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Headlines: January 6, 2010

by Meg Larkin


            First, in political news, congressional democrats are launching a spirited defense of the national health reform law passed in 2010.  Faced with Republican calls for a repeal of the law, Democrat are launching an aggressive political and media strategy.  Democratic response teams will rapidly fact check republican claims about the health care law and disseminate the information to voters.  They will also run advertisements on television “as warrants” and use the Organizing for America network to encourage voters to reject a repeal of the health reform law.

            In other policy news, health care spending rose at a slower rate in 2009.  Due to the recession, Americans decreased their health care spending.  However, because the economy as a whole contracted, health care made up a larger part of GDP than it had in previous years.  Private health care spending may have declined in part because many people lost employer-based health insurance.  The decline in private spending coincided with an increase in Medicaid enrollment and public spending.  Prescription drugs continued to be a major area of health care expenditures, amounting to almost $250 billion for 2009.  The data reflects the slowest rate of increase in health care spending in 50 years, and was published by the Federal Government this week.

            In regulatory news, Merck is continuing to back the contraceptive Implanon in spite of reports of adverse reactions and unplanned pregnancies.   Implanon is a long-acting contraceptive implant that is inserted to the inside of a woman’s upper arm.  According to the Wall St. Journal, “just more than 1,600 women have complained about the device to Britain's medicines watchdog, including 584 who said they had unwanted pregnancies.”  Implanon will remain on the market, and Britain’s Department of Health has defended the drug’s safety and effectiveness.  Merck emphasized that no contraceptive is 100 percent effective, and that the complaining patients were a small fraction of the total number who received the implant.

            In other regulatory news, the United States is cracking down on illegal online pharmacies.  According to the BBC, the US government has started an initiative to shut down online pharmacies and to inform consumers about the dangers of purchasing prescription medication from unlicensed online vendors.  About 36 million Americans may have purchased medication from illegal online vendors without a prescription.  In order to target online drug sellers, the US Government is teaming up with web services companies like Google and payment companies like PayPal in addition to web hosting firms in order to remove the resources that allow illegal pharmacies to flourish on the internet.

            Finally, in research news, a new report has found that the study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was based on doctored data.  Although the study, originally published by the Lancet, was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors, it led to a worldwide drop in vaccination that has been linked to increased outbreaks of measles.  A new analysis has found that Wakefield and the other authors of the original study altered facts about the patients they examined.  According to the New York Times, “The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield's paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children's parents.”  Andrew Wakefield, the lead author of the original study, lost his license to practice medicine in the UK last May and now resides in the United States.



Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University.  Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.


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