Saturday, March 17, 2007

When is discrimination against women not considered discrimination?

When the Federal Appeals Court is involved. In a brilliantly circuitous line of reasoning, the majority Republican panel decided that the exclusion of contraceptives from Union Pacific’s insurance plans was not discriminatory, as it also excluded condoms and vasectomies.

However, the Democratic appointee, to the panel, Judge Bye, dissented, perceptively noting that there is an inequality in terms of the medical effect of the lack of coverage since “This failure only medically affects females, as they bear all of the health consequences of unplanned pregnancies.”

According to the NYTimes, “The appellate panel explicitly rejected a 2000 decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act required employers to cover prescription contraception for women if they covered prescription drugs and devices used to prevent other medical conditions.” and that “Union Pacific’s health plans did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act because contraception is not related to pregnancy.”

They brilliantly concluded, “Contraception is a treatment that is only indicated prior to pregnancy …Contraception is not a medical treatment that occurs when or if a woman becomes pregnant; instead contraception prevents pregnancy from even occurring.”

It is reassuring to know that Rogaine, for men’s baldness, and Viagra will still be covered as medically necessary drugs.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More Partisan Politics Plays at the FDA

First we had that embarrassment, veterinarian and religious zealot Dr. Lester Crawford, appointed as head to the FDA. Later in 2005, we had the FDA ignoring its own advisory board’s recommendations regarding Plan B, the emergency contraceptive that, were it readily available over the counter, would avoid unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

Susan Wood, the head of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH), resigned in protest over this turn of events and then was initially replaced by appointment of another veterinarian, Edwin Foulke, by President Bush. Shows how highly women are regarded by this administration. (See the late and sorely missed Molly Ivins’ column for an astute review . So that plan failed and instead, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach was appointed head of the FDA after a pointed confirmation battle.

Dr. Wood made some insightful recommendations regarding getting the FDA back on track as a trusted, scientifically based agency.

Unfortunately, the feds don’t appear to have read her thoughtful comments. In apparent retaliation for the Plan B dispute, the OWH “just had more than one-quarter of this year's $4 million operating budget quietly removed,” according to Rick Weiss in the Washington Post. This would effectively incapacitate the office for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Recognizing the important work the Office of Women’s Health achieves, a broad coalition, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association and women’s groups are petitioning congress to restore this funding, critical to women’s health. Please urge your congressional representatives to support this move to reinstate funding, as proposed by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and hope that reason will prevail for once over vindictiveness and petty partisan politics.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Government Misplaces Priorities Again

Business beats people’s needs in battle over bugs

At least the Feds are consistent—supporting business rather than the public. In this case the FDA is prepared to allow the use of an antibiotic called Cefquinome in animals—this, despite the strong warnings and opposition from its own advisory board, from infectious disease experts, and from other highly respected groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Infectious Diseases Society has previously called attention to growing problem of antibiotic resistant organisms in “Bad Bugs, No Drugs.” At the same time as there is increasing resistance, most pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn from the antibiotic development business, and there are very few new antibiotics in the pipeline. Cefquinome, like the already-marketed cefepime, is in the “4th generation cephalosporin” class of antibiotics, a class generally reserved for use in serious infections with resistant bacteria.

The FDA’s guidance #152 is quite narrow and allows use of antibiotics in animals unless it can be shown to be harmful only to patients with food-borne diseases. In contrast, the World Health Organization recommends against such approval if there is likely to be resistance for any serious human disease.

If history repeats itself, the use of cefquinome in animals will rapidly result in bacteria resistant to cefquinome infecting people, as has happened with other antibiotics.

With there being so few antibiotics available, it is foolish to squander our limited resources, putting the public at risk. This is yet another demonstration of this government’s pattern of listening to money rather than reason, ignoring its own expert advisors, and wasting dwindling resources.