tim caulfield teaching

Teaching Critical Thinking as a Public Health Initiative

Tim Caulfield—a Law Professor at the University of Alberta and the author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?—wants to help us get better at fighting misinformation about health.

This past Monday, Caulfield came to the Petrie-Flom Center’s Health Policy Workshop and spoke to an audience of Harvard Law students, affiliates from throughout Harvard University, and academics and community members from the Boston area.

During his fascinating and dynamic presentation, Caulfield covered a lot of ground. He discussed political polarization on Twitter, the profit-maximizing machinations (or self-delusion) of celebrities pedaling bunk health products, and evidence that false claims spread faster than true ones. All that may leave one feeling pessimistic and Caulfield would likely sympathize with your pessimism. Yet, the presentation also contained reasons to have hope.

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shopping trolley with medicine

Step therapy explained: An increasingly popular tool for cost control

News that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will allow Medicare Advantage programs to enact “step therapy” programs for drugs under Part B as part of an effort to combat rising drug prices has been making rounds in the health policy world recently.

Step therapy is used by all major private insurers and is aimed at curbing expenditures on expensive drugs. It requires that a patient to try a less expensive alternative treatment. Those who fail treatment with the less expensive drug would then be eligible for coverage of the more expensive treatment. Note that it is very similar to prior authorization, a ubiquitous policy tool in which a drug is approved for coverage only after ensuring certain clinical criteria are met.

What was once a relatively rare tool is now commonly used. I examined UnitedHealthcare’s list of step therapy drugs and there are now over 100 listings. This is an order of magnitude increase from the number of drugs listed just four years ago, when I first got interested in this issue.

Drugs listed for step therapy tend to be either new, extremely expensive therapies (e.g., 3rd-line biologics for rheumatoid arthritis, sofosbuvir for hepatitis C) or more expensive formulations of common drugs (e.g., extended release formulation of quetiapine).

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image of a hand holding an senior's hand

Why We Need to Understand the Perspectives of Seniors on Dementia and Decisionmaking

After his wife died, Tom, 83, lived with a caretaker. His daughter was worried. Tom wasn’t his old self. He was getting slower, repeated himself, didn’t seem to remember things that mattered. But when Adult Protective Services interviewed him, they thought he seemed fine. Later, when his daughter finally managed to get him into court to appoint a guardian, they discovered that the caretaker had made off with most of his savings.

Meanwhile, Patricia, 85, lived alone. She had some mild cognitive impairment, that was obvious. She didn’t get jokes the way she used to, seemed withdrawn, and her memory wasn’t as sharp. But she could get around on her own. She managed her finances and made her own decisions. A nephew disagreed. He referred her case to a doctor who found that her impairment had progressed to mild dementia, and a court declared the nephew her temporary guardian. If she hadn’t by chance run into an old friend who was an elder law attorney, the nephew would have stolen the tens of thousands of dollars he planned to.

These anecdotes were recently related to me by Professor Peter Lichtenberg of Wayne State University, a clinical psychologist and national expert on the financial exploitation of seniors. We met at last April’s conference “Our Aging Brains” at Harvard Law School, where panelists demonstrated the challenges—and profound stakes measured in human suffering—involved in a legal ruling that an individual with dementia either has or lacks legal capacity.

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Petrie-Flom Welcomes 2018-2019 Student Fellows

We are so excited to welcome a new crop of Student Fellows to the Petrie-Flom Center family. These six students are a fantastic cohort of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics scholars who join us from Harvard Law School, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and the HMS Center for Bioethics.

They will each undertake a year-long research project with mentorship from Center faculty and affiliates, and will also regularly be blogging here at Bill of Health. Keep an eye out for their bylines!

 

 

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two glasses of milk

The Cry Over Fake Milk

A debate has been brewing between the cattle milk industry and the plant-based milk industry (producing drinks made from ingredients such as almonds, soy, and rice), regarding what products can actually be labeled “milk.”

This has motivated the Federal Drug Administration to review how milk is defined under federal regulations, in order to protect public health and ensure that consumers are purchasing what they expect based on a product’s label.

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illustration of abstract ecnomics

The Need for an Economic Bioethics

As the animations of markets increasingly shape the timbre and character of medicine, scholars studying ethical issues in health and medicine must be increasingly attentive to the role of market forces as they shape modern health care.

For those interested in the social, ethical, and conceptual dimensions of contemporary health and medicine, there has been a sustained focus on a key set of important challenges; how do we ensure adequate access to health for marginalized and global populations? What are the social and ethical implications of emergent technologies? How are issues of consent articulated in the everyday interactions of the clinic? What are our obligations to persons in terms of end-of-life care? These longstanding concerns regarding access, new technologies and the rights of patients comprise the major thrusts and foci of bioethics, health care ethics, and associated areas of inquiry.

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