New LawAtlas.org!

The Policy Surveillance Program has updated LawAtlas.org! The site has been redesigned to make the data easier to navigate and materials easier to find. It also includes new maps and data, and a series of training modules and resources that teach policy surveillance and scientific legal mapping methods. Check out all the new features at LawAtlas.org.

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Mylan Announces Generic EpiPen; Baffles Health Policy Wonks Everywhere

By Rachel Sachs

For weeks now, the list price of Mylan’s EpiPen ($600 for a two-pack) has been exhaustively covered by journalists, debated by academics, and skewered by policymakers as an example of the pricing excesses of even generic pharmaceutical companies.  Mylan’s latest response to the outrage?  Announce that soon, it will be launching a generic EpiPen at a list price of $300 for a two-pack.  I and others who study these issues full time cannot understand why Mylan thought this would work to quell the widespread indignation over its pricing practices.

The first red flag came when Mylan stated it would launch the product “in several weeks.”  I often find myself defending the FDA against charges that it is too slow to approve new technologies, but let’s face it: it would be shocking news if they were able to approve a new version of anything in just a few weeks.  Mylan has not had this in the works for months, so it seems that the new generic product is literally identical to the branded EpiPen – just with a different label.  So, essentially, Mylan is preparing to cut the price of its product in half.  (Even though that’s still higher than the price was just three years ago, before Mylan began its regular price hikes, and even though this should make us question their justifications for the $600 price.) Great, right?  Not so fast.

What reasons (other than public relations) might Mylan have for introducing an authorized generic of this type and how might they attempt to use the two products to maintain their current level of revenues?  By bringing the first generic EpiPen to market, Mylan has now planted its flag in the generics space.  Although epinephrine (the drug inside the EpiPen) is now generic and cheap to produce and sell, companies do seem to find it difficult to replicate the device portion of the EpiPen, with Sanofi’s product recently removed from the market due to dosing issues and Teva’s application for a generic denied by the FDA with no public explanation just a few months ago.  Mylan has now benchmarked a new price for those products if they return – they must price below $300 for a two-pack to compete effectively with Mylan. Read More

Ameet Sarpatwari on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

twihl 5x5Our guest this week is Ameet Sarpatwari, an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital based in the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) within the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics. Ameet’s research focuses on the effects of laws and regulations on therapeutic development, approval, use, and related public health outcomes. He is currently examining the public health implications of variation in state drug product selection laws, the risk of re-identification under HIPAA pathways for data sharing for post-approval drug research, and the comparative safety and effectiveness of biosimilars.In the lightning round, Nic addressed the Notice Act and ongoing controversy over hospitals’ use of “observation status” to dodge readmissions penalties and game reimbursements. We also mentioned the strange politics of bill naming. (One also wonders what exactly vulnerable patients are supposed to do once they receive notice that they could soon be hit by huge bills.)

Nic also covered the FTC’s reversal of an ALJ’s judgment in LabMD, the case that keeps on giving. Frank riffed on an article “Medicaid Expansion’s New Cost Estimate Isn’t Alarming,” from the CBPP, and expressed some skepticism as to the degree to which episode payment models would assure better pay for hospital care.

Our conversation with Ameet focused on his many articles on counter-detailing, medical research ethics, the opioid crisis, and large firms’ misues of the FDA’s regulatory system. Links to all are available at his website.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

Ambulances are Monopolies — and They Should Be Regulated Accordingly

By Shailin Thomas

You go to your local urgent care with a headache and a fever, and the doctor suggests a trip to the hospital for further evaluation — just to make sure there isn’t anything serious causing your symptoms. She offers an ambulance, and you accept. You could probably walk or Uber, but you’re not feeling well, and the doctor has offered to arrange the ride. Why not?

This was the story of Joanne Freedman. She didn’t think too much about it, until she received a $900 bill for the two-block ambulance ride she took to the hospital. While Joanne’s experience was particularly egregious, it is not wholly uncommon. Ambulance pricing is one of the most variable and least transparent components of health care costs, with rides ranging from tens to thousands of dollars. This is in part because there are many ambulance providers, and they all have different relationships with different insurance companies. It’s also in part because ambulance rates are generally set according to the services the ambulance is equipped to provide, not necessarily the services actually provided. Some ambulance companies have contracts with municipalities that make them the only game in town, while others are in more diverse markets with multiple providers competing for patients. All this combines to create an incredibly complex industry with very little consistency from ambulance to ambulance.

But is this disjointed, free-market system the best way to structure emergency transportation? The arguments underlying the justification of a free, unregulated market hinge on the ability of consumers to police the industry through choice. If the seller of a good sets the price too high, consumers will buy from a different seller until she brings the price down to what consumers are willing to pay.  This is, in theory, what allows markets to find the right prices for goods and services more efficiently than any government agency or regulator ever could. Read More

Drug Pricing, Shame, and Shortages

By Nicholson Price

Drug prices have been making waves in the news recently.  The most recent case is the huge price hikes of the EpiPen, which provides potentially life-saving automatic epinephrine injections to those with severe allergies.  Mylan, which makes the EpiPen, has raised its price some 450% over the last several years.  The EpiPen is a particularly problematic—and media-friendly—story because the emblematic use case is the kid in school who can’t breathe because she came into contact with peanuts.  Jacking up the price on something that’s not optional—for parents and for schools—seems heartless.  Thoughtful pieces have pointed out how the EpiPen price increases demonstrate problems with our health care system and drug/device approval system in general.

