Thursday, July 20, 2017

Who Benefits from our Current Health Care Dysfunction? - Mallinckrodt's Leadership Maintains Impunity After Well Publicized Opioid Settlement

The Latest Mallinckrodt Settlement

Jeff Sessions, the current US Attorney General, is ginning up a lot of press coverage of his recent crackdown on makers of narcotics.  For example, per the Washington Post on July 11, 2017...

The Justice Department and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals reached a $35 million settlement Tuesday to resolve allegations that the company failed to report signs that large quantities of its highly addictive oxycodone pills were diverted to the black market in Florida, where they helped stoke the opioid epidemic.

The agreement is the first with a major manufacturer of the opioids that have sparked a crisis of overdoses and addictions across the country. The Justice Department said the deal establishes 'groundbreaking' new standards that require the company to track its drugs as they flow through the supply chain to consumers in an effort to control the epidemic.

The company had argued that once it passed the drugs to wholesale distributors, it was not responsible for illegal diversion of the painkillers as they were sent to retailers and then pain patients.

'The Department of Justice has the responsibility to ensure that our drug laws are being enforced and to protect the American people,' Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. 'Part of that mission is holding drug manufacturers accountable for their actions. Mallinckrodt’s actions and omissions formed a link in the chain of supply that resulted in millions of oxycodone pills being sold on the street.'

A Slap on the Wrist with a Wet Noodle

Hold them accountable? With a $35 million dollar settlement? That should really strike fear into the hearts of evil-doers.  After all, this settlement is tiny compared to the magnitude of the behavior.

At one point, the government calculated that it could have assessed the company $2.3 billion in fines for nearly 44,000 violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to confidential government documents obtained by The Post.


Between 2008 and 2012, about 500 million of Mallinckrodt’s pills ended up in Florida, 66 percent of all oxycodone sold in the state, The Post reported.

Nearly 180,000 people died of overdoses of prescription painkillers between 2000 and 2015, and the abuse of pharmaceutical opioids is widely blamed for a crisis that now involves many thousands of overdoses on heroin and fentanyl.

Then, the settlement is tiny compared with the company's revenues.  For example, according to a recent company press release, Mallinckrodt had

Fiscal 2016 net sales of $3.381 billion, up 15.7%, principally driven by volume in Specialty Brands;...

Furthermore, the settlement let the company deny wrongdoing, stating

'While Mallinckrodt disagreed with the U.S. government’s allegations, we chose to resolve the legacy matter in order to eliminate the uncertainty, distraction and expense of litigation and to allow the company to focus on meeting the important needs of its patients and customers,' Michael-Bryant Hicks, the company’s general counsel, said in the release.

In addition, as we have seen in many other legal settlements arranged by US authorities, no individual at the company who oversaw, authorized, directed, or implemented the questionable actions paid any penalty. In fact, top executives at Mallinckrodt continue to make out like proverbial bandits.  Earlier this year the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported:

Mallinckrodt Chief Executive Mark Trudeau's pay jumped 29 percent to $12.6 million as the company rewarded him for a year when profits more than doubled.

Mallinckrodt, a drug company that is legally Irish but has its headquarters in Hazelwood, disclosed details of its executive pay in a proxy statement last week.

Trudeau's pay included a salary of $1.04 million and a bonus of $1.6 million, which was 127 percent of the target amount. He also received $5.9 million in stock and $3.9 million in options, with some of the stock depending on Mallinckrodt's revenue growth and total shareholder return between 2016 and 2018.

An earlier stock award, from 2014, paid out at 200 percent of its targeted amount. That brought Trudeau shares worth $2.5 million at current prices.

Trudeau also received $101,003 in contributions to a supplemental savings plan and $16,535 in tax reimbursement. The tax reimbursement was for executives whose spouses or partners attended a national sales conference.
So Mr Sessions  thought he was holding them accountable?

