Ebola and Privacy

As the nation braces for possibly more Ebola cases, civil liberties should be considered, including patient privacy.  As news media feature headline-grabbing stories about quarantines,  let’s think about the laws governing privacy in healthcare. Despite federal laws enacted to protect patient privacy, the Ebola scare brings the vulnerability of individuals and the regulations intended to help them into sharp relief.

In 1996, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect patient privacy.  Specifically, HIPAA’s Privacy Rule requires that healthcare providers and their business associates restrict access to patients’ health care information.  For many years, the law has been regarded as the strongest federal statement regarding patient privacy. But it may be tested in the wake of the Ebola scare with patients’ names, photographs, and even family information entering the public sphere.

Ebola hysteria raises questions not only about how to contain the disease, but also to what extent Americans value their healthcare privacy.  What liberties are Americans willing to sacrifice to calm their fears?  How to balance the concern for public welfare with legal and ethical privacy principles?  For example, will Americans tolerate profiling travelers based on their race or national origin as precautionary measures?  What type of reporting norms should govern Ebola cases?  Should reporting the existence of an Ebola case also include disclosing the name of the patient?  I don’t think so, but the jury appears out for many.

 

The Ebola “Czar”

By David Orentlicher
[Cross-posted at Health Law Profs and PrawfsBlawg.]

In the wake of Craig Spencer’s decision to go bowling in Brooklyn, governors of three major states—Illinois, New Jersey, and New York—have imposed new Ebola quarantine rules that are inconsistent with national public health policy, are not likely to protect Americans from Ebola, and may compromise the response to Ebola in Africa, as health care providers may find it too burdensome to volunteer where they are needed overseas. Don’t we have an Ebola czar who is supposed to ensure that our country has a coherent and coordinated response to the threat from Ebola?

Of course, the term “czar” was poorly chosen precisely because Ron Klain does not have the powers of a czar. He will oversee the federal response to Ebola, but he cannot control the Ebola policies of each state. Unfortunately, on an issue that demands a clear national policy that reflects medical understanding, public anxieties will give us something much less desirable.

Ebola and Cognitive Bias

In the wake of another health care worker contracting Ebola, alarm bells are ringing. Last week, President Obama abruptly cancelled a campaign stop to Rhode Island to hold press conferences where he promised that federal authorities are “taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government.” Despite Obama’s assurances that the dangers associated with the disease spreading in the US are extremely low, other political camps are less convinced. Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts, urged officials to close US borders to countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks, basically quarantining West Africa from travel to the United States.

In light of the hysteria surrounding Ebola and not Enterovirus, it’s worth thinking about our national response. Enterovirus has already claimed more lives in the US than Ebola. Think about this, the CDC warns that enteroviruses are highly contagious and already more than 500 patients have been diagnosed across 43 states in the past couple months. Yet, there has been no national outcry or demands to quarantine states, cities, local communities, or hospitals where patients were treated. Why?

Unlike the enterovirus, the face of Ebola is decidedly immigrant or “outsider.” It’s origins are Africa.  Could these factors have contributed to Thomas Eric Duncan’s initial treatment at a Texas hospital and the inaccurate media accounts shortly following his diagnosis? Studies show how cognitive or implicit biases may have much to do with how we treat patients.

Implicit biases are rapid, automatic, heuristic-driven actions. In other words, they are shortcuts the brain makes. Such biases are largely unconscious in nature, but shaped by socio-cultural learning that apply positive and negative valence to demographic categories, most notably race and ethnicity.

In the healthcare context, implicit racial bias can influence individual decisions about a particular patient.  Compelling research indicates that racial disparities persist in diagnostic screening, general medical care, mental health diagnosis and treatment, pain management, HIV-related care, and treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

For example, compared to white patients, Blacks are less likely to receive cardiac catheterization for acute myocardial infarction. They are also significantly less likely to undergo coronary artery bypass grafting even after controlling for appropriateness and medical necessity, to receive organ transplants, and even receive appropriate pain management.

The point is that our national response to Ebola can be influenced by subconscious biases.  Quite possibly implicit biases have already influenced our national response to Ebola.  Thomas Eric Duncan was not the first to enter the US with Ebola—he simply happened be the first and only person to die from the disease in the US–and our first immigrant case.

