Healthcare Survives Supreme Court

Chief Justice John Roberts proved himself an independent thinker last month, siding against his fellow conservatives (and Republican appointees) in upholding the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Roberts agreed that Congress could not force a citizen to buy insurance, but allowed the individual mandate to survive as a tax. In the meantime, the ruling placed limits on federal power to expand Medicaid, leaving 16 million people in the lurch. Liz Borkowski says “the Supreme Court’s decision clouds what should have been a clear distribution of the most beneficial impacts to the most needy.” Kim Krisberg heard the news at a meeting of the American Public Health Association, where Georges Benjamin said it “marks tremendous progress towards reshaping our health system into one that saves the lives of at least 44,000 people who die annually simply because they do not have health insurance.” On Denialism Blog, Mark Hoofnagle compares insurance systems around the world, and looks forward to more economical healthcare. He writes, “We can do it expensively, wastefully, and emergently in the ER, or we can do it like thoughtful, decent citizens who care about each other’s welfare.”

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Reassessing Genetic Patents

On Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer considers the evolving relationship between patent law and DNA, as the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hears the appeal of Association for Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. At stake are patents that Myriad Genetics holds on two genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2—that it earned in the 1990’s. These genes correlate with breast cancer risk, and Myriad is the sole supplier of BRCA diagnostic tests in the United States. Jess explains that such patents do not mean a biotechnology company owns the DNA in our cells, but “a patent holder may have the right to exclude scientists from isolating or copying pieces of genomic DNA (or cDNAs) and/or using them for research, therapy, or clinical diagnosis.” BRCA testing currently costs about $3000 per individual, providing 88% of Myriad’s revenue. Many people argue that patents are necessary to provide incentives for costly research and development. But Jeffrey Toney suggests a different future on Dean’s Corner, saying “legal cases such as Myriad could serve as a turning point for scientists to embrace open innovation, liberating them from the constraints that patents can impose.”

Texas Verdict Turns Tables

i-dd2b777d72b3ea7931ec60072c944ca6-robertsbuzz.jpgEmbattled Texas nurse Anne Mitchell was readily declared innocent by a jury yesterday, proving that she didn’t belong in a courtroom in the first place. After filing complaints about a doctor who sold herbal remedies in the ER and performed unorthodox surgical procedures, Anne Mitchell was charged with “misuse of official information” by a constabulary loyal to the doctor. As PalMD writes on The White Coat Underground, “reading about the actions of these local officials is like watching Blazing Saddles—it’s a small town, with a few people in control of everything.” Orac has more coverage of the trial and video of the defendant on Respectful Insolence, as well as a foray into Dr. Arafiles’ quackery, colloidal silver, and delusional parasitosis. Orac commends the jury for reaching a verdict with “such alacrity,” sending “a strong message to the hapless Dr. Rolando Arafiles and his errand boy Sheriff Robert L. Roberts.” Mike Dunford on The Questionable Authority writes that “the civil suit against the doctor, hospital, sheriff, district attorney, and county” can now go forward, and real justice can be pursued. It just doesn’t help to be friends with the sheriff when he’s as incompetent as you are.

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