At least the Washington Post coverage added some dissent,

Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who supervised DEA efforts to control diversion of opioids for a decade before he retired in 2015, said Tuesday that multimillion-dollar fines have not deterred large pharmaceutical corporations accused of failing to report suspicious orders of pain pills to the DEA.

'These fines mean nothing to Fortune 500 companies,' he said. 'Large corporations see these fines as the cost of doing business. Unless there are meaningful sanctions brought against these companies, they will continue to violate the law.'

So the extremetly lenient treatment of Mallinckrodt and its top executives in this case will likely not deter health care corporate leaders from pursuing future bad behavior that is in the their self-interest.  Plus this case provides another example of the impunity of big health care organizations and their top executives. 

Just the Latest Mallinckrodt Settlement

And wait, there is more.  The latest settlement did not seem to be informed by any knowledge of the company's previous transgressions.  Like many other big health care organizations, Mallinckrodt and its predecessors have a long history of bad behavior which at worst has resulted in previous lenient settlements, wrist slaps, and executive impunity.  Consider some examples from this decade alone. 

The 2013 Settlement of Kickbacks to Doctors

As we noted in this post, for a few million dollars, Mallinckrodt settled allegations that it gave kickbacks to physicians to prescribe its antidepressants and sleeping tablets.

The 2015 Questcor Shareholder Suit Alleging Deception

As reported by the St Louis Business Journal,
Mallinckrodt PLC (NYSE:MKN) has announced a preliminary $38 million settlement in a shareholder lawsuit related to Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The settlement is pending approval by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Mallinckrodt, a Dublin, Ireland, company with its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, acquired Questcor in 2014 for $5.6 billion.

The settlement would resolve a class action lawsuit brought against Questcor alleging misstatements from former company officers and directors related to H.P Acthar Gel. Acthar, a drug used to treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, generated net sales for Questcor of $761.3 million in 2013.

Again, no individual who presided over, authorized, directed or implemented the misstatements suffered any negative consequences.

Note that H. P. Acthar gel, when marketed by Questcor, was one of the earliest examples of a company gaming the system to increase the prices of an old drug to outrageous levels (see our posts here).

The Questcor Anti-Competitive Practices Settlement

Then in early 2017 Mallinckrodt settled a case involving unfair competition, as reported by Reuters,

Mallinckrodt Plc (MNK.N) has agreed to pay $100 million to settle allegations that a subsidiary broke U.S. antitrust law by sharply increasing the price of a multiple sclerosis drug while ensuring that no rival medicine appeared on the market, the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

Mallinckrodt's share price dropped sharply to just under $43 from above $49 on a report Wednesday, which proved incorrect, that the FTC would sue Mallinckrodt. It spiked above $50 after news of a settlement and closed at $46.53, down 5.8 percent.

In 2001, Questcor bought the rights to Acthar, a type of hormone-based drug used to treat infantile spasms as well as multiple sclerosis. Over time, the company raised the price from $40 per vial to more than $34,000, the FTC said. Questcor was acquired by Mallinckrodt in 2014.

Acthar, which is off patent, represented 34 percent of Mallinckrodt's $3.4 billion in net sales for fiscal 2016, the company said in a government filing.

Per patient, Medicare spent more on Acthar than for any other drug in 2015, putting out $504 million for just 3,104 patients, according to the Medicare Drug Spending Dashboard.

Several U.S. drug makers have been criticized for sharp increases in drugs, notably Turing Pharmaceuticals' Daraprim and Mylan's (MYL.O) EpiPen. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported 11 drugs saw price increases of more than 100 percent in 2015.

'This is an egregious case of a monopolist doing a deal to eliminate potential competition and keep its power over pricing. It is abhorrent that lifesaving drugs cost New Yorkers tens of thousands of dollars,' said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement.

Again, Mallinckrodt denied all wrongdoing,

'We continue to strongly disagree with allegations outlined in the FTC's complaint, believing that key claims are unsupported and even contradicted by scientific data and market facts,' a company representative said in a statement.

