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EYE ON WASHINGTON

doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000297232.84269.10
DEPARTMENT: EYE ON WASHINGTON
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New Legislation Aims to Help People Suffering from Pain

Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) have introduced the National Pain Care Policy Act, which is designed to improve pain care research, education, training, access, and outreach.

“I am pleased to join my colleague and more than 100 organizations representing the pain care community in supporting this legislation that will help millions of Americans suffering from pain,” Rep. Capps said in a statement. “Pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States and is straining our health care system.”

“Pain keeps sufferers from their family, work, and the community, and in many cases it is so severe it can be life-threatening,” Rep. Rogers added. “Pain is linked to many diseases, and back pain alone affects more than 70 percent of all Americans at some time in their lives, with the costs for medical services topping $26 billion annually.”

The legislation would combat pain in four ways:

  • ▪ Authorize an Institute of Medicine conference on pain care that would increase the awareness of pain as a public health problem, establish an action agenda to address barriers and improve pain care research, and highlight disparities in populations that are disproportionately under-treated for pain.
  • ▪ Authorize a Pain Consortium at NIH that would establish and maintain a coordinated national agenda for basic and clinical research on causes and effective treatments and convene an annual conference to make recommendations for NIH research and program activities.
  • ▪ Provide comprehensive education and training for health care professionals by requiring the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to collect and disseminate protocols and evidence-based practices about pain.
  • ▪ Institute a public awareness campaign, especially about the risks to patients if pain is not assessed and treated.
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Rep. Hinchey Opposes FDA Amendments Act

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, released a statement about his opposition to the FDA Amendments Act.

“I am glad the FDA Amendments Act addresses a number of problems with FDA, including giving the agency enhanced authority on post-market drug safety and developing a strengthened system for oversight of direct-to-consumer advertising. However, I am deeply disappointed that this bill neglects to sufficiently address a number of major issues that jeopardize the trustworthiness of FDA, the agency supposed to represent the gold standard of consumer protection,” he said.

Rep. Hinchey said he was particularly concerned about three major things: First, about reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), through which the pharmaceutical industry pays the agency that judges the worthiness of its products. “FDA is in bed with the drug companies, and the Amendment Act does nothing to sever this inappropriate relationship,” he said.

Second, the act does not sufficiently address financial conflicts of interest among members of FDA advisory committees, Mr. Hinchey said. The House has voted in favor of a measure to end these conflicts, and FDA has developed a policy that would limit such conflicts, but the act will still allow waivers so that committee members with conflicts could still serve as advisors to FDA.

Third, he said, the legislation does nothing to keep FDA from its current “misinformed policy of pre-empting state law on drug policy—This prevents consumers from the right to sue drug companies for injuries and “issues drug companies a free pass from accountability.”

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Bipartisan Effort to Ensure Coverage for People with Terminal Illness

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) have introduced legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, that would ensure that all people suffering from certain terminal diseases are entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits. Currently, people who contract a covered terminal illness, but have not been part of the workforce for a period of time, do not qualify for the benefits.

The Claire Collier Social Security Disability Insurance Fairness Act would amend the requirement that a person accrue 20 quarters of Social Security earnings during the 10 years preceding a disability in order to collect benefits. This discriminates against people who have earned the required number of credits outside the prescribed time period.

“This bill is simply about ensuring fairness,” Sen. Dodd said. “Under the current system, hardworking Americans like Claire Collier are being denied benefits at a time when they need them most. Common sense would dictate that we should reward the people who contribute to the Social Security system, not punish them by unfairly withholding critically needed funds in times of serious illness.”

The bill is named after Ms. Collier, a Stamford mother who was diagnosed with ALS in 2003 and was declared ineligible for benefits because she had to leave work and raise a family.

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Pete Stark Tries to Protect Medicare Beneficiaries from Higher Costs

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, has introduced the Medicare Advantage Truth in Advertising Act, which will prevent Medicare Advantage (MA) plans from charging seniors and people with disabilities more than traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

“Medicare Advantage plans don't live up to their name, although seniors wouldn't know it from the never-ending stream of insurance propaganda,” Rep. Stark said.

“These plans typically charge more than traditional Medicare for a large number of services—everything from home health care to hospital stays and chemotherapy drugs to durable medical equipment. The Medicare Truth in Advertising Act protects beneficiaries by ensuring that they won't face higher out-of-pocket costs in private plans than they do in Medicare.”

The bill would prohibit MA plans from charging higher cost sharing than Medicare, and it would continue to permit flat co-payments, which private plans charge for certain benefits in lieu of deductibles or co-insurance, but those charges could never exceed Medicare's charges.

Reports of inappropriate and often illegal sales techniques make protecting beneficiaries important, Rep. Stark said. Marketing agents have lied about MA premiums and physician participation in private plans, he added. Agents have also taken advantage of individuals with serious language barriers or cognitive impairments and have enrolled beneficiaries who thought they were signing up for new Medigap policies.

“Medicare Advantage plans, particularly private fee-for-service ones, have new and very confusing arrays of co-payments and deductibles,” said Bill Vaughan, Senior Policy Analyst at Consumers Union. “A number of beneficiaries have joined such plans with little or no understanding that their out-of-pocket expenses may actually be higher compared withto traditional Medicare.”

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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