 

More Democracy in Hospital Management

by Vadim Shteyler

Interdisciplinary collaboration between all healthcare professionals involved in an individual patient’s care has been increasingly recognized as vital for providing high quality medical care. However, when it comes to hospital management, decisions affecting daily workflow are still largely made by physicians.

The movement towards an inter-professional team approach of providing medical care is still new but gaining widespread support. To characterize the disconnect between the presence of inter-professional collaboration in medical care, but its absence in healthcare management, it is valuable to understand the rationale for inter-professional teams in healthcare.

Continue reading

Prop. 46: Lawyers v. Doctors

By Emily Largent

California Proposition 46, the Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Cap and Drug Testing Doctors Initiative, is on the November 4, 2014 ballot.  If approved by voters, the initiative would: increase the state’s cap on non-economic damages that can be assessed in medical negligence lawsuits; require hospitals to test certain physicians for drugs and alcohol; and require healthcare providers to check a statewide prescription drug database before prescribing or dispensing certain drugs to a patient for the first time.

The  debate over Proposition 46 has been framed as a battle between doctors and lawyers.  See also here or here.  It’s not hard to see why.  Attorneys have contributed the vast majority of the “yes” campaign‘s $9 million fund.  By contrast, nearly three-fourths of the “no” campaign‘s $57 million has come from six insurance companies; other big backers include the state medical and dental associations.  (It is the most expensive campaign in California this year.)  While the two sides have made a variety of arguments for and against Proposition 46′s various provisions, I want to focus on the putative costs and cost-savings:

First, Proposition 46 would increase California’s current $250,000 limit on non-economic awards (which dates to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975) to $1.1 million, and provide for annual adjustment for inflation going forward. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that increased state and local government health care costs from raising the cap likely range from the tens of millions of dollars to several hundred million dollars annually.  On the other hand, a RAND study of EDs in three states with strict malpractice limits found the caps had little effect on the cost of care.  Continue reading

Savior Siblings in the United States

By Zachary Shapiro

With the emergence of new techniques in the field of reproductive technology, applications arise that seem more the realm of science fiction than reality. While many have considered stem cells to be the next frontier of modern medicine, reproductive technology may offer hope to many individuals suffering with rare and unique genetic diseases.

The term “savior siblings” refers to the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and other forms of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to create a sibling for the purpose of providing biological material (bone marrow, blood, etc.) that can help treat or cure an existing terminally ill child. It is estimated that up to one percent of PGD in the United States is used to create children that are tissue matches for their siblings. See here.

There has been little meaningful discussion about savior siblings in bioethical or legal circles, and there is no formal regulation governing their use or creation in the United States. This stands in stark contrast to other countries, particularly England, France, and Australia, where a regulatory framework for the use of savior siblings has arisen along with debate over their acceptability. These countries are already discussing how to ethically deal with this extremely complicated issue.  Continue reading

Another Blow to Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements

By Alex Stein

Most, if not all, nursing homes have their residents sign an agreement to arbitrate any dispute or disagreement arising out of or in connection with the care rendered to the resident by the nursing home, including claims by the resident involving, and/or arising out of conduct committed by the nursing home and/or its agents, employees, or others for whom and/or which the nursing home is, may be, or is asserted to be, legally responsible. Such agreements also stipulate that they will apply to and bind any and all persons and/or entities who and/or which may assert a claim on behalf of, or derived through, the resident, including, without limitation, the resident’s legal representative, guardians, heirs, executors, administrators, estate(s), successors and assigns.

Ostensibly, such agreements compel arbitration on the resident’s survivors who claim that the resident died prematurely as a result of the nursing home’s neglect. The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), as interpreted in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), seems to support this observation. This Act requires state and federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements similarly to other contracts. Pursuant to this Act, when a resident’s survivor files a wrongful death suit against the nursing home, the court must stay the proceeding and direct the parties to arbitration.