And of course, to repeat, no one at the company who presided over, authorized, directed or implemented the anti-competitive practices suffered any negative consequences.

After that settlement, Sy Mukherjee wrote in Fortune that the

$100 million fine [was] for purposefully maintaining a monopoly on a drug that brought in one third of Mallinckrodt's $3.4 billion net 2016 sales. Although Mallinckrodt will have to sell off its U.S. license for the competing Novartis therapy, it has no obligation to lower Acthar's list price or hit pause on the price hikes since drug makers have carte blanche over their pricing in the U.S.

This highlights a critical moral hazard in the biopharma industry and the system of using fines to punish bad actors. Back when I was the editor of the trade publication BioPharma Dive, I had a fascinating conversation with Patrick Burns, Acting Executive Director and President of Taxpayers Against Fraud, a group that brings forward whistleblower cases under the anti-fraud False Claims Act. Burns argued that fines are ultimately ineffective because in the U.S., we 'privatize the profits and we communitize or communize, if you will, the costs.'

What Burns means is that, ultimately, news of a big fine can cause a short-term (and relatively insignificant) dent in a company's revenue stream and some PR backlash that can drive its stock price down (Mallinckrodt's shed about 7% of its market cap since the settlement). But ultimately, most of the people who suffer from that stock dip are the public and investors, not the executives who chose to engage in the bad behavior in the first place. That helps explain why some drug companies have been repeat offenders on practices like bribery and kickbacks.

Burns presented a much more provocative alternative to the fines system: ban the executives responsible for the fraud or other bad behavior from working in the industry for a number of years, or actually send them to jail.

Of course, that would be hard to do as long as our top political leaders are the best buddies of the multi-millionaires and billionaires who run the big pharmaceutical companies and other huge health care organizations that generate our health care dysfunction.

Summary and Discussion

Mallinkcrodt made settlements of four legal cases since 2010, involving kickbacks to physicians, various deceptions, and anti-competitive behavior.  The settlements never involved severe enough penalties to the company to really affect its bottom line, never required admission of responsibility, or any accountability by top executives whose huge remuneration were doubtlessly based on the revenues brought in by bad behavior.  Yet US Attorney General continued the Kabuki performance by proclaiming he would "hold them accountable."  Sessions just slapped the company on the wrist again, with a wet noodle.

That will show them.

This shows that despite all the hoopla lately about health care reform, our political debate completely misses most of the causes of our health care dysfunction.

There is suddenly a brief lull in the ongoing battle about whether to "repeal and replace Obamacare."  This was cast as a health care reform debate, but really at best "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) was a somewhat jury-rigged attempt to increase health insurance coverage without any substantial decrease in the US dependence on large often locally dominant for-profit insurance companies to provide health care insurance.  There was no serious discussion of alternatives, including "single-payer" government health insurance, much less a return to smaller non-profit insurance which might have some local accountability (see this post about Wendell Potter's Deadly Spin for an account of how non-profit insurance executives sold their organizations out to for-profits, greatly personally profiting from the process).

Even more to the point, there was no serious discussion of why US health care is the most expensive in the world, yet provides thoroughly mediocre service and outcomes, and still leaves many patients uninsured (see this LA Times article summarizing the latest Commonwealth Fund  report).

But while so many people are making fortunes from the current system, and are able to use their money to influence the ongoing debate, do not expect much change.  The case above is just one example showing how executives of big health care corporations can make millions while avoiding accountability for their actions.

As I have said until blue in the face,...

We will not make any progress reducing current health care dysfunction if we cannot have an honest conversation about what causes it and who profits from it.  True health care reform requires ending the anechoic effect, exposing the web of conflicts of interest that entangle health care, publicizing who benefits most from the current dysfunction, and how and why.  But it is painfully obvious that the people who have gotten so rich from the current status quo will use every tool at their disposal, paying for them with the money they have extracted from patients and taxpayers, to defend their position.  It will take grit, persistence, and courage to persevere in the cause of better health for patients and the public. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Inexact Sciences

Thoughts on the place of science in an era of false conviction

Some recent articles, noted by a few of us in journals regularly monitored by HCR bloggers, provide real food for thought in our New World Order of alternate facts, fake news and truthiness.

