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Entries in Government (3)

Wednesday
Aug312011

Gov't Commission Finds 83 Guatemalans Died in US-Led Experiments

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A commission set up last year by President Obama has revealed that 83 Guatemalans died in U.S. government research that infected hundreds of prisoners, prostitutes, and mental patients with the syphilis bacteria to study the drug penicillin -- a project that the group called "a shameful piece of medical history."

"The report is good and I applaud the Obama administration for giving it some sunshine," said Dr. Howard Markel, a pediatrician and medical historian from the University of Michigan.  "Internationally, what we do as a human society is to make sure that these things never happen again."

But medical ethicists say that even if today's research is not as egregious as the Guatemala experiment, American companies are still testing drugs on poor, sometimes unknowing populations in the developing world.

Many, like Markel, note that experimenting with AIDS drugs in Africa and other pharmaceutical trials in Third World countries, "goes on every day."

"It's not good enough, in my opinion, to protect only people who live in the developed world -- but all human beings," he said.

The U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau worked with several Guatemalan government agencies from 1946 to 1948, exposing nearly 1,300 people to the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, gonorrhea, or chancroid.  They infected soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners and mental patients -- more than 5,500 people in all were part of the medical experimentation.  

The presidential panel said government scientists knew they were violating ethical rules.

Scientists wanted to see if penicillin, which was a relatively new drug, could prevent infections.  The research was paid for with U.S. tax dollars and culled no useful medical information.

This week, the Obama commission revealed that only 700 of them received treatment and 83 died by 1953.  The commission could not confirm whether the deaths were a direct cause of those infections.

In the 1940s, syphilis was a major health threat, causing blindness, insanity and even death.  Many of the same researchers had carried out studies on prisoners in Terre Haute, Indiana, but unlike the Guatemalan research, they gave consent.

For years, the experiments were secret, until Susan M. Reverby, a medical historian at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, found the records of Dr. John Cutler, who led the experiments.  A federal commission to learn more was set up last year.

President Obama has apologized to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom.  A final report is due in December.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan242011

Feds Recovered $4 Billion in Gov't Medical Fraud in 2010 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Last year was the biggest ever for shutting down efforts to scam federal health care programs. Prosecutors recovered a record-setting $4 billion from hundreds of crooks, big and small.

“The subjects of our investigations include traditional fraudsters, health care providers, corporate executives, hospital systems and administrators and members of organized crime,” said FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins at a news conference in Washington Monday.

Federal officials also announced new rules to make it harder for would-be criminals to defraud the government in the future.

“The days when you could just hang out a shingle and start billing the government are over,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Among the new rules, which are part of the health care law the House voted last week to repeal, is one that allows Medicare to stop all payments to a provider the moment a credible complaint about fraud has been received. This may terrify executives at some big corporations that sell billions of dollars' worth of drugs, devices and services to the federal government. Major companies like Novartis, AstraZeneca and Allergan, for example, were the subjects of successful fraud investigations last year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Nov222010

States Battle with Federal Government on Health Care

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a time when Medicaid enrollment is on a steady rise and the economy remains weak, health care has also unearthed old tensions between states and the federal government that lie at the heart of the health care debate.

The expansion of the Medicaid program under the new health care law, and additional measures like the requirement that every American must carry health insurance and states must set up health insurance exchanges -- where the uninsured would be able to shop for coverage and compare rates -- have aroused rebellion from states.

Twenty states have filed a joint lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services, challenging the constitutionality of the provision that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014.

The feud over health care between states and Washington is not new. It has existed since the program was created in 1965, but the current partisan climate in which political jockeying is on the rise just further exacerbates that tension.

"This is not exactly a new issue when states feel fiscally pressed," said Gail Wilensky, an economist and a senior fellow at Project Hope, an international health education foundation.

Medicaid has been particularly hard hit by the budget crisis and the weak economy. Spending on Medicaid rose an average of 8.8 percent this year, the highest rate of growth in eight years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The federal stimulus program gave some relief to states, providing roughly $87 billion in October 2008.

Under the new health care law, the federal government will provide funding to expand Medicaid to Americans whose incomes are at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty line.

But that has done little to appease states, many of which say the new law will increase their costs in the long-term even though it expands coverage to more citizens.

The blame game is likely to continue in an issue that is growing increasingly complex, experts say.

"There's not an easy villain," said William Roper, dean of the school of public health at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We as Americans want people to be covered by health insurance and get health services that they need, but we have a much greater appetite for public services than we have an appetite for the taxes that pay for them and that has produced over years -- and more recently over the last few years -- a gigantic budget deficit."

"The greater challenge for states right now is how can we give people everything and stay solvent and do what the federal government wants," said Sreedhar Potarazu, an ophthalmologist and chief executive of Vital Spring Technologies. "States are on the verge of going over the cliff and health care is the last straw."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio