Friday, July 31, 2009

House Passes Food Safety Bill

The AP reports that by a 283-142 margin, the House yesterday "passed a far-reaching food safety bill Thursday in the wake of the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanuts that killed at least nine people." President Obama "praised the bill soon after it was passed, calling it 'a major step forward in modernizing our food safety system.'" It's about time something meaningful was passed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Texting Drivers 23 Times More Likely to Crash

A new study shows that texting while driving is an incredibly dangerous driving distraction, perhaps the worst. The 18-month study, which was conducted with long-haul truckers (though the high risk applies to all drivers), found that drivers "are 23-times more likely to crash" while texting.

In a front-page story, the New York Times explains that the study followed drivers in "the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months." The study is currently "undergoing peer review and has been submitted for publication in the Journal for Human Factors." Among the findings were "that drivers took their eyes off the road for around five seconds when texting."

The AP compared the 23 times greater risk of collision while texting to a six-fold increase while "dialing a cell phone or reaching for an electronic device." Researchers "recommended that texting should be banned for all drivers, and all cell phone use should be prohibited for newly licensed teen drivers. Only 14 states ban texting while driving.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tort Reform: Just the Facts, Ma'am

In a column in the St. Petersburg Times, Susan Taylor Martin discusses how medical malpractice costs are handled in Canada. Martin comments that in this country, "Despite the push for tort reform, the facts don't warrant what Public Citizen, a nonpartisan research group, calls the 'politically charged hysteria surrounding medical malpractice litigation.' The number of U.S. malpractice payments in 2008 was the lowest since creation of the federal National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked payments since 1990. And the average payment - about $326,000 - was the smallest in a decade."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Influential Health Research Group Owned by Insurer

The Washington Post reported, "The political battle over healthcare reform is waged largely with numbers, and few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group, a consulting firm whose research has been widely cited by opponents of a public insurance option." Both Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have cited the Lewin Group's numbers, the Post notes, but "generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers." In fact, "the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data." Why is this not surprising?

Investigation Suggests iPod Fire Risk

KIRO-TV Seattle, WA reported on its website, "An exclusive KIRO 7 Investigation reveals an alarming number of Apple brand iPod MP3 players have suddenly burst into flames and smoke, injuring people and damaging property." It took "more than 7-months for KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator Amy Clancy to get her hands on documents concerning Apple's iPods from the Consumer Product Safety Commission because Apple's lawyers filed exemption after exemption. In the end, the CPSC released more than 800 pages which reveal, for the very first time, a comprehensive look that shows, on a number of occasions, iPods have suddenly burst into flames, started to smoke, and even burned their owners." Earlier this year "a lawsuit against Apple was filed in Cincinnati because, [a] lawyer claims, an iPod Touch, one of Apple's newest edition of iPods, also powered by a lithium ion battery, exploded and caught fire while in a teenager's pocket. The suit claims the boy suffered second-degree burns to his leg, and that the iPod was off at the time. This incident is not included in the CPSC's file."

Anti-Meat Group: Hot Dogs Need Warnings

An anti-meat advocacy group says hot dogs are "hazardous to your health and should carry warning labels." The group known as the Cancer Project filed a lawsuit last month in New Jersey on behalf of three state residents against Kraft Foods Inc., manufacturer of the Oscar Mayer brand; Sara Lee Corp.; Nathan's Famous; and the makers of the Hebrew National and Sabrett brands. "The lawsuit cites a report by the American Institute for Cancer Research that concluded regular consumption of processed meat can increase the risk of colorectal and other forms of cancer."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

FDA Targets E-Cigarettes

USA Today reports that the FDA, which was "recently granted the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug, is taking aim at electronic cigarettes — battery-powered cigarette look-alikes that deliver nicotine and produce a puff of odorless vapor." The FDA says tests show that "e-cigarettes contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze." However, e-cigs do not have warning labels.

NHTSA Data on Cell Phone Dangers Suppressed

In a column in the New York Times Maureen Dowd wrote, "Ominously, research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - suppressed for years and released on Tuesday after petitions were filed by advocacy groups - shows that there are 'negligible differences' in [car] accident risk whether you're holding" a phone or using a hands-free device. "The agency buried its head in the sand, keeping the research to itself for years and ignoring the fact that soon nearly all Americans would own cellphones and that the phones are always getting smarter and more demanding, putting a multimedia empire at your fingertips while you're piloting a potentially lethal piece of artillery."

