A Reply to the Author of Cato’s Brief in the Little Sisters Contraception Case

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Flickr Creative Commons/WEBN-TV

By Gregory M. Lipper

Josh Blackman has replied to my post criticizing the Cato Institute’s amicus brief (which Josh coauthored) in support of the cert petition in the Little Sisters contraception case. My original post made two arguments: (1) if you take away the nonprofit accommodation, Hobby Lobby no longer supplies a rule of decision, because the presence of the nonprofit accommodation was what led the Court to conclude that RFRA barred the coverage requirement, and (2) if you prevent regulatory agencies from offering reasonable, tailored accommodations to their regulations, the result is bad for religious liberty.

Two brief comment on Josh’s reply.

First, on the question of agency authority to issue religious accommodations, Josh incorrectly suggests that I miss a subtelty in his argument. Josh/Cato say that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has authority to issue religious accommodations, but that it may not decide “which organizations were worthy of the exemption, and which would be burdened by the accommodation.” I address this argument in my original post: the Cato brief assumes that religious accommodations are all-or-nothing, but that is not how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) works. RFRA details when accommodations are available and when they are not (and the Establishment Clause limits accommodations that unduly harm third parties). So an agency (HHS, or otherwise) cannot, as a practical matter, offer accommodations without determining who is eligible for that accommodation and who is not. As I said in my original post, Cato “would force agencies to choose between a bludgeon and no tools at all, even when the agency would need a scalpel to craft religious accommodations consistent with RFRA.”

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Induced Infringement in Patent Law and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I often think and write about the interaction between the induced infringement doctrine in patent law and medical method patents of various kinds (previous blog posts are here and here).  Until the recent en banc decision in Akamai v. Limelight, courts had been extremely reluctant to attribute the actions of multiple parties to a single actor for purposes of assigning infringement liability.  These cases have largely involved business method or software patents, but I had hypothesized in prior work that this analysis would extend to medical method patents, making them difficult to enforce.

Last week, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana provided evidence for the opposite proposition.  Eli Lilly had sued a set of generic drug companies for patent infringement, arguing that they had induced physicians to infringe a set of method-of-treatment claims involving a chemotherapy drug.  The problem for Lilly was that its claims require action by both physicians and patients, who must take certain other medications, including folic acid, before the physician administers the chemotherapy drug.  Judge Pratt was tasked with determining whether the actions of the patient in preparing for their chemotherapy could be attributed to the physician.  She ruled that because the physician “directs or controls the patient’s administration of folic acid,” “the performance of all the claimed steps … can be attributed to a single person, i.e. the physician.”  As a result, the generic companies could be held liable for infringement.

One problem with Judge Pratt’s ruling is that it fails to confront the single Federal Circuit opinion to have considered and rejected this argument.  McKesson Technologies, Inc. v. Epic Systems Corporation dealt with a patent on electronic communication between physicians and their patients.  In that case, the Federal Circuit had occasion to consider how the doctor-patient relationship fits into the induced infringement paradigm.  Judge Linn’s opinion concluded that “[a] doctor-patient relationship does not by itself give rise to an agency relationship or impose on patients a contractual obligation such that the voluntary actions of patients can be said to represent the vicarious actions of their doctors,” declining to attribute the patients’ actions to their physicians for purposes of assigning liability.

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Hiring Announcement: Loyola University Chicago Beazley Institute for Health Law

Loyola University Chicago School of Law is pleased to invite applications for a full-time tenure-track position, at the rank of Assistant/Associate Professor with expertise in health law, beginning in fall 2016. We seek a scholar-teacher whose substantive interests are in the areas of administrative law, healthcare regulation, corporate health law and/or food and drug/pharmaceutical law. The full job announcement can be found at www.careers.luc.edu.