In a recent number of the still intrepidly pay-wall-free Guardian,  development economist John Rapley summarizes his new book Twilight of the Money Gods. This summary is the best we in the colonies can do until this month's UK publication of the full volume makes it to our shores. (Rapley, a true globalist, both an academic and a public intellectual experienced at teaching in several countries, is also a not infrequent Guardian contributor.)

Comes Rapley now to hammer home the point that research domains--his focus is economics--can ossify to the point that they become more like religions or belief systems, pace Mary Douglas's classic work Purity and Danger, than anything resembling exact sciences. By abandoning humility to project rigor and group-think, they undermine their own credibility. Think about the following statements, then, and mentally substitute "academic medicine" for economics.
"... [academic] departments were increasingly hiring and promoting young economists who wanted to build pure models with little empirical relevance."
One thinks, for example, about all the spurious metrics currently being applied to the assessment of "meaningful use" in electronic health records. Rapley goes on to elaborate and pose a partial solution. He notes that...
"...[w]hen the church retains its distance from power, and a modest expectation about what it can achieve, it can stir our minds to envision new possibilities and even new worlds. Once economists apply this kind of sceptical scientific method to a human realm in which ultimate reality may never be fully discernible, they will probably find themselves retreating from dogmatism in their claims.
By "power" one can read the unholy alliances with Big Money and managerialism oft-decried in HCR. By "retreating from dogmatism" one can read a renewal of alliances instead--well, let's go with Rapley's words: with ", demographic and anthropological work, and [the need] to work more closely with other disciplines."

His solution, then, through such alliances, is the restoration of narrative to a central role for poo-bahs of some of the more overly sterile reaches of EBM, medical informatics, and decision analysis. He quotes the authors of the recent Phishing for Phools, for whom "storytelling is a 'new variable' for economics, since 'the mental frames that underlie people’s decisions' are shaped by the stories they tell themselves."

Harvard cardiologist Lisa Rosenbaum, who's produced some admirable and at times controversial writing for years in NEJM and elsewhere, has a new piece that appeared simultaneously with Rapley's. She offers a way of refracting some of these same ideas through the lens of scientific medicine--or, more particularly, the crisis of trust by a "weary public" in the scientific process. Dr. Poses, in these e-pages of HCR, has frequently addressed this same issue of relativism where, to use Rosenbaum's example, people (this includes people with major political power in today's US of A) will be damagingly dubious about issues such as climate change. Yet at the same time we seem them devouring (so to speak) the claims of nutritional charlatans. Here I suppose she's speaking mainly of the views of those who both fund and popularize medical science, and the way the traditional establishment of science has been dethroned or at least, by many, seriously questioned.

It's a conundrum. The mandarins of science build their ivory tower and labor mightily in the effort of boundary maintenance (says Rapley); and yet they've lost ground (says Rosenbaum). "The fear of venturing into the fray," she observes, "means that the public hears far more from science’s critics than its champions. This imbalance contributes to 'science is broken' narratives ranging from claims about the pervasiveness of medical error to the insistence that benefits of our treatments are always overhyped and their risks underplayed."

Yet the prescriptions Rapley and Rosenbaum both offer seem rather similar: go back to telling the story. And here one can only agree most heartily. Telling the story works at two levels. At the level of domain knowledge, whether we're talking about economic behavior, clinical decision making, or the interpretation of Big Data, we need more interdisciplinary efforts to connect the dots between physiological, psychological, social and economic processes. And, then, at the level of telling the story about science itself--something about which Rosenbaum herself is greatly concerned--individuals in all the domains of science and medicine need to "learn to tell stories that emphasize that what makes science right is the enduring capacity to admit we are wrong. Such is the slow, imperfect march of science."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gutting the Health Care Corporate Strike Force

Health care corruption is a severe problem in the US, and globally.

For years, we have ranted about the US government's lackadaisical - to use an execessively polite term - approach to wrongdoing by big health care organizations.  The trend really got started back in the day when now Governor Chris Christie (R - NJ), then a federal prosecutor, started making deferred prosecution agreements available to corporations which appeared to have committed white collar crimes.  However, these agreements were originally meant to give young, non-violent first offenders a second chance.

Since then, we have noted the continuing impunity of top health care corporate managers.  Health care corporations have allegedly used kickbacks and fraud to enhance their revenue, but at best such corporations have been able to make legal settlements that result in fines that small relative to their  multibillion revenues without admitting guilt.  Almost never are top corporate managers subject to any negative consequences.

The Health Care Corporate Strike Force

The US Department of Justice during the Obama administration made some modest attempts to decrease such impunity.  One such measure was the formation of a Health Care Corporate Strike Force.

As reported by,

the strike force was created in the fall of 2015, with five dedicated lawyers working on about a dozen of the most complex corporate fraud cases in the health care space.

Andrew Weissmann, the then-chief of the DOJ’s fraud section, told a health care conference in April 2016 that the section was placing 'a heightened emphasis' on corporate health care fraud investigations. He pointed to the recently established Corporate Fraud Strike Force that he said would focus resources in investigation and prosecution of larger corporate health care law violations, as opposed to smaller groups or individuals.
The Downsizing of the Health Care Corporate Strike Force

But now, after candidate Donald Trump promised to 'drain the swamp,'

and railed against the supposed corruption of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (leading tochants of 'lock her up'), the Trump administration will further diminish this tiny attempt to reduce impunity, the report stated:

the DOJ, under the Trump administration and new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has announced new priorities: violent crime, drugs and illegal immigration.

In restructuring to focus on those priorities, the DOJ has gutted the Health Care Corporate Fraud Strike Force, according to at least two high-level sources who worked at the Justice Department until recently. The sources declined to be named, as being identified could affect their current jobs and clients.

The sources said the strike force has been cut from five full-time lawyers to only two – assistant chief Sally Molloy and trial attorney William Chang. And both are splitting their time in the strike force with other duties.

The DOJ declined an interview request for this story. But DOJ spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle issued this statement: 'The Health Care Corporate Strike Force, as with the entire health care fraud unit, is going strong under steady leadership—continuing to vigorously investigate and hold accountable individuals and companies that engage in fraud, including tackling an opioid epidemic that claimed 60,000 American lives last year.'

The Task Force had resolved one major case against for-profit hospital chain Tenet.  The Task Force alleged but Tenet actually admitted its

supervisors lied to in-house counsel about the purpose of millions of dollars in contracts, which purportedly were for 'services' but really were bribes and kickbacks to clinics and doctors for sending Medicaid patients to Tenet hospitals.

While its settlement included a non-prosecution agreement, the Task Force actions also resulted in two convictions and a pending indictment of actual people.


The lawyer openings on the strike force were exacerbated when, on April 14, Sessions imposed a hiring freeze on the DOJ’s Criminal Division as well as on U.S. Attorney Offices, as reported by The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the freeze memo.

Some DOJ lawyers believe, sources said, that white-collar crime and corporate fraud resources are being shifted to cover Sessions’ new priorities of violent crime, drugs and illegal immigration. That emphasis, they said, can be seen in who runs the DOJ’s criminal division.

Under former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, himself a white-collar crime prosecutor and then corporate defense attorney, assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell led the division. Caldwell specialized in securities fraud and white-collar crime, and had participated in the Enron Corp. prosecution.

