Rainbow lgbtq pride flag and trans pride flag.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Medical Records Can Reduce Disparities

By Jenna Becker

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data is widely considered crucial to providing competent care to LGBTQ+ patients. This data can also be used to reduce health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations.

Most electronic health record (EHR) vendors are able to document SOGI data. Many health care systems across the country have been collecting SOGI information for several years. However, SOGI documentation is not broadly required. It’s time to require SOGI data collection in EHRs nationwide.

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two watercolor silhouettes.

Neurodiversity and Psychedelics Decriminalization

By Dustin Marlan

Following over fifty years of the racist and corrupt war on drugs, drug decriminalization is now a social justice issue. As I explore in Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice, the decriminalization of psychedelic drugs, in particular, is a matter of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Psychedelics have long been prohibited under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, after successful efforts in Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor, there are now attempts underway to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and other natural psychedelics in over 100 cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., which will vote on Initiative 81 in November 2020.

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Washington, DC – October 16, 2020: One of the many official ballot boxes placed around the city for early voters to place their completed ballots to avoid lines due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Psychedelics Helped Me Reclaim My Life and Push to Change Drug Laws

By Melissa Lavasani

In December 2019, I proposed a ballot measure, now known as Initiative 81, which would effectively decriminalize natural psychedelics – including psilocybin and ayahuasca, which had helped me overcome postpartum depression – in the District of Columbia.

This would help ensure that other D.C. residents benefiting from natural psychedelics are not targeted by law enforcement. After tumultuous months of hard work including collecting more than 25,400 signatures from voters, Initiative 81 is on the November ballot.

I am not the usual protagonist you’d imagine as an advocate for psychedelics: I am a married mother of two with two graduate degrees and an established career working for the District of Columbia government. But I had a psychedelic experience that changed my life. In 2018, I had taken psychedelics – first psilocybin mushrooms, and then ayahuasca and San Pedro cacti – because I was desperate to overcome severe postpartum depression that came to dominate my life.

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man lying on couch.

Psychedelics and America: A Digital Symposium

By Mason Marks

In 2020, the psychedelics research and policy reform renaissance is in full swing. Prohibited by federal law since the 1970s, psychedelic substances can alter how people see themselves, the world, and those around them. Clinical trials suggest they may help people overcome ingrained thought patterns associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Acknowledging their spiritual and therapeutic potential, universities have established new psychedelics research programs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed them breakthrough therapies for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This designation means they could be significant improvements over traditional treatments such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Accordingly, the FDA has put some psychedelics on an accelerated course toward approval. Eventually, they could help millions who have not benefitted from existing therapies.

However, despite their breakthrough status, psychedelics will not become FDA approved for several years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the country’s mental health crisis worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidal thoughts have risen in the past nine months.

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Close-up of a stethoscope on an American flag

Why Justice is Good for America’s Health

By Dayna Bowen Matthew

Justice is good for health [and] . . . health is the byproduct of justice.

— Norman Daniels, Bruce Kennedy & Ichiro Kawachi (Boston Review, 2000)

Among the most salient lessons to be learned from the coronavirus pandemic are that unjust laws produce unjust health outcomes, and that justice is just plain good for America’s health.

Health justice is the moral mandate to protect and advance an equal opportunity for all to enjoy greatest health and well-being possible. Health justice means that no one person or group of people are granted or excluded from the means of pursuing health on an inequitable basis. To achieve health justice, societal institutions such as governments and health care providers must act to advance equality, by increasing fairness and decreasing unfairness of their current and historic impacts on populations.

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A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Telemedicine is No Cure for Fraud and Abuse

By Vrushab Gowda

The exponential growth of telehealth in recent years has revolutionized the delivery, access, and cost of care. Unfortunately, it is not immune to the fraud and abuse that divert nearly $70 billion from the health care system annually.

A rise in suspect practices has been accompanied by a concomitant escalation of Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement, sending a clear signal to would-be fraudulent actors.

The ongoing Operation Rubber Stamp is one such enforcement thrust. A joint initiative of the of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), it targeted an extensive network of telemedicine fraud totaling over $4.5 billion in false claims and yielding thirty guilty pleas to date.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

Federal COVID-19 Response Unlawfully Blocks State Public Health Efforts

By Barbara J. Evans and Ellen Wright Clayton

The federal government recently used preemption unlawfully to prevent state public health efforts to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19.

As 1,000 current and former CDC epidemiologists noted in an open letter, the federal government has failed to use legal powers it does have to manage the crisis, leaving states to “invent their own differing systems” to manage COVID-19. We add that the federal government is now asserting emergency powers it does not have to disable state public health responses.

Early this month, Nevada officials halted the use of two rapid coronavirus tests that produced high false-positive rates when used for screening vulnerable people in Nevada’s nursing homes, assisted-living, long-term care, and other congregate facilities. More than half the positive test results were false.

On October 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a letter threatening that the Nevada officials’ action was “inconsistent with and preempted by federal law and, as such, must cease immediately or appropriate action will be taken against those involved.” Nevada yielded to this threat and, on October 9, removed its directive to stop using the tests.

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Deconstructing Moderna’s COVID-19 Patent Pledge

By Jorge L. Contreras, JD

On October 8, Cambridge-based biotech company Moderna, Inc., a leading contender in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, publicly pledged not to enforce its COVID-19 related patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.”

It also expressed willingness to license its intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines to others after the pandemic. In making this pledge, Moderna refers to its “special obligation under the current circumstances to use our resources to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible.”

Moderna holds seven issued U.S. patents covering aspects of an mRNA-based candidate vaccine directed to COVID-19 which entered Phase III clinical trials in July. The potential market for a COVID-19 vaccine is potentially enormous. As of this writing, the U.S. government has committed approximately $1.5 billion to acquire 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine if it proves to be safe and effective (with an option for 100 million more), and the Canadian government has agreed to purchase 20 million doses for an undisclosed amount.

In the high-stakes market for COVID-19 vaccines, it is worth considering the full range of factors that might motivate a private firm to relinquish valuable intellectual property rights for the public good. A better understanding of these factors could help policymakers to secure additional pledges from firms that have not yet volunteered their intellectual property in the fight against the pandemic.

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doctor holding clipboard.

A Critical Race Perspective on Social Risk Targeting in the Health Care Sector

By Brietta R. Clark

Health care programs, such as Medicaid, are increasingly using social risk assessments to target certain patients or communities for interventions intended to promote health. This includes partnering with other service sectors to provide nutrition, housing or employment assistance, transportation, parenting education, care coordination, and other behavioral supports.

These social interventions are touted as a way to improve health equity, yet they do not address structural racism, a powerful determinant of health. These interventions tend not to measure racial impact, or account for how racial inequity shapes the very structures and systems upon which social interventions depend. Indeed, this inattention means that such well-meaning interventions may inadvertently reinforce racial inequity, subordination, and stigma in marginalized communities.

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Protestor holding sign that reads: "we need reform now."

Using Anti-Racist Policy to Promote the Good Governance of Necessities

By Aysha Pamukcu and Angela P. Harris

Multiple crises creating a “wet cement” moment

In the U.S., racism has repeatedly stymied progress toward the good governance of necessities. Anti-racism, therefore, must be at the core of solutions to our present crises.

One of the most powerful applications of anti-racism is through policy. By enacting and enforcing anti-racist policy, we can govern more of life’s necessities as public goods.

Achieving this requires a robust coalition of advocates who are organized, interdisciplinary, and prepared to promote the equitable governance of vital goods. The “civil rights of health” — a partnership of civil rights, public health, and social justice advocates — can help provide the change infrastructure needed for this paradigm shift.

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