Pharma

Morning Read: FDA to crack down on Pharma executives–really?

After drawing criticism from Congress and a new government report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it plans to step up criminal prosecutions of pharmaceutical and food industry executives. Of course, the timing brings into question whether the FDA is really serious about going after corporate execs or is just acting like it to lessen the heat.

Highlights of the important and the interesting from the world of health care:

FDA to crack down on Pharma execs–really? After drawing criticism from Congress and a new government report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it plans to step up criminal prosecutions of pharmaceutical and food industry executives, the Wall Street Journal reports. The report comes down hard on the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, which the report says lacks accountability to the agency and doesn’t have clear performance standards. In response the FDA says it’s likely to “increase the appropriate use of misdemeanor prosecutions, which allows responsible corporate officials to be held accountable and is a valuable enforcement tool.”

Of course, the timing brings into question whether the FDA is really serious about going after corporate execs or is just acting like it to lessen the heat. (And, as the In Vivo Blog points out, it’s not the first time we’ve heard this sort of “get-tough” pronouncement from the FDA.) Given reports that the FDA is under the industry’s thumb like never before, observers have every right to doubt that the agency is serious until we see it aggressively go after any executives who need to be “held accountable.” So for now, don’t expect any Big Pharma execs to be adding criminal attorneys to their speed dial.

Will “health reform” actually reform anything? Both sides of the reform debate–and particularly those who oppose it–have incentive to overstate its effects as being “radical” and “transformative” to the way health care is delivered in the U.S. But, of course, saying it doesn’t make it so. The reality is that the reform legislation as it stands now does little more than tinker at the edges of health care in the U.S.–hardly enough to affect real change. The problem is much of the public that isn’t closely tuned in to the debate may actually start to believe the rhetoric.

For that reason, it’s worth taking a step back and examining what reform won’t change. For starters, about 90 percent of Americans won’t see any significant changes to their insurance coverage, as Ezra Klein points out in an old article that’s worth reading and rereading. Further, as Evan Falchuk’s See First blog notes, many problematic aspects of our health care “system” (a word Falchuk objects to) will remain with us whether reform passes or not, kicked down the road for future politicians–and maybe your grandchildren–to grapple with:

We will still have an uncompetitive insurance market, and an increasingly concentrated hospital market.  We will still have an aging population that need increasing amounts of care.  We will still have all of the unhealthy lifestyles Americans live.  We will still have an extraordinary pace of new medical technologies and treatments that add new expense.  And we will still suffer with quality problems because we don’t let doctors have enough time with their patients.

Doctors draw scrutiny for soaring health costs: There’s plenty of blame to go around for the causes of sky-high and rising health costs in the U.S. For starters, ask yourself who stands to gain from soaring health spending. “Costs” to the average U.S. citizen are revenues to insurers, hospitals, device firms and Big Pharma, for example. One group that belongs on that list, too, and has thus far escaped such close scrutiny is doctors. Dr. Howard Brody aims to change that perception. In an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, the University of Texas professor of family medicine argues that medical professionals have made little effort to change the health care system. Some medical groups (looking at you, AMA) seem more concerned about their own incomes than helping make care more affordable for their patients. In an interview with the New York Times, Brody expounds on some of his ideas:

Rather than rising to that challenge and exercising moral leadership in health care reform, we are acting like one more special interest group. Instead of saying we care about patients enough to put our own interests on the back burner, it has been as if we were more concerned about maximizing our income.

We make so much more money than so many people in this society. To say that we are entitled to that income rather than we are privileged and should give back to society does not, and should not, win us a lot of friends.