Under Sessions, himself a former law and order prosecutor in Alabama, the criminal division now reports to deputy assistant attorney general Kenneth Blanco. Blanco has a long history of bringing cases centered on drugs and violent crime in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Southern Florida, and in Main Justice in Washington, D.C., where he served as chief of the narcotic and dangerous drug section at the DOJ.


So the Trump administration proposes two part time attorneys to drain the health care corporate swamp.  That seems like bailing out the Titanic with teaspoons. But should we expect anything else from an administration that is being increasingly identified with corruption and impunity itself?

We have frequently discussed outright corruption in health care as one of the most important causes of health care dysfunction.  Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as
Abuse of entrusted power for private gain

In 2006, TI published a report on health care corruption, which asserted that corruption is widespread throughout the world, serious, and causes severe harm to patients and society.
the scale of corruption is vast in both rich and poor countries.

Corruption might mean the difference between life and death for those in need of urgent care. It is invariably the poor in society who are affected most by corruption because they often cannot afford bribes or private health care. But corruption in the richest parts of the world also has its costs.

The report did not get much attention.  Since then, health care corruption has been nearly a taboo topic in the US.  When health care corruption is discussed in English speaking developed countries, it is almost always in terms of a problem that affects benighted less developed countries.  On Health Care Renewal, we have repeatedly asserted that health care corruption is a big problem in all countries, including the US, but the topic remains anechoic,. presumably mainly because its discussion would offend the people made rich and powerful by corruption.

As suggested by the recent Transparency International report on corruption in the pharmaceutical industry,  there is so much money to be made through pharmaceutical (and by implication, other health care corruption) that the corrupt have the money, power, and resources to protect their wealth accumulation by keeping it obscure.  In the TI Report itself,

However, strong control over key processes combined with huge resources and big profits to be made make the pharmaceutical industry particularly vulnerable to corruption. Pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to use their influence and resources to exploit weak governance structures and divert policy and institutions away from public health objectives and towards their own profit maximising interests.

I might as well repeat myself once again.  As I wrote in 2015, if we are not willing to even talk about health care corruption, how will we ever challenge it? 

So to repeat an ending to one of my previous posts on health care corruption....  if we really want to reform health care, in the little time we may have before our health care bubble bursts, we will need to take strong action against health care corruption.  Such action will really disturb the insiders within large health care organizations who have gotten rich from their organizations' misbehavior, and thus taking such action will require some courage.  Yet such action cannot begin until we acknowledge and freely discuss the problem.  The first step against health care corruption is to be able to say or write the words, health care corruption.

Musical Interlude

What else, the Honey Island Swamp Band, playing "Prodigal Son,"

Friday, July 07, 2017

More Dumb Things Politicians and Political Appointees Say About Health Policy

As we previously discussed, the fierce debate about whether to revise, or "repeal and replace Obamacare", more formally, the Affordable Care Act, continues in the US.  The legislators in the US House of Representatives, and then the US Senate who have written "repeal and replace" bills have done so without any obvious input from health care professionals, health care policy experts, or patients, much less legislators from the opposition party, and so far have impeded any consideration of these bills by legislative committees.  Nonetheless, many of the politicians involved in the debates, and other politicians who have addressed relevant issues, seem to feel free to comment on health care policy issues with reckless abandon.

We have recently found some more remarkable examples, discussed in chronologic order. 

Senator Ron Johnson (R - Wisconsin): Someone with a Pre-Existing Condition is Like "Somebody Who Crashes Their Car"

As reported by RawStory on June 25, 2017,

The Wisconsin Republican pointed to Obamacare rules that forbid insurance companies from charging more for people with preexisting conditions.

'We know why those premiums doubled,' he opined. 'We’ve done something with our health care system that you would never think about doing, for example, with auto insurance, where you would require auto insurance companies to sell a policy to somebody after they crash their car.'

The last phrase suggests Senator Johnson might be talking about people who deliberately crash their cars, or at best people who were at fault in a car crash.  Setting aside the consideration that sometimes fault in a car crash is hard to assign, he seems to be implying that all people with pre-existing conditions are at fault for for their conditions.  Yet, accidents thay may cause permananent injury are accidental.  Diseases are caused by many factors, or by factors unknown to modern science.  It is very hard to think of a disease whose occurrence is purely caused by choices made by the patient who is afflicted with it.  So it appears that Senator Johnson's argument rests on a logical fallacy: false analogy, in this case between car accidents and pre-existing conditions.

Middletown, OH, Councilman Dan Picard: Town Emergency Medical Technicians Should Deny Naloxone Treatment to Narcotic Addicts Who Have Overdosed Two or More Times Previously

As reported by the Huffington  Post on June 26, 2017,

'I want to send a message to the world that you don’t want to come to Middletown to overdose because someone might not come with Narcan and save your life,' Picard told Ohio’s Journal-News. 'We need to put a fear about overdosing in Middletown.'


But Picard seems to believe that EMS crews are working a bit too hard to stem the tide of overdoses, and is upset that taxpayers are footing the bill to revive people, many of whom are transients and not residents of Middletown, he says.

Picard also proposed that instead of immediately arresting or jailing overdose victims, they should receive a court summons and be required to work off the cost of treatment by completing community service. But there’s a catch.

'If the dispatcher determines that the person who’s overdosed is someone who’s been part of the program for two previous overdoses and has not completed the community service and has not cooperated in the program, then we wouldn’t dispatch,' said Picard.

Narcotic overdoses left untreated are often fatal. The article also quoted

Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland said some people have begun taking these casualties as a foregone conclusion.

'You hear from the public, ‘Why don’t you let them die?’' McFarland told the Dispatch. 'We’re not God; we don’t decide who lives or dies. … We have the ability to save them, so we do.'

That is the point. Emergency medical services have a duty to attempt to treat people with acute conditions that can be immediately fatal, otherwise they would be "playing God."  At best, Mr Picard seems unaware of the mission of emergency health services. 

Note that a Washington Post story on Mr Picard's new policy idea, published June 28, 2017, which quoted this argument the Councilman made in favor of his proposal,

a decision to not save repeat overdosers would be one of many that communities make about how much care they'll provide to dying people.

'If you have a toothache and you call Middletown, we’re not coming,' he said. 'For your heart attack, we’re not going to do the stint or your bypass. Decisions have been made about what services we’re going to provide. We need to make a decision about overdoses.'

Of course, this is another, and whopping example of a false analogy. Revascularization procedures for myocardial infarctions (coronary artery stents or coronary artery bypass grafting) cannot be done by emergency medical technicians and must be done in a hospital given current technology. So decisions about when to deploy these treatments are not made by EMTs, or City Councilmen for that matter.

By the way, the Huffington Post article noted that Mr Picard was not the first one to come up with the policy of withholding Naloxone to save money.  Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) apparently floated something similar in 2016. As reportedy by the Huffington Post in April, 2016:

LePage explained Wednesday that he blocked a bill to increase access to a life-saving overdose medication because the people it could save are just going to die later anyway.

'Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,' LePage wrote.

It was not the first time LePage had shared such a belief, but attaching it to his veto elevated it to a statement of official policy.

The state legislature later over-rode his veto. Note that Governor LePage apparently based his article on a faulty perception of the prognosis of patients who overdose.

'Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction,' he wrote.

While a staggering number of people have died as the result of the heroin and opioid epidemic, many have also recovered, and many more are waging battles with addiction they will eventually win. LePage’s assertion that everyone who overdoses once and lives will surely overdose again, rather than seek treatment and recover, is divorced from reality.

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway: Instead of Getting Medicaid, Able-Bodied People Should Find Jobs "Then They'll Have Employer-Sponsored Benefits Like You and Me"

As reported by Fortune on June 26, 2017,

In an interview on ABC's This Week on Sunday, Conway, counselor to President Trump, said that Obamacare expanded Medicaid to those who did not truly need it, because they were able to work. She was defending the Senate's proposed health care bill, which would make big cuts to Medicaid, by lowering the income limit for those who qualify, among other measures.