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Little Sisters: Cato Institute Targets the Affordable Care Act—Yet Again

By Gregory M. Lipper

Fresh off its unsuccessful attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell, the Cato Institute is back for more. This time, Cato has filed an amicus brief in support of Supreme Court review in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell. This is one of the many, many (many) challenges brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by nonprofit organizations to an accommodation, offered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), exempting religious nonprofits from providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. To take advantage of the accommodation, nonprofits need only provide written notice to the government of their objection and the name of their insurance provider or plan administrator. At that point, the government arranges for the nonprofit organization’s insurance company or plan administrator to provide the coverage at no cost to the nonprofit or its employees.

These RFRA challenges to the nonprofit accommodation have been rejected by all seven federal appeals courts to address them. But in this brief backing the challenge by Little Sisters, Cato asks the Supreme Court to dodge the RFRA question entirely, claiming that the case “can be resolved without further engaging in the delicate analysis required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Instead, Cato makes the following argument: (1) in light of King v. Burwell’s statements about agency deference, HHS had no authority to offer religious accommodations to its own regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act, and (2) without a religious accommodation, the contraceptive coverage requirement is unenforceable against nonprofit organizations with religious objections.

Cato seeks—in the name of religious liberty!—to prevent regulatory agencies from granting accommodations to entities with religious objections to regulations, and then argues that the absence of religious accommodation makes the underlying regulations unenforceable against religious objectors. Cato’s curious argument suffers from two serious flaws.

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DCIS Study Amplifies Questions and Demand for Answers

By Dalia Deak

This week, a JAMA Oncology article made a splash when it intensified discussion around what ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) should be considered – cancer, precursor, or risk factor – and whether current treatment approaches have been effective. The New York Times, The Guardian, and others have picked up the story, and readers have reacted extensively, only amplifying a demand for answers to questions raised.

Often called Stage 0 breast cancer, DCIS is considered to be abnormal cells that are confined inside the milk ducts and, as such, are not considered invasive. Because of the increased risk associated with DCIS, many women who are found to have DCIS (a growing number considering the frequency of and improvements in mammography) undergo lumpectomies or mastectomies often accompanied by radiation therapy. Continue reading

When Law and Medical Ethics Conflict: The Case of Mohammad Allan

By Maayan Sudai

Mohammad Allan was an administrative detainee in Israel, a Palestinian who had been hunger striking since June 16 to protest his indefinite incarceration. Allan’s health has been deteriorating gradually, and the latest examinations raised concerns that he suffered irreversible brain damage. The crisis in Allan’s health created a tangle for the Israeli government, since releasing Allan was feared to serve as a precedent that would encourage more hunger strikes and symbolize submission to this type of protest, whereas force-feeding him might be considered unethical-illegal torture. This dilemma has brought a head-on clash between Israeli government officials and the Israeli National Medical Association, and led to an internal split between medical professionals regarding their positions on the ethics of the controversial practice of force-feeding.

In the midst of Allan’s health deterioration, the Israeli parliament passed a new law called “Hunger Strike Damage Prevention Act” also known as the “force-feeding law”. The law allows doctors to force-feed prisoners in immediate and imminent danger of irreversible severe damage or death, with a court order. The court could allow such force-feeding after hearing the prisoner (if possible) and an ethics committee recommendation. Moreover, the forced feeding should be carried out in a dignified manner, avoiding pain and suffering for the prisoner. It was declared that physicians will not be forced to comply with force-feeding under this law if they refuse.

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NPRM Summary from HHS

As Michelle noted, the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on human subjects research is out after a long delay. For my (and many Bill of Health bloggers’) view about its predecessor ANPRM, you can check out our 2014 book, Human Subjects Research Regulation: Perspectives on the Future.

