President Obama's hard-fought Health Care plan will almost certainly go down as a defining accomplishments of his firs term, but unfortunately for the president, it's not very popular on Main Street. According to a CNN poll only 43% of Americans approved of the legislation, which will bring health insurance to millions of now uncovered Americans. Not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidates never miss an opportunity to slam "Obamacare" bill as yet another liberal money-pit—a symptom of bloated, bureaucratic Big Government. But in fact, the legislation contains a number of important reforms aimed at reducing the waste, fraud and abuse that are rife in America’s supply-side healthcare industry, which may explain the opposition to it by medical and insurance big-wigs.
Some of the most important reforms made possible by the new law are focused on transparency. A new requirement, for example, will now force the nation's top pharmaceutical companies to disclose every single payment they make to physicians, as reported Monday by The New York Times. Whether the largesse is a sales rep’s springing for lunch at a doctor’s office or the hundreds of thousands of dollars top specialists rack up in annual speaking feews, and other vague consulting fees for new medications, every penny will have to be accounted for on a public registry that anyone, including consumers, can access.
Drug company marketing to doctors has grown astronomically over the past two decades. An estimated 25% of all US physicians are on pharma payrolls—some take money from several pharmaceutical firms at a time. As many as 65% take freebies from visiting reps. Few physicians admit that their practice of medicine is in any way influenced by such promotional pocketing. Yet paralleling the explosion in payouts has been an exorbitant rise in the volume of medications prescribed (not to mention surgical procedures, which are far more expensive) but of off-label prescriptions.
The epidemic of addiction to prescription painkillers—OxyContin, Vicodin, Fentanyl and other legal narcotics maintain their blockbuster status through their vast off-label sales—is merely one of the costs of this shadowy professional collusion. The tally of annual waste, fraud and abuse traceable to pharma-physician funny money is hundreds of billions of dollars.
Some drug companies already voluntarily disclose on a government registry, often as a condition of the billion-dollar settlements they agreed to following fraud convictions.
The Republican presidential candidates have all vowed that if elected, they will, “on day one,” rescind the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would spell an end to the bill’s core commitment to consumer-friendly transparency. Given the uncertainty of the outcome of the general election, that may be why the Obama administration missed its October deadline to present procedures for registry disclosures. (Check ProPublica's "Dollars for Docs" prize-winning investigation for the registry of pharma payouts.)
January is the month of new beginnings, which means it’s the time to talk recovery. And the first can’t-miss opportunity to hear a few of the world’s most revered addicted writers discussing the topic is this Wednesday at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe at 126 Crosby Street in Manhattan at 7 pm. Moderated by Unhooked: How to Quit Anything author (and Fix contributor) Susan Shapiro, the panel will include such acclaimed, best-selling authors as David Carr (The Night of the Gun), Mary Karr (Lit), and Elizabeth Wurtzel (best known for Prozac Nation but also the author of the addiction and recovery memoir More Now Again). Since we named both Carr and Karr’s books as part of our roundup the 10 Best Addiction Memoirs, we’ll certainly be in the audience. And with the participants already tweeting at each other with taunts about who will talk more, it’s safe to say that anticipation is high. Even if the panelists won’t be.
Rihanna, the warbler behind the hit single "Umbrella," was photographed on vacation in Hawaii yesterday smoking a cigarette that looked suspiciously like a blunt. then, as if to preempt any questions about what it was that she was smoking, she followed up last night on Twitter expounding her love for "kush" and a "glass full." She prefers "the better things" in life, she tweeted. Reached for comment, her flacks had no comment.
The Canadian Liberal Party voted yesterday to support the legalization of marijuana during its biannual party convention in Ottawa: of the 3,000 party delegates, 77% voted in favor. The move won't have an immediate impact, as the party was severely weakened in the May 2011 elections, and Canada will remain under the control of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government at least until the next federal election in 2015. But Liberal success in that election could now mean a wholesale revision of marijuana laws in Canada, which in recent years have become sterner in dealing with drug possession and distribution. On the other hand, the party isn't certain to implement the vote as part of its election platform; the party's leader, Bob Rae, cites “some practical questions we have to look at” before this happens. Canada's more left-leaning Democratic and Green parties already support legalization.
After announcing that VH1 was dropping Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, America’s favorite addiction expert is returning to television with a new—and rather similar sounding—reality show. Tentatively tilted Rehab With Dr. Drew, it will feature "real" people with substance abuse issues, as opposed to celebrities. The addicts will follow the same detox and treatment programs at The Pasadena Recovery Center as seen previously. The show is set to air this summer on VH1. "I am so excited to once again have the opportunity to educate viewers about the deadly disease of addiction. More than 85 million Americans are affected by addiction, whether they've faced the disease themselves or have supported family members or friends through a substance abuse issue," says 53-year-old Dr. Drew Pinsky. "The stigma and shame associated with drug and alcohol addiction prevents many from getting the help that they need. It is my sincere hope that this show will encourage people who are struggling to seek the help. Treatment works and there is hope and recovery is possible."
Following his inauguration, new Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has ordered the army to fight his country's drug cartels and "neutralize organized crime." Molina, a retired general, has promised to to rule with an “iron fist,” by taking tough action. Standing for the right wing Patriotic Party, he won the election in November with 54% of the vote. Guatemala is a substantial transit point for cocaine smuggling into Mexico. In a recent speech, the president told the military to "co-ordinate and co-operate with the other security forces to neutralize organized crime through ground, air and maritime control." Molina says he'll provide extra equipment including planes, speedboats and ground vehicles to help the cause. Guatemala's planned use of force follows the examples of some other Latin American countries. In November the Honduran congress voted to allow troops to take on police duties to confront its high murder rate, while the Mexican military under President Felipe Calderon has been fighting the drug war there for the last five years.