Field hospital in NY during COVID-19 pandemic.

Systemic Failures Need Systemic Solutions: COVID-19 and Macromedical Regulation

By Barak D. Richman and Steven L. Schwarcz

Among the many failures to mitigate the harm from COVID-19 in the U.S. has been the failure to meet surging demand for inpatient care. Hospital bed shortages, overwhelmed intensive care nurses, and scarcities of needed medical equipment have been embarrassing but constant features of the American health care landscape. A nation that spends nearly one out of every six dollars on health care should get much, much more for its money.

Though there is much blame to go around — and many insightful commentators have already allocated culpability — we observe that a significant regulatory deficiency has contributed to the nation’s failure to meet population health needs. This is the failure to regulate our hospitals holistically, as part of a comprehensive health care system.

Existing health care regulation focuses almost exclusively on regulating individual components of the health care industry. This existing regulation lacks the capacity to address how those components work together as a system — a system in which deficiencies in one component adversely impact the performance of the other components. We should not view hospitals as individual providers that treat individual patients. Instead, they are part of a larger safety net that needs to expand capacity when emergencies arise. Today’s pandemic destabilized hospital care because hospitals were neither coordinated nor managed systemically in order to meet population demands.

In Macromedical Regulation, 82 Ohio State Law Journal 727 (2021), we address the nation’s systemic failure to contain an infectious contagion, and we offer solutions by deriving lessons from the 2008 financial contagion. We contend that health care regulation must also include what we call “macromedical” regulation: regulation that focuses on protecting the stability of the health care sector as a system of interconnected parts.

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Suboxone.

Eliminating Barriers to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

By Jennifer D. Oliva, Taleed El-Sabawi, and Shelly Weizman

The tragedy of the ever-worsening drug poisoning and overdose crisis in the United States is compounded by a simple fact: We know how to prevent overdose deaths, and yet, the overwhelming majority of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) lack access to the lifesaving, standard of care treatment.

Research demonstrates that the opioid agonist medications methadone and buprenorphine are the safest and most effective treatments for OUD. As the National Academy of Sciences explained in a 2019 report, these two medications reduce risk of death by up to 50 percent and are associated with numerous other benefits, including improved quality of life, reduced rates of use of other opioids, and reduced risk of contracting illnesses including HIV and hepatitis C.

However, during the worst drug poisoning crisis in U.S. history, which is now killing more than 100,000 people a year, the country’s outdated and restrictive federal regulatory schemes that pertain to methadone and buprenorphine present a pernicious and persistent barrier to accessing OUD medications.

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Pink piggy bank and stethoscope on a gray background.

Medical Schools Need to Do More to Reduce Students’ Debt

By Leah Pierson

Today, the average medical student graduates with more than $215,000 of debt from medical school alone.

The root cause of this problem — rising medical school tuitions — can and must be addressed.

In real dollars, a medical degree costs 750 percent more today than it did seventy years ago, and more than twice as much as it did in 1992. These rising costs are closely linked to rising debt, which has more than quadrupled since 1978 after accounting for inflation.

Debt burdens

Physicians with more debt are more likely to experience to burnout, substance use disorders, and worse mental health. And, as the cost of medical education has risen, the share of medical students hailing from low-income backgrounds has fallen precipitously, compounding inequities in medical education.

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Phone with social media icons - instagram, facebook, and twitter.

Regulating Out of the Social Media Health Crisis

By Bailey Kennedy

If something changes the pathways in our brains and damages our health — and if it does so to Americans on a vast scale — it should be regulated as a threat to public health.

It’s time for our regulators to acknowledge that social media fits this description.

Social media poses an active health threat to many of its users, in a way that is akin to other regulated substances: it has been tied to a variety of harmful health outcomes, including depression. It has also become increasingly clear that social media can be addictive.

Even if it is a behavioral rather than a substantive addiction, with only indirect links to physical health, the high number of Americans who exhibit some degree of social media addiction is concerning.

Inasmuch as social media presents us with a public health crisis, the American government should consider potential regulatory steps to address it.

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Woman sitting at desk experiencing back pain.

Can Lawyers Help Fix Back Pain (No, Not By Suing)?