Here is HHS’s own summary of what has changed and what it thinks is most important:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fifteen other Federal Departments and Agencies have announced proposed revisions to modernize, strengthen, and make more effective the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects that was promulgated as a Common Rule in 1991.  A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was put on public display on September 2, 2015 by the Office of the Federal Register.  The NPRM seeks comment on proposals to better protect human subjects involved in research, while facilitating valuable research and reducing burden, delay, and ambiguity for investigators. It is expected that the NPRM will be published in the Federal Register on September 8, 2015.  There are plans to release several webinars that will explain the changes proposed in the NPRM, and a town hall meeting is planned to be held in Washington, D.C. in October. Continue reading

Long-Awaited Common Rule NPRM Released

It will be published in the Federal Register on September 8 (and comments will be due 90 days thereafter), but it is available now here. It is 519 pages long, though there is an executive summary and a list of the most important changes (which seem to roughly track the ANPRM) at pp. 21-26. Time to put on a pot of coffee, tea, or the caffeinated beverage of your choice.

Introducing the 2015-2016 Petrie-Flom Student Fellows

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to welcome our new 2015-2016 Student Fellows. In the coming year, each fellow will pursue independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics under the mentorship of Center faculty and fellows. They will also be regular contributors here at Bill of Health on issues related to their research. Continue reading

Introducing New Blogger Gregory Lipper

15.06.01, Lipper InformalGregory M. Lipper (@theglipper) is joining Bill of Health as a regular contributor.

Greg is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He litigates a range of religious freedom cases at trial on appeal, often bringing First Amendment challenges to government promotion of religion. In addition, he currently represents a Notre Dame student intervening to oppose the university’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage regulations, and he prepared Americans United’s amicus brief, on behalf of nearly thirty religious organizations, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores.

Before joining Americans United, Greg spent six years at Covington & Burling, where his practice included trial and appellate litigation, white-collar criminal defense, and First Amendment advice. Continue reading

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, in-depth analyses, and thoughtful editorials on pharmaceutical law and policy.

Below are the papers identified from the month of August. The selections feature topics ranging from the impact of Florida’s pill mill and prescription drug monitoring program laws on opioid prescribing and use, to the FDA’s revised guidance on direct-to-consumer marketing, to trends in Medicaid reimbursement for insulin products.  A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

  1. Chambers JD, Chenoweth M, Thorat T, Neumann PJ. Private Payers Disagree With Medicare Over Medical Device Coverage About Half The Time. Health Aff (Millwood). 2015 Aug 1; 34(8):1376-82.
  2. Djulbegovic B. Value-Based Cancer Care and the Excessive Cost of Drugs. JAMA Oncol. 2015 Aug 27. [Epub ahead of print].
  3. Greene JA, Watkins ES. The Vernacular of Risk – Rethinking Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Pharmaceuticals. N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print].
  4. Luo J, Avorn J, Kesselheim AS. Trends in Medicaid Reimbursements for Insulin From 1991 Through 2014. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Aug 24. [Epub ahead of print].
  5. Luo J, Kesselheim AS. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Implications for Access to Essential Medicines. JAMA. 2015 Aug 20. [Epub ahead of print].
  6. Rathi VK, Krumholz HM, Masoudi FA, Ross JS. Characteristics of Clinical Studies Conducted Over the Total Product Life Cycle of High-Risk Therapeutic Medical Devices Receiving FDA Premarket Approval in 2010 and 2011. JAMA. 2015 Aug 11; 314(6):604-12.
  7. Robertson CT. New DTCA Guidance – Enough to Empower Consumers? N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print].
  8. Rutkow L, Chang HY, Daubresse M, Webster DW, Stuart EA, Alexander GC. Effect of Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and Pill Mill Laws on Opioid Prescribing and Use. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Aug 17. [Epub ahead of print].
  9. Schick A, Miller KL, Lanthier M, Woodcock J. Regulatory watch: What drives differences in review times among CDER divisions? Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2015 Aug 21. [Epub ahead of print].

NOW AVAILABLE: FDA in the 21st Century: Get 30% Off When You Order through the Press!

lync17118_frontJust out from Columbia University Press, FDA in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenges of Regulating Drugs and New Technologies! This volume, co-edited by Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch and Faculty Director I. Glenn Cohen, stems from the Center’s 2013 annual conference, which brought together leading experts from academia, government, and private industry to evaluate the FDA and to begin charting a course for the agency’s future.

