Wednesday, November 26, 2008

13-year-old refuses heart transplant

The story of Hannah Jones is provoking some strong reactions -- both positive and negative -- in the U.K. The 13-year-old girl has refused a heart transplant without which her doctors say she has only months to live. Hannah's reasoning: potentially lousy quality of life and the possibility that the anti-rejection medicine will trigger a relapse of the leukemia she's been treated for since she was five years old. Her parents supported her decision, which was initially challenged by the hospital and protective services, at least until the hospital dropped its legal challenge. The story is well reported in The Guardian.

posted by Tom Mayo, 8:22 AM | link

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Larry Gostin's "Public Health Law" text in new edition

The great just got better.

No public-health law library would be complete without Larry Gostin's Public Health Law -- Power, Duty, Restraint. Originally published eight years ago, PHL was always more than simply a good place to start your research: Gostin's opus had depth to match its breadth.
Well, now the second edition of PHL has been published by the University of California Press (it also sells for 10% off on and qualifies for Amazon Prime).

Described as "revised and expanded," the new volume more than lives up to its billing. With no apparent change in the size of the page or the font and typeface, the new edition weighs in at 767 pages, up nearly 300 pages over the original. The index -- already good -- has been improved, and the endnotes have nearly doubled in length.

The text has been reorganized in a more logical, thematically consistent manner, and there are new chapters on global health and administrative law and regulation.

On the basis of a quick review, I recommend the new edition without reservation.
posted by Tom Mayo, 2:03 PM | link

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Health insurers agree to drop pre-existing condition exclusion

You read that right. According to an article in today's New York Times, the two big health-insurance industry associations have agreed to enroll all applicants, regardless of pre-existing condition. The catch? They will only do so if Congress requires all citizens to have health insurance.

The industry's concern is pretty easy to understand: moral hazard. Without a requirement of universal participation, health individuals will have little or no incentive to have and pay for health insurance until they need it, with the assurance that after a serious accident or the diagnosis of a significant health condition they can't be turned down by a health insurer. The system works best, as one industry spokesperson made clear, when everyone's in, so that the healthy contribute to the payment of health-care costs for the sick and injured.

During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton favored universal mandatory coverage, while Barack Obama supported mandates only for children, preferring to wait until insurance was demonstrably affordable and available for all. Yesterday's announcement addresses the latter concern. All that's left (as if this were a small detail) is to ensure that insurance products are affordable -- AND to agree on a mechanism for ensuring universal participation in the insurance pool. These are far from small details, but at least the industry is showing some willingness to move in the direction of significant health-care reform.
posted by Tom Mayo, 5:33 AM | link

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Washington passes PAS ballot measure

The State of Washington became the second state in the U.S. to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Initiative 1000 passed 58-42, according to the Seattle Post-Intellgencer. The measure looks virtually identical to the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, which was enacted in 1997. The law becomes effective in 120 days after the Nov. 4 election: March 4.

It's a matter of time before PAS is legal in a majority of states: 20 years, probably sooner. This is a law that appeals to liberals and libertarian-minded conservatives. The Catholic church and reliably right-to-life groups will always be against it, but as the tidal wave of boomers crashes into their sixties and seventies, the call for legalization will become more incessant, and the Oregon (and soon the Washington) experience will provide the counterargument against those who (like me) worry about abusive practices and a decrease in the commitment to provide effective palliative care at the end of life. The record in Oregon puts the lie to both of those concerns.
posted by Tom Mayo, 10:59 AM | link

Monday, November 03, 2008

Interesting report from The Commonwealth Fund:

More than two-thirds of respondents to the latest Commonwealth Fund/Modern Healthcare Health Care Opinion Leaders Survey believe the way we pay for health care in the United States must be fundamentally reformed. Fee-for-service payment--the most prevalent system throughout the country--is not effective in encouraging high-quality, efficient care, they say.

In the survey, there was strong support for a move away from fee-for-service payment toward bundled approaches--that is, making a single payment for all services provided to a patient during the course of an episode or period of time. Under fee-for-service, providers are reimbursed for individual services, like hospital stays and medical procedures, rather than for providing the most appropriate care for the patient over the course of an illness. This creates incentives for providing more technical and more expensive--but not necessarily more effective -- care.

When asked their opinions about policies for improving U.S. health system performance, 85 percent of survey respondents cited fundamental provider payment reform, including incentives to provide high-quality and efficient care over time, as an effective strategy.
posted by Tom Mayo, 1:17 PM | link

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter