Aaron Freiwald

Welcome to The Law Matters

This blog is dedicated to thought and discussion about how to make the law matter positively for individuals and families.

Is Hazing Putting You In Danger?
Nurse Hazing

Hazing.  The word conjures images of frat boys pranking freshman pledges all in good fun. Of course, we know that all too often there is nothing fun or innocent about fraternity hazing on college campuses.  Fraternity hazing often involves excessive drinking and illicit drug use, violent physical abuse, and sexual assault.  The James Vivenzio whistle [...]

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Don’t use the Soap!
Antibacterial Soap

Those little bottles of anti-bacterial soap that people clip on to their purses and backpacks in recent years seem to have spread like a virus.  And now, it turns out, this product may not even work and — worse yet — might actually be dangerous. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that [...]

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Frankenfish Fillet? I’ll have the salad instead.

The FDA has now declared an answer to the first question, proclaiming GM salmon safe for consumption. For the FDA, the lack of convincing scientific evidence that GM salmon is unsafe for human consumption is good enough to declare that it is safe.

This is lousy logic, but that is the way the FDA works. The kind of scientific research that could document the real health concerns about GM salmon takes a lot of time and a lot of money, money that just isn’t available from public or private sources. The biotech industry proclaims that the gene-altered fish is safe and it doesn’t seem to matter that these companies have an obvious financial interest in saying so.

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  Even if you’re not preparing to send a son or daughter to college for the first time, the signs of the start of a new semester are inescapable. From the incessant pre-season football frenzy to the endless lines at your local Target, nobody is immune to the higher education version of back-to-school hype. While [...]

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My GI Doc’s Hand is Out

Now that we have all given thanks, and now that the day of mob shopping is thankfully behind us, now begins the season of giving. I mean, charitable giving. Many of us are thinking about which organizations and causes we want to support financially and about writing those checks before the end of the year.

So it is not surprising at all that every day’s mail brings more and more solicitations to my home, as well as so many telephone solicitations, from innumerable worthy causes: the ASPCA, United Way, Planned Parenthood, and many other organizations and groups that we support and that would like our support.

What was surprising was getting a fundraising solicitation from my gastroenterologist.

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The $35 Solution

So much has been written about the excesses of health care and ways to reform, cut, improve or save the system. I have a more modest proposal: Read the medical bill and get annoyed, like I did.

A year ago, our firm switched to a health savings account (HSA) system. Previously, we had fully paid for our employee’s health insurance. Under the new system, each employee has an HSA account and pays for health care services up to a specified dollar amount per year, the deductible, out of that account. Once the individual reaches the deductible limit, insurance pays for all further services needed. At our firm, the partners decided to pay the amount of each employee’s deductible. For the employee, this means no out of pocket costs. Meanwhile, the price of our firm’s overall health insurance costs annually went down.

I haven’t come to the proposal yet; but the HSA system led me to my proposal.

Now, when I go to the doctor, the bill still goes to my insurance company – that way, they can track how much of my deductible I have used – and then I get a statement for the amount I must pay for that doctor visit. I send a check in to the doctor’s office and keep a copy for my records.

Since our move to an HSA system, I am far more keenly aware of what health care costs. That is part of the point of this approach. If health care consumers are brought into closer contact with the business of medicine – by actually writing a check each time a health care service is provided – then the consumer may exercise some restraint in how health care dollars are spent.

Well, I have been brought into closer contact with the business of medicine and I am not happy.

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The Truth Opaque

The retained surgical sponge case is probably the most classic example of clear-cut medical malpractice. When a surgeon or nurse leaves a surgical sponge or instrument inside a patient’s body during surgery, Pennsylvania law recognizes that this is an error so obviously beneath accepted standards of care that the usual rules requiring a Plaintiff to have a medical expert are relaxed.

We would all like to think that these kinds of medical mistakes are uncommon. The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PSA), in a startling report issued recently, tells us otherwise. Here is a link to the report. http://patientsafetyauthority.org/ADVISORIES/AdvisoryLibrary/2012/Sep;9(3)/Pages/106.aspx.

In 2011, there were a shocking 452 reported cases involving a retained sponge, medical instrument, surgical needle or other item, according to the PSA’s September 2012 advisory, “Update on the Prevention of Retained Surgical Items.” The Advisory also reports on various measures different organizations have recommended to suggest clearer hospital guidelines. The hope is that more coherent hospital policies will reduce this incidence of retained surgical items.

For a number of reasons, I don’t believe guidelines and policies alone are sufficient to address this problem.

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Medical Liability: Focus Should Be Patient Safety

Why do conservative politicians and lawmakers continue to bark about the need for medical tort reform? Why does ALEC and other corporate lobbying groups want so badly to limit the rights of those most seriously injured because of medical errors? After all, every legitimate study shows that the “cost” of medical liability payments to those who are the victims of medical malpractice represents but a nanoparticle out of total annual health care costs.

When the administrative office of Pennsylvania’s court system issues data on the numbers of case filings, the number of medical malpractice cases is consistently down from its high points. Data on the results of jury verdicts, even in the “judicial hellhole” that is Philadelphia (as characterized by tort-reform proponents), show a overwhelming advantage for the defendant doctor or hospital.

Even prominent tort reform advocates admit, when pressed, that our legal system is not being inundated with frivolous medical malpractice claims. Victor Schwartz, the general of the American Tort Reform Association, one of the most influential voices for curbing the rights of victims of tort reform, has conceded: “It is ‘rare or unusal’ for a plaintiff lawyer to bring a frivolous malpractice suit because they are too expensive to bring.”

Why do Republicans continue to press this issue then? The answer, plain and simple, is money. Any rule or restriction that limits recovery for those injured by medical mistakes – such as a cap on the amount of monetary damages a plaintiff may recover in a civil lawsuit – means more money in the hands of medical malpractice insurance companies.

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Junk Food: Time for a New Prohibition?

Let’s face it, so many of us battle an addiction to junk food. As a kid, I loved Hostess chocolate cupcakes. In college, Cap’n Crunch fueled many a group study session. As an adult, I mostly eat healthy foods – except for chocolate chip cookies. And an occasional ice cream. And . . .

For many Americans, junk food – foods high in calories, sugar and fat but low in nutritional value – is the staple of every day’s diet. And it shows.

There is no denying that we face an obesity epidemic in our country. Nor is there any denying that pervasive obesity is having an belt-busting impact on health care. Health care costs attributable to diabetes alone – according to the American Diabetes Association – account for 1 in every 10 health care dollars annually. That doesn’t even count lost time from work, reduced productivity and other economic consequences of the disease.

So, what is wrong with the idea of regulating junk food as a means to better health? When New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently proposed outlawing jumbo-sized sugary soda drinks, he ignited a firestorm. The proposal had nothing to do with outright banning Coke or Mountain Dew, but libertarians barked anyway at the idea of any government encroachment into personal choices.

What about my personal choices? Dietary decisions are a significant cause of obesity, which leads to higher rates of chronic disease, which leads to greater demand for health care, which leads to super-sized health care costs. Widespread obesity in our country, in short, affects us all.

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GMO: Put A Label On It!

Can you imagine grocery shopping and having the supermarket manager tell you that the labels had been removed from all the products on the store’s shelves? Unthinkable! Unimaginable!

So why then is there such intense opposition to the idea that product labels should include disclosure of any genetically engineered ingredients? After all, public opinion overwhelmingly favors GMO labeling. A 2011 New York Times poll found 89 percent of Americans want labeling of GMO products. Separate polls conducted last year by MSNBC and ABC reached similar results: Nine of ten Americans favor mandatory GMO labeling.

Accurate product disclosure allows consumers to make informed choices. When it comes to food, we should be concerned and aware of what we are putting in our bodies and in our children’s bodies. Who could argue with an idea so obviously worthwhile?

Agricultural and chemical company interests and their allies oppose GMO labeling, that’s who. And these companies, led by industry bogeyman Monsanto, have the money, the political and lobbying muscle and the financial interest to fight against the popular will.

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