Use promo code FDA21 and save 30% if you order now at the Columbia University Press website!

And join us at Harvard Law School on October 28 for a book launch and panel discussion featuring editors Holly Fernandez Lynch and Glenn Cohen!

Second Amendment Rights and Mental Illness

By Mariam Ahmed, JD/MSPP (2016)

In recent years, there have been a multitude of state- and federal-level discussions about how to use law to minimize gun violence as active shooter events increase. During these deliberations, one point that has repeatedly been debated is whether people with mental illness should have their gun possession rights limited.

Here’s how the legal landscape currently looks.

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Thank you for 3 great years!

Three years ago today, we launched the Bill of Health blog to create a one-stop-shop for readers interested in news, commentary, and scholarship in the fields of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics. We have been thrilled at the blog’s success and reach so far.

A few quick stats:

  • We have 90 contributors from 49 institutions around the globe.
  • More than 350,000 unique visitors from more than 200 countries have visited the blog since it was first launched.
  • The blog gets more than 17,000 page views per month.
  • We’ve clocked in over 2,000 blog posts covering a wide range of topics:
    • Health insurance, health care finance, health care reform
    • Reproductive health and rights
    • Pharmaceutical regulation
    • Food safety and regulation
    • Human subjects research
    • Personhood and animal rights
    • General health law, policy, and bioethics

As a sample, here are the top five most viewed posts from each academic year:

2012 – 2013

  1. The High Cost of Health Care: Why Some Pay $240 for a $9 Bottle of Pills, by Jonathan Darrow
  2. Finasteride as an FDA-Approved Baldness Remedy: Is It Effective?, by Jonathan Darrow
  3. Liability for Failure to Vaccinate, by Arthur Caplan
  4. Discrimination in the Doctor-Patient Relationship, by Holly F. Lynch
  5. At $28,000 a Dose, How Effective Is Acthar?, by Jonathan Darrow

2013 – 2014

  1. Capsule Endoscopy Instead of Colonoscopy? The FDA Approves the PillCam COLON, by Jonathan Darrow
  2. Taking China’s Food Safety Problem Seriously (I), by Ching-Fu Lin
  3. Medical Marijuana Delivery May Not Be As “Eazy” As It Seems, by Arielle Lusardi
  4. Taking China’s Food Safety Problem Seriously (II), by Ching-Fu Lin
  5. Ethical Concerns, Conduct and Public Policy for Re-Identification and De-identification Practice: Part 3, by Daniel Barth-Jones

2014 – 2015

  1. Highlights from the 21st Century Cures Act, by Rachel Sachs
  2. Savior Siblings in the United States, by Zachary Shapiro
  3. New browser app shines light on conflicts of interest, by Christine Baugh
  4. A New Cholesterol-Lowering Drug at What Price?, by Kate Greenwood
  5. Pain on the Brain: A Week of Guest Posts on Pain Neuroimaging & Law by Amanda C. Pustilnik

Thanks to our many contributors – and to our readers!  We look forward to many more years of growth.  And always, if you have any comments or suggestions, make sure to send them our way: petrie-flom@law.harvard.edu.  Happy reading!

Glenn and Holly 
Bill of Health Co-Editors

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Malpractice at the Front Desk

By Alex Stein

Georgia’s Court of Appeals recently categorized a clinic’s front-desk person’s failure to communicate a patient’s complaints to the doctors as ordinary negligence rather than medical malpractice. Wong v. Chappell, 773 S.E.2d 496 (Ga.App. 2015).

This categorization has four important implications:

First, it allows an aggrieved patient to file her suit and proceed to trial without obtaining expert testimony and a preliminary affidavit (or certificate of merit) from a qualified physician.

