Wonk, Wonk: Health Wonk Review is Here

March 6th, 2008 by

Health Wonkery runs a wide gamut this week: we have big Pharma front and center with cowardly marketing, poison in the pills and a controversial study that finds a racial factor in whether meds are taken properly; we have extremely divergent views on health care reform, from single payer and a big role for government to status quo and no role for government; we have Canada backpedaling on a call for fewer doctors; and finally, a story about bad boys (and girls) being bad: incompetent agent, inattentive insured, aggressive insurer. Never a dull moment in wonk world!
Let’s get to it.
Taking the “S” out of STDs? Fard Johnmar, writing at Envisioning 2.0, focuses on an interesting side of the Gardasil debate: Merck’s unwillingness to use “sex” to sell its new product for preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Fard speculates that fear of the “abstinence only” crowd may be behind the strategy. It’s ironic, of course, that we live in a culture willing to use sex to sell everything from cars to shampoo.
Terror in small places:Here are two terrifying posts (one and two) from Roy Poses, which raise the issue of what’s in those little pills we routinely swallow:

The story began with a sudden increase in the rate of severe adverse effects occurring after the administration of heparin, a 70+ year old anti-clotting drug. Attention first focused on a Baxter International facility in New Jersey, but then it turned out the heparin was not really made there, and was traced to a factory in China, which, it turns out, was never inspected by the US FDA or any government agency from the US or China. Furthermore, that factory actually didn’t make the heparin either, but obtained heparin from middle-men in China, who in turn apparently got the heparin from a number of suppliers, including tiny “workshops,” where conditions were unsanitary and primitive, and which were never inspected by anyone. And the top leaders of the American companies involved denied they actually knew where the heparin was coming from. This sorry tale of mismanagement raises doubt about the most basic quality of the US (and world) drug supply, so in some ways is even more serious than most of the cases heretofore reported on Health Care Renewal.

White Collar Racketeering: New York Personal Injury Attorney offers two hits (one and two) with anti-Kudos all around: Allstate, along with doctors and medical consulting companies, was sued for for racketeering for doing rigged “independent” medical exams to cut short payments to treating doctors. This suit follows by one month a similar one against State Farm.
What consumers want: Jane Sarasohn-Kahn at Health Populi finds much wisdom in a Deloitte survey regarding health insurance. Most Americans are looking for a consumer driven product – as opposed to the industry-driven products currently available.
Heart Failure and Race: Jason Shafrin at Healthcare-economist explores the causes of high chronic heart failure in racial minorities. A paper by Emilia Simeonova claims that 5% is due to differences in doctor quality, 20% is due to differences in socio-economic factors, but vast majority of the mortality differences are due to the fact that blacks are less likely to take their medication than whites.
Medicare Advantage (or Disadvantage): David Harlow at health care law blog examines the question of whether higher costs for Medicare Advantage plans are excessive or worthwhile.
Bad Boys and Girls: Henry Stern at Insureblog presents “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come for You?” He asks, “what do an incompetent insurance agent, an unscrupulous client and a possibly negligent insurer have in common?”
Aids in Africa: GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life reviews the book The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS. The book, by Helen Epstein, is a clear-eyed look at the African AIDS epidemic and the West’s often misguided attempts to assist in this battle. Grrlscientist highly recommends the book. We highly recommend her review, which summarizes the aids crisis in its most potent environment.
Frivolous Lawsuits: Jose DeJesus MD presents Discouraging Frivolous Malpractice Lawsuits posted at Physician Entrepreneur.
Single Payer System: Ian Welsh at Firedoglake explores the ethics and politics of a single payer system and opines that, one way or another, we are all in this together.
Too Many/Too Few Docs? From our neighbor to the north, Sam Solomon of Canadianmedicineblogspot ponders the Canadian shift from “too many docs” to “not enough.” He finds a muddied logic in the twists and turns of Canadian public policy.
Policy Debate: Jane Hiebert-White of Health Affairs Blog hosts a debate between Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the rapidly rising health spending projections–is it a market issue or government problem? Ryan and Cooper could hardly be further apart in their views – in itself an indication of how far we are from solving the national health care problem.
Not All Policies are Alike: Louise at Colorado Health Insurance Insider Blog challenges the notion that health insurance is a digital switch, where people either have it or do not. She finds many variations in coverage and deductibles. In the current market, there are many sizes and some don’t fit anyone at all.
Local Solutions? Which leads us to Drew Weilage at Our Own System. Drew thinks a global solution is simply out of reach. He recommends solving problems locally. (After reading the two congressional entries above, you might be inclined to agree.)
That’s it for this week. Assuming all these problems will not be resolved in the next few days, Health Wonk Review will back at it soon. Stay posted.