I have said all along, at least since CT mandated use of so-called "hands-free" devices, that the hands-free devices are just another distraction. I think using the hands-free device is more dangerous than just the phone, but that's just me.

UCLA Investigating Spine Surgeon's Conflicts of Interest

The Wall Street Journal reports, "A top surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, has lost his position as executive director of its spine center and faces an investigation by the school into his research after allegedly failing to disclose he was being paid by several companies whose products he was studying." The university claims that Jeffrey Wang "repeatedly failed to report on forms filed with the state and with the medical school that he was receiving consulting payments, stock options, and royalties from five companies on whose products he was conducting research." In doing so, he "'violated university guidelines,' the school said." A committee appointed by UCLA will "investigate Dr. Wang's work and determine whether the payments affected his research and 'if there are any mitigating actions needed to ensure the integrity of the research results." A spokeswoman for the university said "the school is considering further sanctions against" Wang.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sotomayor Hearings a "Waste of Time"

For once, I actually agree with Philip Howard. A New York Times blog presented the opinions of several legal scholars and commentators as to the value of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. Philip K. Howard said, "These hearings are almost devoid of substance, so the lessons are mainly negative. The one useful conclusion is that Judge Sotomayor's skill at parrying loaded questions demonstrates that she is as smart as her resume suggests. Otherwise, the hearings are a waste of time."

Suit Alleges Medical Device Makers Paid Doctors to Use Products

The Wall Street Journal reports today: "Former employees of certain medical-devicemakers allege in lawsuits unsealed in a Texas federal court that the companies paid kickbacks to heart surgeons to get the doctors to use their products to treat...atrial fibrillation." The suits "name at least four companies whose products are among those used in surgery to treat the heart condition," including "AtriCure Inc., Medtronic Inc., St. Jude Medical Inc., and Boston Scientific Corp." The companies are accused of taking part in a "'fraudulent marketing and inducement campaign,' involving kickbacks to doctors and hospitals," which "resulted in excessive charges to the Medicare insurance program." The "cases against Boston Scientific, Medtronic, and AtriCure" also allege that "these companies marketed surgical ablation equipment as a treatment for atrial fibrillation even though it was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to" treat that condition.

The AP reports, "The allegations against the companies, released Tuesday in the United States District Court in the Southern District of Texas, were made by a former Boston Scientific employee who was not named in the documents."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Class Action for Those Injured by Gadolinium Contrast MRIs

Rhode Island's WPRI News reported that "in a massive lawsuit," 517 plaintiffs are suing "pharmaceutical companies that make certain dyes used for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)." The plaintiffs were "diagnosed with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF)...after being injected with a contrast-agent made with gadolinium." Patients with healthy kidneys are able to "simply flush the gadolinium out," but those with NSF "describe their skin turning wood-like, eventually cracking." The FDA "issued a warning in 2006 and 2007 not to administer the drug to those with kidney problems," but "gadolinium is still used in routine MRIs." The class-action suit "against five pharmaceutical companies that make gadolinium-based contrasting agents is getting larger as more and more are diagnosed with NSF." Some claim that they were "never warned about the possible side-effect because the medical community was in the dark at the time."

Monday, July 13, 2009

AEI Criticizes Proposal for Consumer Financial Protection Agency

In a Washington Post op-ed, Peter J. Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute says if the Obama Administration's proposal for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) "is adopted, many consumers will be told that they cannot have particular products or services because they are not sophisticated, educated or perhaps intelligent enough to understand what they have been offered." The Administration's plan "would allow the educated and sophisticated elites to have access to whatever financial services they want but limit the range of products available to ordinary Americans. This unprecedented result comes about because, under the proposed legislation, every provider of a financial service (a term that includes organizations as varied as banks, check-cashing services, leasing companies and payment services) is required to offer a 'standard' product or service -- to be defined and approved by the proposed agency -- that will be simple and entail 'lower risks' for consumers."

Ignorance is bliss.

Chrysler, GM Avoid Product Liability

As discussed in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, "Plaintiffs' lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have the new automakers that emerged from bankruptcy held liable for damages caused by their predecessors' products. They won a partial victory with GM, but both companies will shed liability for most claims." For people "who allege they were injured by defective cars, that's a grim prospect."

