President Joe Biden at desk in Oval Office.

What’s on the Horizon for Health and Biotech with the AI Executive Order

By Adithi Iyer

Last month, President Biden signed an Executive Order mobilizing an all-hands-on-deck approach to the cross-sector regulation of artificial intelligence (AI). One such sector (mentioned, from my search, 33 times) is health/care. This is perhaps unsurprising— the health sector touches almost every other aspect of American life, and of course continues to intersect heavily with technological developments. AI is particularly paradigm-shifting here: the technology already advances existing capabilities in analytics, diagnostics, and treatment development exponentially. This Executive Order is, therefore, as important a development for health care practitioners and researchers as it is for legal experts. Here are some intriguing takeaways:  Read More

Washington, DC – September 23, 2021: A person walks among the over 681,000 memorial white flags dedicated to each of the COVID Pandemic victims at the National Mall.

Running Cover for Death: Pandemic Minimizers Normalize an Inhumane Baseline

­­By Nate Holdren

Last week, David Leonhardt took to the pages of the New York Times to celebrate the latest COVID death figures, which he claims mean the U.S. is no longer in a pandemic, because there are no more “excess deaths.”

The hunger for good news is, of course, understandable amid this ongoing nightmare. But to respond to death with “smile everyone, it could have been more deaths!” is grotesque because of the disrespect to the dead and those most affected by the deaths.

It also lets the powerful off the hook, which is Leonhardt’s primary motivation, I assume. In other words, looking for good news is a political position.

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Los Angeles, California / USA - May 28, 2020: People in Downtown Los Angeles protest the brutal Police killing of George Floyd.

Learning from the ‘COVID War’

By Sam Friedman

Amid an emergent international consensus that the COVID pandemic is “over,” writings about the pandemic and its meanings have burst forth like the flowers of June.

This article will focus on one such book, Lessons from the COVID War: An Investigative Report. Produced by an eminently established collection of people, The COVID Crisis Group. The book is intelligently critical of what was done during the pandemic, but at all points it remains within the confines of what is “politically respectable.” This respectability, I argue, means that their recommendations are too narrow to protect Americans, much less the populations of the Global South, from pandemics ahead (barring unexpectedly marvelous advances in vaccine breadth and rapidity of deployment).

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Blood donor at donation with bouncy ball holding in hand.

Lift the Blood Ban, But Don’t Penalize PrEP Users 

By Doron Dorfman

On May 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it is lifting its highly contested blood deferral policy for men who have sex with men (MSM, i.e., gay and bisexual men), colloquially known as the blood ban.

While this decision should be applauded as a step toward equality, the policy remains flawed and needlessly stigmatizing, as it excludes potential donors who use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an antiviral regimen that prevents HIV infection from sex.

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Photo of doctor's exam room.

Three Reactions to Braidwood v. Becerra

Last week, a federal judge in Texas dealt a blow to the Affordable Care Act’s preventative care requirements that private insurers cover services such as behavioral counseling, HPV vaccination, and pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV/AIDS (PrEP). In Braidwood Management Inc. v. Becerra, Judge Reed O’Connor enjoined the enforcement of the preventative care coverage mandate.

Led by Braidwood Management Inc., the plaintiffs claimed that the preventive services requirements were unconstitutional, violating the Appointments Clause and the Nondelegation Doctrine. Further, they argued that requiring coverage of PrEP violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Judge O’Connor has jeopardized access to critical health care services, potentially affecting over 150 million insured Americans. The Biden administration was quick to challenge the ruling; on Friday, attorneys for the Department of Health and Human Services filed a notice of appeal.

To make sense of these developments, leading experts in health law policy analyze Judge O’Connor’s ruling below.
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Washington DC, USA - FEBRUARY 10 2021: President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

4 Years into the COVID-19 Pandemic: Where We Stand

By Jennifer S. Bard

The White House is preparing to shut down their COVID Task Force this May, in conjunction with ending the public health emergency — the latest in a series of astounding and shortsighted decisions that put individual Americans at as great a risk from serious harm as a result of catching COVID-19 as at any stage in the pandemic.

By declaring the pandemic over by fiat, the government is giving up the fight when they should be redoubling their efforts. Not only is COVID still very much with us, but all existing methods of preventing infection have either been severely weakened by the virus’ mutations, or simply abandoned. Additionally, more is known of the harm COVID causes past the initial infection.

There is nothing vague or subtle about the “end” of a disease outbreak. Either cases actually disappear, as with seasonal influenza, or they are dramatically reduced through a vaccine that prevents further transmission, as happened with measles and polio. Neither event has happened here. Instead, like HIV, which continues to be an ongoing public health emergency, the virus continues to infect and mutate.

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President Joe Biden at desk in Oval Office.

Federalizing Public Health

By Elizabeth Weeks

The most promising path forward in public health is to continue recognizing federal authority and responsibility in this space. I carefully choose “recognizing,” rather than “expanding” or “moving” because it is critical to the argument that federal authority for public health already exists within the federalist structure and that employing federal authority to address public health problems does not represent a dimunition of state authority. Rather than a pie, of which pieces consumed at the federal level necessarily reduce pieces consumable at the state level, we should envision the relationship as a Venn diagram, where increasing overlap strengthens authority for promoting and protecting public health broadly.

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Atlanta, Georgia - January 28, 2022: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unmasking Public Health

By Jane Moriarty

One of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stated “essential public health services” is to “create, champion, and implement policies, plans, and laws that impact health.”

Yet, as the U.S. slogs through its third COVID winter, one thing is clear: personal responsibility and autonomy are at the heart of public health messaging. As CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky famously said, “your health is in your hands.”

In other words, CDC and other public health bodies now highlight personal responsibility and autonomy, and minimize the institutional ability to champion policies and laws that would improve the health and safety of the citizenry.

Given the comparatively poor results that the U.S. has had compared to other similarly-situated countries that focus more on the common good, it is time for our public health entities to reinvigorate their role as a force of legal and moral suasion to protect the public’s health.

The moral value of protecting the health of the public should be at the forefront of their messaging. Personal responsibility and autonomy are no match for the reality of commodified and unavailable health care, internet disinformation, health vulnerabilities, age-related vulnerabilities, the lack of paid sick leave, poverty, and the plight of the institutionalized.

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Pile of envelopes with overdue utility bills on the floor.

The Unfurling Crisis of Unfunded Isolation, Testing, and Treatment of Infectious Disease in the US

By Steven W. Thrasher

For many politicians in the United States, the summer of 2022 was a time of trying not to think about the coronavirus pandemic—though, if they were concerned about the risk that they, their neighbors, and their constituents were facing, they should have been paying very close attention. By August, there were about 500 to 600 COVID deaths a day, accounting for more than a “9/11’s worth” every week, a level of death twice what it had been in the summer of 2021.

But for gay men in the United States, the summer of 2022 was a time of worrying about a whole new viral epidemic: monkeypox. The variant of the MPX orthopoxvirus circulating globally in 2022 has behaved very differently than it had in previous outbreak, acting as a sexually transmitted infection and moving almost exclusively through the bodies of gay men.

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