Monday, March 19, 2007

Stories of the week....

Here are some of the stories that have been brought to our attention this week -- and we'd love to hear your thoughts on them:

Who Will Care For The Oldest People?

With the number of caregivers for frail elderly people set to fall steeply, researchers in this week's British Medical Journal propose a way to help plan for the deficit.

Many people fear that population ageing will generate a demand for long term care that will outpace the supply of formal care. So to anticipate the future long term care needs of the oldest people, researchers in Switzerland suggest introducing the "oldest old support ratio."

Their ratio is based on four age groups - the young, those of working age, younger retired people (aged 50-74), and the oldest people (aged 85 and over) - and provides information on the number of people potentially available to care for one person aged 85 or over.

Based on current trends, they estimate that the young retired generation will have to play a greater caring role in the future.

To read on, click here.

New Trend in Organ Donation Raises Questions

As Alternative Approach Becomes More Frequent, Doctors Worry That It Puts Donors at Risk - By Rob Stein, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, March 18, 2007; A03

The number of kidneys, livers and other body parts surgeons are harvesting through a controversial approach to organ donation has started to rise rapidly, a trend that is saving the lives of more waiting patients but, some say, risks sacrificing the interests of the donors.

Under the procedure, surgeons are removing organs within minutes after the heart stops beating and doctors declare a patient dead. Since the 1970s, most organs have been removed only after doctors declared a patient brain dead.

Federal health officials, transplant surgeons and organ banks are promoting the alternative as a way to meet the increasing demand for organs and to give more dying patients and their families the solace of helping others.

Some doctors and bioethicists, however, say the practice raises the disturbing specter of transplant surgeons preying on dying patients for their organs, possibly pressuring doctors and families to discontinue treatment, adversely affecting donors' care in their final days and even hastening their deaths. For more, click here.

Advocates Praise FDA's Choice to Fund Office of Women's Health

Women's groups and members of Congress late Friday celebrated a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to fully fund the agency's Office of Women's Health.

Last month, agency insiders leaked information indicating that FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach had devised plans to reduce the office's fiscal 2007 budget by about 25 percent -- a cut that advocates said would have effectively suspended the office's activities for the rest of the year.

During the past week, activists and several members of Congress repeatedly pressed von Eschenbach about the pending move -- and until Friday the commissioner said he had not made up his mind. But late that day the agency released its long-awaited 2007 operating plan, which funds the office at the same $4 million level it has had for several years.

"It is disappointing that on the important issue of women's health, FDA had to be persuaded to simply maintain the funding level that was requested by the administration and provided by Congress," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairman of the House appropriations committee that funds the FDA.

At the same time, she said, "It is very gratifying that the FDA reversed course."

The office funds research on biological and other differences between men and women that can affect the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in women. To read on, click here.

The Worst Decision of the Week: Court Says Health Coverage May Bar Birth-Control Pills

The Union Pacific Railroad Company did not discriminate against its female employees by excluding birth-control pills from its health insurance coverage, according to a federal appellate panel in St. Louis.

In the first federal appellate ruling on the issue, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled 2 to 1 on Thursday that because the railroad’s health insurance plans did not cover any types of contraception, for men or women, it did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, part of the federal law forbidding discrimination in employment.

“Union Pacific’s health plans do not cover any contraception used by women such as birth control, sponges, diaphragms, intrauterine devices or tubal ligations or any contraception used by men such as condoms and vasectomies,” the opinion said. “Therefore, the coverage provided to women is not less favorable than that provided to men.”

[Editor’s note: it is hard for me to imagine an HMO/MCO not including birth control pills except on an ideological basis. Especially when they provide Viagra]

To read on, click here.

Bush Stem Cell Limits Should Be Eased, NIH Chief Says

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Elias Zerhouni, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said ending the Bush administration's restrictions on the use of human embryonic stem cells would benefit medical research in the U.S.

``The current lines will not be sufficient,'' Zerhouni said today at a Senate hearing on funding for the NIH. ``It's not possible for me to see how we can sustain the momentum of research.''

President George W. Bush has banned federal funding for studying all but a limited number of embryonic cell lines and last year used the only veto of his tenure to defeat a bill that would have overturned his restrictions. The comments by Zerhouni, in response to questions at the hearing, were his most direct criticism of the current stem-cell policy.

``It's clear that American science and the nation will be better served if we have access to more cell lines,'' said Zerhouni, who was appointed by Bush to head the NIH in 2002.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, asked Zerhouni, whether lifting the restrictions would have an effect on finding new cures.

``The answer is yes,'' Zerhouni said. The exchange came at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

For the rest of the article, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’ve been sort of following this Union Pacific class action lawsuit for awhile because my sister-in-law is an employee. It makes us angry about the fact that birth control is seen as a secondary kind of healthcare the company has no responsibility for.

This website has a good history of the case:

Business Week’s article:
Union Pacific wins contraceptive ruling