However, a recent decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Boler v. Security Health Care, L.L.C., — P.3d —- (Okla. 2014), has shown that this appearance is misleading.  Continue reading

Ebola? No, It’s Our Health Care System

By Nicolas Terry

The enormity of the tragedy in West Africa remains hard to appreciate even as Ebola begins to migrate into developed countries. In the U.S. mindless panic stoked by the 24 hour news cycle and fear-mongering politicians are not the only familiar phenomena. In important ways our “Ebola crisis” is only tangentially related to a malicious virus and has much more to do with the state of our health care system. Consider the following “Ebola issues”

  1. Ebola has been marked by uncertainty as to federal and state responsibilities for infectious disease policy, prevention and reaction. Sadly, first impressions have been confirmed by the appointment of an Ebola “czar”, a sure sign that various branches of government have not been playing well together. Such regulatory fragmentation and lack of coordination is not new. Health care is our most regulated industry emanating from a bewildering array of legislation and regulation enforced by innumerable and frequently dysfunctional federal and state agencies.
  2. That lack of coordination has been replicated at the local level between agencies and healthcare institutions and between multiple institutions. Regional or local planning appears to be missing or only reactive. In a post-Katrina, post-swine flu world it seems extraordinary that there were not cogent plans waiting to be executed. Of course “There are only four in the U.S. with special isolation units designed to contain biohazards like Ebola” but why weren’t there plans to utilize them? Even now how many localities have a plan to handle, say, a major outbreak by using a centralized, tertiary care facility? Continue reading

Should Foreigners Be Allowed to Be Listed for U.S. Organs and Other Questions about Organs Without Borders

I have a new paper in a theme issue of Law and Contemporary Problems (one of two, I’ll post the second as well when it is available) titled Organs Without Borders? Allocating Transplant Organs, Foreigners, and the Importance of the Nation State (?) This paper is related to but separate from my work on medical tourism, which has dealt among other things with “transplant tourism,” such as traveling abroad to buy a kidney.  In this work I deal with the legally sanctioned distribution of organs. It will surprise many that in the U.S. a non-resident and non-citizen may be listed on the wait list for an organ for transplantation and if he or she is so listed he or she must, as a matter of law, be given the exact same priority as a similarly situated U.S. citizen-resident. Is that policy just or unjust. These are among the topics I tackle in this article. Here is the full abstract:

Most of the discussion of market or non-market forms of allocating and procuring organs takes as its unit of analysis the nation state, or, less commonly a particular state or province, and asks what should the system look like as to this unit. In this article, the second of two articles I contribute to this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems, I want to expand the viewfinder and examine an issue that has received peculiarly little attention in the scholarly and policy discourse: the desirability of treating the nation state (or its subdivisions) as the right level of distribution for organs, whether through market systems or non-market allocation systems. I will show that when we flirt with using a more global viewfinder, a series of difficult (and thus far largely unexplored) ethical and regulatory questions arise relating the inclusion of “outsiders.” At the very end of this article I explore what relevance this analysis may have to allocation within the nation-state as well.A large number of questions could be discussed under this title, but for this article I largely limit myself to two related questions. For both I will use the U.S. as the “home country” for rhetorical clarity, but the basic issues are the same for any home country. The first issue is: Should the U.S. allow “foreigners” to be on the list of those eligible to receive organs in the U.S. when they become available, and, if so, at what level of priority? Surprisingly the current law allows them to be listed to receive organs and if they are so listed it prohibits any discrimination against them for priority based on their being foreign. Second: should the U.S. maintain its own organ distribution network that is limited to the nation state instead of participating in a more globalized system? I should emphasize that my interest here is organs that come to recipients through typical government-run (or at least government-approved) organ allocation systems rather than foreigners who come to U.S. centers and bring their own living donor.

I first describe the two issues and then offer a normative analysis of each. This cluster of issues applies equally to the current U.S. distribution system with its hostility to markets and any of the potential alterations discussed in other articles in this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems.  Continue reading

Upcoming Medicare Forum on Appeals Backlog, Posts

Next week (on October 29) Medicare’s Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA) is holding another appellant forum to discuss the ongoing backlog of Medicare claims waiting for a hearing.  In one sense, a lot has happened since the last forum in February (I covered that here): OMHA announced pilot projects to try statistical sampling and facilitated settlement in some cases (see here and here); CMS (effectively the “defendant” for settlement purposes in these appeals; functionally independent from OMHA) announced a willingness to settle a subset of pending inpatient hospital billing claims for 68 cents on the dollar (see Nick Bagley’s post at the incidental economist); the backlog came up at a couple congressional hearings; and two lawsuits were filed to challenge it, one by providers (see here) and another by beneficiaries (see here).