Other big recent cases that have hit the news include huge increases in the price of insulin, and, of course, Turing Pharmaceuticals’/Martin Shkreli’s ~5000% price hike on the drug Daraprim.  The EpiPen and Daraprim are especially notable because patents mostly aren’t involved—the effective monopoly appears to come from the delay or challenge in getting generic products approved by FDA (although the EpiPen itself also seems tough to make).  And, of course, drug prices aren’t regulated in the US the way they are in much of the world.

These stories seem crazy, cruel, and fascinating.  And they raise (for me, anyway) the question: what’s changed?  This seems like a relatively new phenomenon.  But FDA’s had a backlog for a while, and drug prices have long been unregulated. Read More

Back to School Special Part 3 on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Listen here!

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It’s that time of year again–the TWIHL Back to School Specials (BTSS)! We’ve rounded up experts from across the health law academy to discuss what they see as the most important new developments over the past year in health law, and how to integrate them into the health law curriculum. We’ll have three installments of the BTSS.

In our third and final Back to School Special, Nic Terry discusses Chanko v. ABC and recent HHS-OCR enforcement. Nick Bagley discusses House vs. Burwell and the 3Rs of health insurance. Elizabeth Weeks Leonard discusses the 60 day rule, increased civil penalties and Escobar. Nic focused on health privacy in his discussion, leading off with the fascinating (if tragic) case of Chanko v. ABC (which involved the broadcasting a patient’s death on a television program). He also explained the important NY-Presbyterian Resolution Agreement and the Advocate Health Care Resolution Agreement. Liz covered some complex developments in health care fraud and abuse regarding reporting of overpayments. She also explained recent inflation adjustments to civil monetary penalties. In addition to discussing lawsuits by health insurers over nonpayment of certain funds that appeared to be promised by the ACA, Nick also analyzed yet another of the ACA’s seemingly endless string of legal challenges: House v. Burwell, which refused to infer an appropriation in the ACA for Section 1402 reimbursements to insurers.

Many thanks to Nick, Liz, and our other BTSS experts!

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

The Evolving Crisis of the ACA Exchange Marketplace

By Zack Buck

Following news last week that Aetna was pulling out of health care insurance exchange markets in eleven states, Pinal County, Arizona became the epicenter in the rapidly evolving and growing crisis facing the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.  Sandwiched between Phoenix and Tucson, Pinal County is home to about 400,000 residents, but no insurance companies; in short, Pinal County has been left without any insurance companies signed up to sell insurance on the exchange to its residents for 2017—becoming the “county that Obamacare forgot.”

Pinal County had nearly 10,000 citizens sign up on the exchange in 2016, but Aetna’s departure bookends a rough period for Pinal County residents.  In addition to Aetna, the county has recently endured the departure of UnitedHealth Group, Humana, and a non-profit co-op from Arizona’s exchange.  As a result, Pinal County is reportedly looking to other insurers who may be interested in selling on the exchange to its residents; in a bit of hopeful news, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is said to be “re-evaluating where it will offer plans next year.”

But the crisis isn’t contained to Pinal County.  Two states—Tennessee and Alaska—have been trying to avoid a similar fate.

Read More

Trap for the Unwary: Records compiled by a hospital’s risk-management specialist held discoverable

By Alex Stein

In a recent case, Frankfort Reg. Med. Ctr. v. Shepherd, 2016 WL 3376030 (Ky. 2016), the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the attorney-client privilege and its work-product extension do not protect records compiled by a hospital’s risk-management specialist. Records that the Court held to be discoverable contained information pertaining to a baby delivery that went badly. The risk-management specialist gathered that information with an eye on a possible medical malpractice suit, but her primary goal was risk management (which presumably precluded the applicability of the “subsequent remedial measures” privilege).

The Court’s decision relied on the familiar “dominant purpose” test, under which the attorney-client privilege only covers documents compiled primarily in preparation to litigation. Understandable as it may be from a purely doctrinal viewpoint, this decision makes no economic sense. All it does is create a trap for the unwary and an opportunity for hospitals familiar with the law to protect their risk-management information against disclosure. To obtain the needed protection, all that a hospital needs to do is ask its in-house counsel or outside attorney to control the risk-management procedures and decisions, so that risk management becomes part of the attorney’s work as a protector of the hospital’s legal interests. Doing so isn’t difficult but costlier than simply relying on a risk-management consultant.

Rawlsian Questions about CRISPR Gene Editing

By Kelly Dhru

We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect. – Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

Pessoa may have had an “I told you so!” moment looking at the ethical debates over CRISPR-Cas9, which is the technology that has made the alteration of genomes easier. As we march towards fundamentally altering the code that governs our bodies, it is this very walk towards perfection that seems to scare us.

To start with, not enough can be said about the importance of CRISPR-Cas9, which is one of the most important scientific advances of our times. Because of this technology, we are now looking at the ability to combat some previously “incurable” genetic disorders. This technology is also opening up doors to tackle malaria, Zika and dengue fever in innovative ways and to potentially find a cure for cancer. Read More