Second, it frees plaintiffs from the stringent limitations and repose rules that apply in medical malpractice actions. Continue reading

Call for Papers: Designing Ethical Review Processes for Big Data Research

The Future of Privacy Forum is hosting an academic workshop supported by the National Science Foundation to discuss ethical, legal, and technical guidance for organizations conducting research on personal information. Authors are invited to submit papers for presentation at a full-day program to take place on December 10, 2015. Papers for presentation will be selected by an academic advisory board and published in the online edition of the Washington and Lee Law Review. Four papers will be selected to serve as “firestarters” for the December workshop, awarding each author with a $1000 stipend. Submissions, which are due by October 25, 2015, at 11:59 PM ET, must be 2,500 to 3,500 words, with minimal footnotes and in a readable style accessible to a wide audience. Publication decisions and workshop invitations will be sent in November. Details here.

Doubling Down on Prosecutorial Discretion

By Zack Buck

Health care entities should be “on high alert” following the Southern District of New York’s decision in Kane v. Continuum Health Partners that I blogged about here earlier this month.

The case, which serves as the first and most consequential interpretation of when an overpayment is “identified” for purposes of False Claims Act (FCA) liability, provides a measure of much-needed guidance for attorneys and compliance officers in an area that is rife with confusion. But not too much.

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New DTCA Guidance — Enough to Empower Consumers?

Bill of Health contributor Christopher T. Robertson has a new Op-Ed out in the New England Journal of Medicine:

As one of only two countries that permit direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals, the United States tasks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with regulating that advertising to ensure that it doesn’t mislead consumers. When a drug maker publishes or broadcasts a claim that its drug has benefits in a particular disease, the FDA requires it to include information on the product’s risks as well. Since it’s not feasible for companies to include all the important information about their products in a television ad, the FDA requires them to refer viewers to more complete information, such as that in a printed magazine ad. Companies have tended to comply with this requirement by supplementing colorful, persuasive ads with one or two pages of dry text providing the required disclosures, often simply using language that the FDA has approved for other purposes, such as package inserts for prescribers. But research shows that most patients who attempt to read these disclosures find them difficult to understand, and many don’t even try to make sense of them.1 Now, the FDA is in the process of adjusting its DTCA rules, aiming to provide greater assurance that patients receive due warning of the most significant risks — but its tweaks probably don’t go far enough to really empower consumers to make smart decisions about the drugs they put into their bodies. […]

Read the full article here.

Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment Granted in Looney v. Moore (SUPPORT trial lawsuit)

The district court has granted summary judgment (opinion pdf) for all remaining defendants as to all of plaintiffs’ remaining claims in Looney v. Moore, the lawsuit arising out of the controversial SUPPORT trial, which I last discussed here. This therefore ends the lawsuit, pending possible appeal by the plaintiffs.

Plaintiff infants include two who were randomized to the low oxygen group and survived, but suffer from “neurological issues,” and one who was randomized to the high oxygen group who developed ROP, but not permanent vision loss. In their Fifth Amended Complaint (pdf), plaintiffs alleged negligence, lack of informed consent, breach of fiduciary duty, and product liability claims against, variously, individual IRB members, the P.I., and the pulse oximeter manufacturer. What unites all of these claims is the burden on plaintiffs to show (among other things) that their injuries were caused by their participation in the trial. Continue reading

Fetal Personhood and the Constitution

By John A. Robertson

The Rubio-Huckabee claim that actual and legal personhood start at conception has drawn trenchant responses from Art Caplan on the medical uncertainty of such a claim and David Orentlicher, drawing on Judith Thomson’s famous article, that even if a fetus is a person, woman would not necessarily have a duty to keep it in her body.

Their debate claim that the fetus is already a legal person under the constitution also deserves a response, for it has no basis in positive law.  In Roe v. Wade all nine justices agreed that the use of “person” in the Constitution always assumed a born person, and therefore that the 14th Amendment’s mention of person did not confer constitutional rights until after a live birth.  In the years since Roe, when the make-up of the court has changed, no justice has ever disagreed with that conclusion, including those who would overturn Roe and Casey. Continue reading