KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: 9 ‘Brilliant Legal Minds’ Wrestle With Tough Biological Questions In Gene Case; Drug Overdoses Take Surprising Toll In Calif.; VA Case Raises Privacy Questions

Los Angeles Times: The Supreme Court Looks At Gene Patents, Worries About Biotech
When the Supreme Court took up the question Monday of whether genes could be patented, the justices were clearly concerned about preserving innovation in medicine and biotechnology. But the issue presented by Myriad Genetics' patents on the BRCA genes cuts both ways, leading to a potential split among the justices (Jon Healey, 4/15). 

Los Angeles Times: Why Genetic Patents Are Good For Patients [Blowback]
As we said in our Supreme Court brief, these molecules were "never available to the world until Myriad's scientists applied their inventive faculties to a previously undistinguished mass of genetic matter. This was the product of creative, human ingenuity." The government has issued thousands of patents over many years involving isolated genetic material. Many more patents protect products derived from natural material, such as ours. Laboratories routinely turn elements found in nature into innovative remedies and medical prescriptions that are patented (Peter D. Meldrum, 4/15). 

The Washington Post: At Supreme Court, Cookies And Baseball Bats
The Supreme Court on Monday took up the unusual question of whether corporations control our genetic material — specifically, whether a Utah-based company called Myriad Genetics has valid patents on the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are related to breast and ovarian cancers. That a company most people have never heard of could have the exclusive rights to pieces of our DNA is a bit unnerving. More than a bit unnerving: The ownership of our genes is being decided by nine justices who, although brilliant legal minds, are not exactly biotechnologists (Dana Milbank, 4/15). 

The Associated Press: Compromise Key To Legacy Obama Desires
He wants to take on the expensive Democratic sacred cows of Social Security and Medicare. He doesn't agree with a judge and women's rights groups that girls of any age should have easy access to emergency contraception. He has hinted that he may disappoint environmentalists by letting the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline be built. ... There's a paradox for the White House to worry about, though. By spurning the party's left wing on issues like entitlement programs, Obama runs might be sabotaging exactly what he's trying to achieve. Congressional Democrats who side with him risk inviting liberal primary challenges and could end up losing their re-election bids, squandering Obama's chance at absolute Democratic power in the final two years of his presidency (Liz Sidoti, 4/15).

Los Angeles Times: Drug Overdose Prevention Could Be Right At Our Fingertips
What do you think is the leading cause of accidental death in California? If you said car accidents, you were wrong. In 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 3,200 people in the state died in automobile crashes, while 3,561 people died of drug overdoses, the bulk of them involving prescription pills. That high number of deaths is particularly tragic because we have a powerful weapon against drug overdoses, and it isn't used nearly as often as it could be (Lynne Lyman, 4/16).

Los Angeles Times: Kermit Gosnell And Abortion's Darkest Side
So, obviously this is a story about the mainstream media. My fellow Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers wrote a USA Today column last week shaming the media for not covering the Gosnell case enough or, in many cases, at all. She got results. Suddenly everyone was talking about the case. Though a dismaying amount of the coverage is about why there was a lack of coverage (Jonah Goldberg, 4/16).

Tampa Bay Times: VA Report Dodges Invasion Of Privacy
Most health care providers respect their obligation to respect the privacy of their patients. Then there is the Department of Veterans Affairs. That agency's inspector general played team ball recently by clearing Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center of wrongdoing for placing a camera disguised as a smoke detector in the room of a brain-damaged veteran without telling his family. This is a clear violation of ethics even for an obtuse bureaucracy with no real sense of accountability. Congress should demand some answers (4/15).

Bloomberg: Doctors Should Welcome A Nudge To Wash Their Hands
As a physician, I am glad for the mobile health-monitoring applications that allow me to help my patients sleep better, exercise better and eat better. Yet I was a little offended when I learned of a new wristband monitor that prods doctors to wash their hands when they enter a patient’s room. ... But such measures are necessary, however demeaning they seem. In the average U.S. hospital, hand-washing compliance rates vary from just one-third of patient encounters to half at best. And hand hygiene is the single-largest contributor -- and the most fixable -- to the almost 2 million hospital-acquired infections each year that kill 100,000 people in the U.S. (Ford Vox, 4/15).

Politico: Open Access Aids Science Research
No one likes paying for the same thing twice. This holds true for federally funded scientific research. For years, scholarly journals have relied on taxpayers paying for research on the front end and access to the results on the back. It is past time to embrace an open access policy for scientific research (Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., 4/15).

Boston Globe: A Doctor Ponders Her Reaction To A Cancer Diagnosis
There's this weird feeling I get when I hear bad news, or even not-that-bad news, or even the possibility of bad news: a tingling that spreads across my forehead, down my face, into my jaw, and then to my chest, where it settles like a . . . no, not a lump . . . a void. I get the feeling every time I go for my annual mammogram or any other medical test, I wonder how I would react to a bad outcome. Would I be brave and noble, as so many of my patients are? Or would I be like Woody Allen in the classic scene from "Hannah and Her Sisters," one of the "weaker ones," panicked, swallowed up in the void of my own fear? At my Literature and Medicine discussion group, I had a chance to reconsider this question (Dr. Suzanne Koven, 4/15). 

San Jose Mercury News: Curing California's Acute Doctor Shortage
California doesn't have enough primary care physicians. Forty-two of its 58 counties fall short of the federal government's most basic standard. The state needs another 2,000 doctors, and the situation will get dramatically worse next year -- even in Silicon Valley -- when 2-4 million Californians obtain health insurance under Obamacare and go looking for a doctor. The California Medical Association wants to build more medical schools and expand opportunities for young doctors. Good plan -- but thinking it will solve the immediate problem is like expecting a Band-Aid to heal a bullet wound. Training a doctor takes a decade. That's a long time for a patient to sit in a waiting room (4/12).

HealthyCal: Will Reform Of Care For Aging Help Or Hurt? 
Amid all the recent worry about people lacking health insurance, one vulnerable group of Californians appears to be suffering from too much, not too little coverage. Low-income older adults qualify for both Medicare and Medi-Cal. That might sound like a good thing. But the lack of coordination between the federal program for seniors and the state-federal program for the poor may be hurting their health. It is also costing the taxpayers a ton of money (Daniel Weintraub, 4/15).

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