Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Obamacare": Is it constitutional?

Debaters at the Charlotte School of Law last week didn't scream or shout like pundits on cable TV. But they did disagree over whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, approved by Congress last year, is constitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the question in the next few months.
Charlotte law students got a preview of the arguments. Elizabeth Wydra, general counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, took the affirmative, and Nelson Lund, professor of constitutional law at George Mason University, argued for the negative.

The structured debate gave each speaker 10 minutes, followed by limited time for rebuttal and questions. There were no hecklers in the audience, no U.S. flags hanging in the background, and no cheap shots. When Lund used the term "Obamacare," a pejorative used by opponents of the law, he took time to explain that even President Obama has recently "endorsed" the term.

Debate centered on the "individual mandate," the law's requirement that every citizen buy health insurance or pay a penalty, and whether it is allowed by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8), which gives Congress the right to make laws regulating commerce among the states.

Wydra said the mandate is constitutional because it "regulates the means by which people pay for health-care services" across the country. U.S. hospitals are required to treat people who show up at the ER even if they don't have insurance.
"They will run up a bill that they can't afford to pay," she said. "But someone will pay it" -- namely other patients with private insurance and other taxpayers.

Uninsured people may seek care in hospitals outside their home states, she said. The decision to "opt out" of buying insurance "profoundly affects the nation as a whole" and, thus, falls within the Commerce Clause, she said.

Lund countered that the Commerce Clause pertains to economic activity. "Failing to purchase health insurance is not an economic activity. It's not an activity at all."

"Never before has Congress tried to use this power to force Americans to buy things they don't want...It's a completely novel idea."

Instead of relying on the Commerce Clause, Lund said Congress could have used its taxing powers to raise money to pay for insurance coverage for all citizens. But President Obama had promised not to raise taxes on middle-class Americans. "This is a stealth tax operating in the guise of a regulation of commerce," Lund said. "Just because Congress can do something under one of its powers is not enough reason to expand another power."

Wydra responded that the mandate is allowed under the Commerce Clause because Congress is allowed to pass laws that are "necessary and proper" to carry out its enumerated powers. Without the mandate, and without large pools of healthy people who are less expensive to insure, insurance companies wouldn't be able to afford to extend coverage to all citizens, including those with pre-existing medical conditions. The mandate, she said, is part of a larger "scheme" to overhaul health care. "No one can possibly argue that health services reform is not an appropriate commercial regulation."

Lund countered that if Congress can require citizens to buy health insurance, it could also require them to buy broccoli. "It's not now a part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme, but it could easily become one."

No winner was declared. And neither speaker would predict what the Supreme Court will do. We'll all just have to wait.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

N.C. researcher helped with "Henrietta Lacks"

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" is a book that tells the story of a young African American woman from Virginia whose aggressive cervical cancer in 1951 gave rise to unusual HeLa cells -- named from the first two letters of her first and last names.

Neither Lacks nor anyone in her family knew that doctors and researchers took her cells, replicated them, tested and sold them as they conducted research into the nature of cancer.

Author Rebecca Skloot spent 10 years tracking Lacks family members, who were frequently confused when they learned Henrietta's cells continued to live even after she died.

Skloot consulted many scientists as she prepared her manuscript. One of them was Dr. David Kroll, chairman of the department of pharmaceutical sciences at N.C. Central University, whose studies on the action of anti-cancer drugs have made extensive use of HeLa cells.

Kroll will talk about his experience from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at UNC Charlotte's Barnhardt Student Activity Center, Salons D and E.

Kroll's talk is titled: "A Black Woman, a White Boy, and a PhD: A Grateful Scientist's Reflections on the Henrietta Lacks Story."

UNCC promoters say he will share "in approachable language the major advances made with HeLa cells that continue to serve humanity today." He will tell his story of working with Skloot and the Lacks family while serving on the board of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, dedicated to providing medical and educational grants to descendants of those who unknowingly participated in and made contributions to biomedical research.

Seating is limited. Reservations are required:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Find out more about ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer survivors and their loved ones are invited to a free program to learn more about the disease and celebrate survivorship Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy.

Some of the country's top experts in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecological cancers will be in Charlotte Friday for a symposium at Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy.

Speakers will include gynecological oncology specialists from Carolinas Medical Center, Duke University, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Washington University and Ohio State University.

The target audience for this day-long event is doctors, nurses and other health-care providers. For details or to register:; 704-512-6596.

See also:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Caregiving is tough: Learn more about it

Taking care of a loved one who is ill or disabled can be a fulltime job. It often takes an emotional, financial and physical toll on the caregiver.

Queens University of Charlotte and The Ivey are hosting five workshops on Saturday mornings in October, to train caregivers on everything from how to handle daily activities and finances to end-of-life care.

The first workshop is Oct. 1 and is offered at two different times, from 9 to 11 a.m. or 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Queens/Presbyterian School of Nursing, 1901 E. Fifth St.

Later workshops will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Queens Sports Complex & Conference Center, 2229 Tyvola Road.

Register for the first workshop separately for $35. For later sessions, registration is $69 per workshop or $214 for the final four as a package. Call 704-337 2251.

For the last four workshops, The Ivey's adult day care center, 6030 Park South Dr., will open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow workshop participants to drop off elderly family members, for $20 per person. Registration for adult day care is required by calling in advance, 704-909-2070. Breakfast and lunch are provided.

For details:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walk for Rachael on Oct. 15

You may have seen the billboard on I-85 North in Charlotte, between Graham Street and Sugar Creek Road.

It announces the Energy for Life Walkathon on Oct. 15 at Freedom Park in Charlotte.

The billboard is owned by David and Bellita Jacobson, who donated the space to promote the walkathon in memory of their niece, Rachael Albertson. She's the daughter of Josh and Shari Albertson of Concord. (David Jacobson and Josh Albertson own Austin Canvas and Awning in Charlotte, and Bellita Jacobson is Josh Albertson's aunt.)

Rachael died Dec. 16, 2008, of mitochondrial disease when she was only 10. She had attended Carolina International School in Harrisburg and R. Brown McAllister Elementary in Concord.

Mitochondrial disease occurs when the mitochondria, the cells' power producers, become unable to convert food into energy. For many, it's an inherited condition. For some, it is triggered by damage to the mitochondria.

Rachael's illness developed after surgery to remove her tonsils and adenoids. Her parents trace her mitochondrial damage to an anesthetic, called Propofol, that she received during the surgery when she was 6.

So little is known about mitochondrial disease that Rachael went undiagnosed for more than three years, Shari Albertson says. Sudden hearing loss was the first sign that something was wrong. But the hearing loss was misdiagnosed, and other organ failure went undetected until it was too late. Rachael's parents believe her death was hastened because she didn't receive appropriate care.

The Albertsons' started a foundation, "Rachael's Gift," to raise money that they hope to use to "educate the doctors and bring awareness to the medical community," Shari Albertson said.

The walkathon starts at 10:00 a.m. Oct. 15, with registration at 8:30 a.m. The Post-Walk Program is from 11 to 11:30.

The walk is organized by the Carolina Foothills Chapter of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. For details:, or