By Jack Becker

A Pain in the Back

Back pain is a real pain in the back. Comprehensive data is tough to collect, but an estimated 60-80% of people will have to deal with back pain at some point in their life. Lower back pain, in particular, is the leading cause of global disability.

This issue has serious impacts beyond individual pain and suffering. According to a 2018 report by the Bone and Joint Initiative, Americans lost 264 million work days in a single year due to back pain. The report also claims that in 2014, the direct and indirect costs of musculoskeletal disorders were a staggering 5.76% of U.S. GDP, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. While more conservative estimates put the costs closer to $125 billion, the impact is significant.

There are clear incentives for business or government actors to intervene, but where can they start? One option is to let lawyers lead the way.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

Call Your Senator and Help Give Doctors a Break

By Jacob Madden

Want to help make a big change for our nation’s overworked doctors? Call your senator and tell them to hire more.

In March of this year, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced S.834, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act to confront the country’s growing shortage of doctors.

The proposed legislation will increase the number of resident physician positions supported by Medicare by 2,000 each year from 2023 to 2029, for a total of 14,000 newly supported positions.

This legislation could make a small but significant dent in the nation’s physician shortage. By 2034, the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage ranging from 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians, and 21,000 to 77,100 non-primary care physicians. Take both worst-case scenarios, and we are short 125,100 doctors.

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Close up view of graduation hat on dollar banknotes. Tuition fees concept.

Becoming a Bioethicist is Expensive. That’s a Problem.

By Leah Pierson

The financial barriers associated with becoming a bioethicist make the field less accessible, undermining the quality and relevance of bioethics research.

Because the boundaries of the field are poorly defined, credentials often serve as a gatekeeping mechanism. For instance, the recent creation of the Healthcare Ethics Consultant-Certified (HEC-C) program, which “identifies and assesses a national standard for the professional practice of clinical healthcare ethics consulting” is a good idea in theory. But the cost of the exam starts at $495. There is no fee assistance. Given that 99 percent of those who have taken the exam have passed, the exam seems to largely serve as a financial barrier to becoming an ethics consultant.

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Concept: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Paradoxical Legal Treatment of Preventive Medicine

By Doron Dorfman

Preventive medicine is a tool used by individual patients, primary care physicians, and governmental agencies to preempt illnesses rather than to treat them after they have arisen. Despite this salubrious aim, stigma, shame, and fear often are attached to the use of preventative care.

The stigma around preventive medicine can arise from the tendency to view such measures as a proxy for risky or otherwise socially marginalized behavior or lifestyle. Why would someone use a preventative measure if they are not at high risk as a consequence of their own choices?

Consider, for example, what I call “sexually charged” preventative health measures like the human papillomavirus vaccine or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a highly effective daily drug regimen that prevents HIV infection, which has become specifically popular with gay and bisexual men.

As I discuss in a forthcoming paper, PrEP has been viewed by policymakers and health care professionals as a “license for promiscuity” due to the fear of risk compensation, meaning the adjustment of risky behavior by those who take PrEP to potentially have sex with more partners and with no condoms. Such views are reflected in Kelley v. Becerra, a case pending before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, where plaintiffs wish to purchase insurance that excludes coverage for PrEP and contraception, to which they object to on religious and moral grounds.

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Lady Justice blindfolded with scales.

Health Justice Can’t Be Blind

By Daniel E. Dawes

“Justice is blind.” We have all heard this phrase before, and seen the iconic representation: the blindfolded Lady Justice.

That blindfold is supposed to symbolize impartiality. It represents our strict subscription to the notion that impartiality and objectivity are the principles upon which our system is built and by which it is protected. This notion that justice is blind is one rooted in equality.

But justice should not always be blind. Rather than prioritizing equal treatment, sometimes justice demands that we treat individuals differently to ensure equal outcomes. This notion of justice is rooted in the principle of equity.

Put simply, equity takes fairness as its aim. Where equality entails the equal (i.e., impartial) treatment of individuals, equity demands a nuanced approach to ensure equal outcomes.

To achieve justice in the realm of health, our focus must be on equity, and not on blind equality.

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