In another sense, not that much has happened. Unless Thursday’s forum brings big news—and I know that OMHA and CMS have been working hard on reforms so perhaps it will—there is still a big backlog of Medicare appeals, there is still not a resource fix in sight, and the influx of Medicare appeals seems to still far outstrip OMHA’s capacity to hold hearings.

In advance of the forum, I’m planning a series of posts offering my thoughts, such as they are, on where we are and where we are going. I invite anyone who disagrees or thinks I’ve gotten something wrong to post their own views in the comments. Or you can email me and I will look into sharing your thoughts as an independent posting. You can get all my posts on this subject, including new ones as they come in, by clicking here.

A caveat: I’m approaching these as blog posts—trying to get my educated thoughts based on everything I have read out in a timely way—but I might be missing something. If the upcoming forum or comments reveal that I am–I won’t be there in person but will be watching remotely–I will either post a general update or go add particular updates in the text of my posts as necessary.

And a disclosure: I’ve said this before but want to do it once more again before pontificating—I worked in government until a little over a year ago, so my views on these matters may be biased. (And of course I will not discuss anything I worked on.)  But I’ve done my best to be objective.

Harvard Effective Altruism: George Church this Monday

From Harvard College Effective Altruism:

The Risks of Biotechnology, with George Church
Monday, Oct. 20, 5.30pm, Sever 102

Genetic manipulations can reintroduce extinct viruses or create viruses much deadlier than ever before. What are the dangers associated with biotechnology? Can a mistake in a lab lead to a global pandemic? Can this technology be used by terrorists? What would be the implications? And is humanity doing enough to avoid these threats?

George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the world’s leading expert on synthetic biology and security will share his insights on these issues.

George Church event_Harvard Effective Altruism

Egg Freezing and Women’s Decision Making

By David Orentlicher
[Cross-posted at Health Law Profs and PrawfsBlawg.]

The announcement by Apple and Facebook that they will cover the costs of egg freezing predictably provoked some controversy—predictably because it involves reproduction and also because too many people do not trust women to make reproductive decisions.

Interestingly, the challenge to women’s autonomy can come from both sides of the political spectrum, as has happened with several assisted reproductive technologies. Scholars on the left criticized surrogate motherhood on the ground that surrogates were exploited by the couple intending to raise the child, and other new reproductive technologies are criticized on the grounds that women will feel obligated to use them rather than free to use them. Indeed, this concern about coercion drives some of the objections to egg freezing.  Continue reading

Legal Personhood in the New Argentine Civil and Commercial Code

By Martín Hevia

The Argentine Congress has just passed a new and unified Civil and Commercial Code. The new Code will be effective as of January 2016. The Code covers topics from torts and contracts to family law and in vitro fertilization. It is a massive volume of almost 2700 articles – it is, however, shorter than the current Code, which includes almost 4000 articles -.

One of the main issues in the new Code is the definition of legal personhood. Article 19 of the new Code states that “Human personhood starts with conception”. This wording has been strongly critized because “conception” has been frequently defined as “fertilization.” Critics argue that Art. 19 may imply an obstacle for assisted reproductive technologies: in vitro embryos may be considered “legal persons”, comparable to a live human person. Thus, they may be taken to have the same right to life. In fact, this argument has been accepted by some courts. For example, in 2002, the Supreme Court of Argentina prohibited the production, distribution, and commercialization of Imediat, an emergency contraceptive because of its perceived abortive effects it is considered to violate the right to life, which is regarded as an absolute right that preempts any other right.  For the Court, life begins with the union of the gametes, namely, with fertilization and before implantation. A similar line of reasoning was followed by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court in 2004.

