learned his condition was terminal. The cruel delivery of that crucial news convinced him that he needed to spend what time he has left working with his medical colleagues about their communication skills, especially in conveying the news to patients that they are dying.

bruinlogo-300x225USC, Ohio State, Michigan State, and now, UCLA: How can big universities, with all the supposedly smart folks who head them, be so blind and deaf to student complaints that school personnel may be sexually abusing them? And why do academics keep getting caught up in situations where they appear to or may be covering up wrongdoing against the young?

Officials at the University of California Los Angeles find themselves apologizing profusely for failing to disclose that they knew of accusations of inappropriate conduct by a gynecologist on the school’s staff while treating patients in university facilities, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Women say that Dr. James Mason Heaps wrongly touched their private parts, and UCLA learned of the accusations in 2017, putting the longtime staff gynecologist on leave in 2018. The school, however, did not disclose why Heaps was gone — until criminal charges were filed against him in recent days and he pleaded not guilty to them in court.

Praise be: Churches nationwide are leaping in with their congregations’ blessing and financial support, putting up small sums to buy up and wipe out one of the huge shames of the American health care system: patients’ medical debt.

The faithful work with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, N.Y., that provides the know-how to many kinds of donors to help eliminate bills that can crush patients and their loved ones for a lifetime, the Kaiser Health News service reported. Roxie Hammill wrote how this all works in modern medicine:

wheelinghospital-300x111As hospitals boost their size and power to push their profits even higher, they’re also raising alarms with federal regulators over their too cozy relationships with doctors who are pulling down big pay from them now as part of their staffs.

Uncle Sam long has sought to ensure that the billions of tax dollars that get spent in the health care system don’t become medical spoils, riches that get passed around a select few through kick-back and self-referral schemes. These are barred by regulation, notably in Medicare- and Medicaid-funded care, and by the “Stark law.”

Jordan Rau of the Kaiser Health News service reported that a hospital in Wheeling, W. Va., has gotten regulators attention by lavishing pay and perks on specialists in its employ, including $1.2 million a year for a pain specialist and $770,000 annually and 12 weeks’ vacation for a cardiothoracic surgeon. The money is far higher than what such experts command in the area and it’s more surprising because the treatment areas these high-paid doctors work in are big financial losers for Wheeling Hospital.

childrensunclogo-300x51Although big hospitals may love to pat themselves on the back and boost their profits and professional standings by claiming to offer “comprehensive” services, children may suffer and die due to the reality versus the hubris of institutions’ excessive initiatives with specialized care.

Officials at the University of North Carolina blew past anguished warnings from their own pediatric cardiology staff of significant problems in the pediatric heart surgery program at the medical center’s children’s hospital, the New York Times reported. Brushing aside their concerns about a lack of resources within and to support the program, UNC declined to make public, as most similar specialty efforts do, key performance measures. They would show that the UNC pediatric heart surgery program had a higher death rate than “nearly all 82 institutions that do publicly report” this and other measures of patient care.

The newspaper, in a rare move, has internal tape recordings of doctors disputing among themselves whether dwindling resources, staff departures, and other problems meant that UNC should do what many of the specialists demanded — take a long hard look at what was going wrong, and, in the meantime, refer sick kids to other institutions to safeguard their care.

pills-300x200With Big Pharma pressing the limits in promoting and pricing prescription medications, patients and their advocates long have hoped that generic drugs might be difference-makers on costs and practices. Those positive wishes, however, may be dying out by the day.

The attorneys general of dozens of states have sued major generic makers including Teva, Pfizer, Novartis and Mylan, accusing them of conspiring to inflate generic drug prices by as much as 1,000%, the New York Times and other media organizations reported.

The makers’ price-fixing affected more than 100 generics, including “lamivudine-zidovudine, which treats H.I.V.; budesonide, an asthma medication; fenofibrate, which treats high cholesterol; amphetamine-dextroamphetamine for A.D.H.D.; oral antibiotics; blood thinners; cancer drugs; contraceptives; and antidepressants,” the New York Times said.

JohnKapoor-221x300

Even as more felony charges may follow in drug epidemic, sleep med warning suggests pill popping stays too popular

Five top executives at a major drug maker have been convicted of criminal racketeering for their aggressive and deceptive marketing of a fentanyl spray in a case that prosecutors long have said may warn corporate leaders about their culpability in the nation’s opioid painkiller crisis.

Federal jurors deliberated for 15 days before finding guilty John Kapoor, founder and CEO of drug maker Insys (shown at right). Jurors also convicted Richard M. Simon, former Insys national director of sales; Sunrise Lee and Joseph A. Rowan, both former regional sales directors; and Michael J. Gurry, former vice president of managed markets. As the New York Times described the case against them:

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