As a result, some attorneys are changing focus of their product liability cases, targeting dealers and suppliers because of the automakers' immunity. Bloomberg News reported, "General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC dealers and suppliers ... are becoming targets of product-liability lawsuits in the wake of the automakers' bankruptcies. Accident victims' lawyers in California, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri and Colorado have sued dealers and parts- makers on finding that GM and Chrysler are shielded from litigation by bankruptcy law. The attorneys say they have no other way to seek compensation for some clients.

NY Times Op-Eds Look at Malpractice Reform

In an op-ed in the New York Times (7/12), Tom Baker of the University of Pennsylvania Law School wrote, "Our medical liability system needs reform. But anyone who thinks that limiting liability would reduce healthcare costs is fooling himself. Preventable medical injuries, not patient compensation, are what ring up extra costs for additional treatment. ... Just as we need evidence-based medicine, we also need evidence-based medical liability reform."

In another Times op-ed, Harvard professors Amitabh Chandra and Michelle Mello wrote, "Doctors tend to believe capping damages on malpractice awards would solve their troubles. But the best evidence shows that although caps modestly constrain the growth of insurance premiums, they don't reduce the number of claims or address any of the fundamental pathologies of the system. ..."

These are messages that need to be heard. Arbitrary, "one-size-fits-all" caps on damages are completely unfair to the grievously injured.

Lisbon Girl Hurt in Hit-and-Run

The Norwich Bulletin reports that a "14-year-old Moosup girl was hospitalized after a car struck her during a hit-and-run accident in Lisbon on Saturday." The unidentified girl was taken to Backus Hospital with a head injury and her condition was unavailable. "According to a police news release, the girl was walking south on the shoulder of Route 12 near the northbound ramp of Interstate 395 when she was hit. At least two people witnessed the accident, which happened at about 9:45 p.m." A dark-colored four-door sport utility vehicle struck the girl, causing her to be “thrown off the shoulder and onto the grass,” the police said. The car did not stop.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tap Water More Regulated Than Bottled

Congress has held hearings on two reports concluding that the EPA regulates tap water more carefully than the FDA does bottled water. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA, which "oversees" the $11.2 billion bottled water industry, "doesn't keep track of companies that produce bottled water and doesn't require companies to report positive tests for contaminants, federal officials told a House hearing Wednesday. Consumer advocates testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations panel that bottlers should be required to disclose more information to consumers." FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein "testified that the agency regulates bottled water as a food and doesn't know which companies among registered food firms make bottled water. Moreover, he said, the FDA has limited power to require more information on labels, and he put in a pitch for legislation that would boost the FDA's funding and authority for food safety."

Medicare Analyzes Best, Worst Hospitals

USA Today reports that "Too many people die needlessly at U.S. hospitals, according to a sweeping new Medicare analysis showing wide variation in death rates between the best hospitals and the worst." Click here to find and compare hospitals.

Report Blames EB Worker for Fatality

I have to wonder if there's more to the story. The Day reports that Ritchie Morse, the Electric Boat worker who died in an accident at the company's Quonset Point manufacturing plant earlier this month, "pressed the wrong button on a hangar door, closing it when he had meant to open it." Apparently, Morse was "moving a section of steel outside using a large transport device with a cab on either end." Morse, who was in the front cab, went to the other cab when it started raining to move the section back inside the main building. "About 20 feet of the transporter remained outside the hangar doors, with about a foot of clearance between the door and the vehicle." Realizing he forgot his hard hat in the transporter's front cab, he exited the vehicle and "tried to squeeze through the small space between the door and the transporter, the police report said. Unable to fit, Morse hit the button on the door, intending to open it, but instead hit the button to close it, witnesses told police." The report says the "door jerked closed ... crushing Morse's head between the door and the transporter." OSHA reportedly "is still investigating." What a horrible tragedy. Something tells me this was preventable and that the victim is not totally at fault.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Federal Action on Food Safety