In contrast, defenders of the wording of Article 19 argue that it should be read together with Article 20, which states that “time of conception is that between the maximum and the minimum length of pregnancy”. This may mean that there cannot be conception outside a woman´s body. Thus, conception is to be understood as “implantation.”  Continue reading

Introducing Martín Hevia

Profile-HeviaWe are pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Martín Hevia, to Bill of Health.

Martín (SJD, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto; Abogado, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Argentina) is the Executive Dean and Director of the Law Programme (J.D. Equivalent) at the School of Law of the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella (Buenos Aires, Argentina), where he is an Associate Professor of Law. His research and teaching interests include comparative constitutional and private law; health law and reproductive rights; and legal theory and political philosophy.

Professor Hevia has acted as a legal consultant to the Argentine National Congress on the reform, actualization, and unification of the Argentine Civil and Commercial Codes, and as an Expert for the World Health Organization Public Health Law Consultation Group. He was Co Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Law & Equality (2004-2006) and Editor-In-Chief of Revista Argentina de Teoría Jurídica (1999-2000). He has also served as a Global Fellow at the International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme, University of Toronto (2009) and Fellow in Comparative Law and Political Economy at Osgoode Hall, York University (2008).

At the University of Toronto, he was awarded the Alan Marks Medal to the Best Graduate Thesis of 2006-2007, the 2007 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award for extraordinary extra-curricular contributions to university life and was President of the Graduate Law Students’ Association.

Representative Publications:  Continue reading

Death at 29 or 75: Are Manifestos Commitments to Die?

By Kelsey Berry

The news media has been reporting on the role and means of one’s own death more frequently recently, buoyed along by manifestos (Ezekiel Emanuel’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75”, Brittany Maynard’s “Compassion and Choices” Campaign) that have caught the attention of a diverse audience. These declarations are perhaps more connected to one another than we may think.

Just last week on this blog, Lauren Taylor authored an excellent post on new public figure Brittany Maynard – the terminally ill 29-year old woman who relocated to Oregon for access to its death with dignity law, and to end her life with a prescription for a fatal medication. Maynard’s story seems to have struck a chord in part due to her youth. She is the youngest advocate currently featured on the website of Compassion and Choices, the largest organization advocating for end-of-life options in the US (the next youngest is 57 years old). She is also a well-educated, well-traveled, well-spoken individual, supported in her choices by her immediate family and physician. When Maynard states that the remainder of her life, if allowed to come to a natural end as a result of her cancer and without the help of medical intervention, will not be of value (and will actually be of great disvalue) to her, we are inclined to believe her evaluation – and perhaps even the normative implications that Maynard claims should follow.

Another public figure recently claimed that a particular part of life is not of (sufficient) value to him in order to keep living it, either. In September, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and head of the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, published his essay “Why I Hope to Die at 75” in The Atlantic. The part of life he wishes to avoid? An old age marred by disability, functional loss, and relinquishment of the values and expectations of a younger individual. He proposes to adopt (for himself only) active rejection of life-sustaining and life-prolonging heath care, beginning at age 75. The effect? Ideally, death from infection untreated by antibiotics — it’s “quick and painless.”  Continue reading

PhRMA Sues HHS (Again) For Trying To Expand 340B Discounts To Orphan Drugs

For all those who have been following the ongoing fight between pharmaceutical companies and HHS over the 340B Program’s coverage of orphan drugs (I know you’re out there), last week PhRMA filed a new complaint challenging HRSA’s interpretive rule on the subject under the APA. For all those who are not (but should be) paying attention to this battle, here’s what’s happening.

The 340B Program allows certain health care organizations (such as disproportionate share hospitals) to purchase drugs for their patients at significant discounts. The Affordable Care Act expanded the number and kind of organizations that can participate in the 340B Program, but it also added an exception stating that most of the covered organizations could not obtain 340B discounts for orphan drugs — or, as the statute puts it, for “a drug designated … for a rare disease or condition.” 42 U.S.C. § 256b(e).

The battle between PhRMA and HHS is over is whether this statutory exclusion applies to orphan drugs or orphan indications. There are many drugs which have received an orphan designation for certain indications but are also FDA-approved and prescribed more generally for non-orphan indications. In such a case, can a 340B facility purchase the drug at a discount if it is being prescribed for a non-orphan indication?  Continue reading