Another Obamacare?

On December 13, 2016 President Obama signed H.R.34 and so, the 21st Century Cures Act became law. Sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici* (D-OR) and co-sponsored in a bipartisan manner, many say this is the biggest legislation of Obama’s presidency, after the Affordable Care Act.  However, just like the Affordable Care Act, the bill has its detractors.

H.R. 34 first was introduced on January 6, 2015, “to accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of 21st century cures, and for other purposes,” as the bills synopsis states.  The 21st Century Cures Act addresses mental (neurological) disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, trys to find a cure for cancer and pays special attention on America’s current opioid epidemic.  Though many articles do not mention that H.R. 34 specifically supports tbi research, an overview of the bill shows that of the $6.3 billion allocated to medical research, $1.5 billion are alloted to the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (BRAIN Initiative).  (As I note in a previous article, BRAIN is associated with tbi research.)  “Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, applauded President Obama for signing the 21st Century Cures Act into law… [as he says] the 21st Century Cures Act will advance medical research, fund the fight… towards mental health reform. As a leader in medical innovation, New Jersey and [medical] institutions… stand to benefit from 21st century cures investments in medical research.”

Beyond research, though, the bill focuses on pharmaceuticals.  It is with this that many take issue.  Currently, the FDA has to approve the efficacy and safety of all medications or medical devices before they go on market.  Going through the government’s red tape can take years.  “Under the Cures Act, companies will be allowed to submit observational data and ‘in house’ registry data as evidence for the safety and efficacy of a new product.”  The bill’s proponents attest that this will significantly reduce the cost of medication, thereby promoting research and development.  Detractors, like myself, worry that getting rid of the “safety and efficacy” red tape may mean less safe and ineffective drugs.

*Another bill, also called the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6), was introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) on May 19. 2015.  In Uptons words, “21st Century Cures is an innovative game-changer and a truly once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our healthcare system light years ahead of where it is today.”  The last action on this bill was on July 13, 2015, when it was referred to the Committee of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions by the Senate.  (Word-for-word, H.R.34 and H.R.6 have the same synopsis, so they essentially seem to be the same bill.)

John Glenn: Astronaut, Politician and TBI Survivor

This past Saturday, December 17, was the memorial service for aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio, John Glenn.  The first man to orbit the Earth, metaphorically left the world on December 8, 2016.  What many are not aware of, though, is that beyond his time in space, Glenn’s success in the U.S. Senate occurred after he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

In the past, I have written about the issue of space travel and brain injury.  “On February 20, 1962, [Glenn] flew the Friendship 7 mission and became the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person in space.”  However, reports and profiles show that Glenn did not suffer any mental calamities during his time working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 1964, however, Glenn started his political career, announcing his candidacy for Senator in his home state of Ohio.  Soon after, though, he withdrew his candidacy, as he was injured in a bathroom fall in his Ohio home.  Glenn’s hit to his head was not a mere bump because, as a biography on the Ohio State University website says, “The injury left him bedridden with severe vertigo and unable to campaign.”  Presumptively, vertigo was not the only issue the Glenn had after his fall, even ten years later New York Times referred to it as a “serious head injury”.  However, at the time, the media was not as intrusive as it is now, so even celebrities had some degree of privacy.*

Glenn devoted his life to government service.  Before his time at NASA, he served in the Marines in World War II and the Korean War.  After his time in space, and after his recovery from a TBI, he was a Senator for Ohio for 25 years.  As NASA writes in Glenn’s online biography, “John Glenn, became a national hero and a symbol of American ambition,” after he became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.  The fact that he embarked on a successful political career following a traumatic brain injury makes Glenn an inspiration to the disabled population, too.

*For example, “in 1970, Glenn ran a campaign that relied on his celebrity and patriotic image to draw crowds to his stump speeches. He lost…”  As a personal note that you may disagree with, I ask:  Using celebrity, instead of substance, as the cornerstone of a campaign – who does that remind you of?  (In his later, successful campaigns, Glenn campaigned with celebrity AND substance.)

NHL Commissioner Bettman Denies the Obvious

Hockey is, essentially, thought of as America’s winter sport.  This year, the National Hockey League started its play for the 2016-2017 season, the 100th season of the NHL (99th season of play), on October 12, 2016 with four games in which the Ottawa Senators, the Edmonton Oilers, the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks won.  Since the teams have already started their season, it is relevant now to look at what the government is doing to support safe play for professional and amateur ice hockey players.

This year, on October 6, four members of the Legislative Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to Commissioner Gary Bettman about the issue of CTE, brain injury, and the NHL.  Specifically, Hon. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). Hon. Gene Green (D-TX), Hon. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Hon. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), wrote to Bettman, “to request information on the National Hockey League’s (NHL) policies and procedures for the prevention and treatment of concussions and related head injuries…. [as] there is significant scientific evidence to support a link between the types of concussive and subconcussive hits inherent to the game of hockey and brain injury.”  (It seems evident to me that having your head hit repeatedly thoughout the season will result in head trauma.)  The Committee members also noted that participation in contact sports as a youth may increase the likelihood of developing CTE.

In response, on October 24, Bettman wrote a letter to the Committee that stated the National Hockey League/National Hockey League Players’ Association is very concerned about the health of its players.  Prior to this season, for example, the NHL updated its concussion protocol so that it is now mandatory to remove an athlete from play if the coach sees that the player has been physically or neurologically hurt and to then get the player evaluated by a certified athletic trainer.  However, the Committee says that Bettman’s letter of response sounds, “a little bit like the tobacco industry, when it comes to linking concussions with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).”

Ironically though, just as there are some Congress members who are smokers, annually there is a Congressional Hockey Challenge.  Begun in 2009, “The Congressional Hockey Challenge is a 501(c)(3) organization committed to ensuring that the incredible and dynamic sport of ice hockey is accessible to everyone who wants to play.”  On the Congressional games website, one can note that the game is played for lawmakers’ enjoyment, yes, but also to benefit charity.  This year, the game was played on March 2nd and had five Congressmen on the ice.  Even Bettman, who criticizes Congress, as the above paragraph notes, attended the event in support of the team and the cause.

Personally, just as I believe should be true for all other sports, I do not believe it should be the role of Congress to determine the rules of professional sports, especially one that they enjoy themselves.  Education is the key.  Players need to be informed, by the team and by former players who have suffered the horrible lasting effects of brain injury, of the possible consequences of violent defense in the game and post-game fights.  More so, the National Hockey League needs to fully enforce its concussion/head injury rules.