'Obamacare took Medicaid, which was designed to help the poor, the needy, the sick, disabled, also children and pregnant women, it took it and went way above the poverty line and opened it up to many able-bodied Americans,' she said. Those 'should probably find other — at least see if there are other options for them.'

She continued:

'If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they'll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.'

This was just a straight-forward, but important factual error.  Per Fortune,

Many Americans who are covered by Medicaid are already working, often in lower-paying jobs that may not have health insurance benefits, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, cited by CNBC.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin): If Insurance Prices Go Up, "It's Not Like People are Getting Pushed Off the Plan, It's That People Will Choose Not to Buy Something That They Don't Like or Want"

As reported by RawStory on June 27, 2017,

During an interview that aired on Tuesday, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade asked Ryan to respond to a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that said there would be 22 million more people without health insurance by 2026 if the Senate’s version of the health care bill is signed into law.

'What they are basically saying at the Congressional Budget Office, if you’re not going to force people to buy Obamacare, if you’re not going to force people to buy something they don’t want, then they won’t buy it,' the Speaker opined. 'So, it’s not that people are getting pushed off a plan, it’s that people will choose not to buy something that they don’t like or want.'

'And that’s the difference here,' he added. 'By repealing the individual and employer mandate, which mandates people buy this health insurance that they can’t afford, that they don’t like — if you don’t mandate that they’re going to do this then that many people won’t do it.'

Please note that the mandate to which he refers is a relatively small tax under "Obamacare" paid by people who do not have health insurance. Further note that under the proposed Senate bill, many poorer people would lose substantial subsidies of their health insurance. So Mr Ryan seems to be using linguistic sleight of hand.  He accepts the term "mandate" as literally true, allowing him to claim that the negative financial incentive which the "mandate" imposes while the negative financial incentive caused by losses of subsidies and increases in insurance prices is not.  A rose is not a rose when it's called something else? This is the logical fallacy of ambiguity, using double meanings or ambiguity of meaning in language to disguise the truth. 


Whether to maintain our current - admittedly Rube Goldberg-esque - system of financing health care, or to radically change it is a serious question.  The answer will affect the wellbeing, health, and even lifespan of many people.  The question should not be taken lightly.

So what to make of so many politicans and political appointees making pronouncements on whether to keep, or "repeal and replace Obamacare" that are based on major factual errors and logical fallacies?  The last time I took this on, I speculated whether health care policy has sunk into a swamp of postmodernism generated by years of exposure to the post-modernist stance of many in academia.  That may have been fanciful.

On the other hand, another speculation is that this is the result of "managerialism."  We have discussed the doctrine promoted in business schools that people trained in management should lead every type of human organization and endeavor.  Management by people from the disciplines most relevant to the mission and nature of particular organizations should be eschewed.  So managers, not physicians or other health care professionals, should lead health care organizations.  Following that theme, managers, or those like them, rather than health care professionals and health policy experts should lead health policy. 

However, managers who run health care organizations, or make policy, have an unfortunate tendency to be ill-informed (as well as unsympathetic if not hostile to health care professionals' value and the health care mission, and subject to perverse incentives that often put short-term revenue ahead of the health of patients and the population.)  And in the latest health care reform debate, some of the politicians and political appointees who are the de facto managers of health policy have disdained the advice of health care professionals and health policy experts.  

The causes of this trend are certainly open to debate.  However, I believe we should all be really worried about continued health care policy making by people who are driven by factual errors and non-evidence rather than evidence, and logical fallacies rather than sound reasoning.  We need health policy leadership that is well-informed, understands the health care mission, avoids self-interest and conflicts of interest, and is accountable, ethical and honest.   (Of course, we have often said we need leadership of health care organizations with these characteristics.)  Right now, we are not coming close.  Woe is us.