The Obama Administration is taking steps to make the nation's food supply safer and reduce outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli. The new rules call for better coordination among agencies and enhance safety standards, tracking, and inspections of eggs, beef, poultry, leafy greens, melons, and tomatoes.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a "White House panel, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is shifting the focus of food regulation to preventing outbreaks from reacting to them after they occur." The FDA announced "a rule aimed at reducing salmonella infections from raw or undercooked eggs by 60%, or 79,000 illnesses a year. The regulation, among other things, requires egg producers to test their facilities for salmonella and buy chicks only from farmers who monitor for the pathogen." The Washington Post notes that "Fears about food safety have been spurred by outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli illness from products as varied as peanuts, spinach, tomatoes, pistachios, peppers and, most recently, cookie dough." Currently, 15 separate agencies "oversee food inspections in a complex and sometimes bizarre division of labor: The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for produce, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for meat," for example. The FDA and the USDA also announced they "will create new positions to better oversee food safety," as reported by the AP. Many of the new rules won't take effect immediately, and the transformation of the food safety oversight system is "a huge undertaking." USA Today notes the "new proposals give the FDA 'real teeth' in requiring companies to track food safety problems and make that information available to the government." As Vice President Biden said, "The food-safety system in our country needs a significant update. ... We know these are the first steps of many."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Driver in Hartford Fatal Wreck Was Speeding

The Courant reports that "Speed appears to be a factor in a weekend wreck on Capitol Avenue that killed the driver." Police say that around 10:45 a.m. Sunday, "Jerry Sturges was driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla west on Capitol Avenue when he lost control in the area of Flower Street." His vehicle continued west, crossed the center line and continued in the eastbound lane, where it eventually struck a stone wall and a metal pole, and came to rest at the intersection of Capitol and Babcock Street. Sturgis, 29, was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital.

RI Worker Killed in EB Accident Identified

The Day reports that North Kingstown police have identified the Electric Boat employee who died in an accident at the company's Quonset Point manufacturing plant last week as Ritchie A. Morse, 31, of North Kingstown. Morse had worked at EB for 10 years. "According to police, Morse was moving a section of steel outside using a large transport device. The section then had to be moved back inside the main building where the submarine modules are assembled, due to the rain. Morse exited from the machinery and became trapped between it and a large door as it was closing, police said." He was transported to Kent County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police and OSHA are still investigating the incident.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recalls of Kids' Pool Floats, Cribs

The Los Angeles Times reported that the CPSC announced the recall of "inflatable baby floats - shaped like turtles, ducks, power boats and other figures" which are being "voluntarily pulled by distributor Aqua-Leisure Industries after 31 reports of the seats tearing and dropping youngsters into the water." The second action, initiated by the CPSC rather than the manufacturer, recalls more than 400,000 Simplicity drop side cribs for the same reason that forced one million Simplicity cribs off the market in September 2007: the upgraded plastic hardware still could bend or break, causing the drop side to detach.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Medicare's Track Record

Gov't run health care: the NY Times looks at Medicare's mixed track record.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Traffic Deaths Still Falling

The AP reports that "highway deaths are continuing to fall in 2009 from their lowest levels in nearly a half-century. The government reported Thursday that an estimated 7,689 people were killed on the nation's highways in the months of January through March of this year. That's a 9 percent decline from a year ago." This is good news. In 2008, the government estimated that 37,261 people died in traffic accidents, the fewest since 1961. "If the 2009 fatality trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people would die. Experts have attributed the declines to the recession, record-high seat-belt use and fewer people driving."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

RI Hospitals to Adopt New Surgical Protocol Aimed at Reducing Errors

The AP reports that "All 14 hospitals in Rhode Island have agreed to adopt a uniform set of precautions to prevent surgeons from operating on the wrong body part or committing other grievous errors." Under the new protocol, hospitals will have "two licensed providers mark the place on the patient where the operation is to occur and" surgeons will be required "to mark the spot with their initials and use a checklist before surgeries." These procedures are aimed at helping physicians "who work at multiple hospitals reduce the potential for operating on the wrong part of the patient or other mistakes." Officials began developing "the protocol...18 months ago, before several wrong-site surgeries at Rhode Island hospitals occurred," Jean Marie Rocha, vice president of clinical affairs for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, said.

Walkers, Canes Involved in 47,000 Falls Per Year

The AP reports that a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society notes "Health officials say more than 47,000 elderly Americans end up in emergency rooms each year from falls involving walkers and canes."

Norwich Panel Discusses Growing Trend of Prescription Drug Abuse

Article here.