What We're Reading: More Links to NIH and Alcohol Lobby; California Sues Sutter Health; VA Legal Implications

The National Institutes of Health's alcohol chief told an industry official in an email he would stop research about marketing to teens; California sues Sutter Heath, alleging antitrust violations; whether the Department of Veterans Affairs chief resigned or not could have broader implications for the agency.

NIH's Alcohol Chief Told Industry He Would Stop Research on Marketing to Teens

The director of the National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), George Koob, told the alcohol beverage industry he would stop certain research to which the industry objected and subjected 2 academic researchers to a profanity-laced tirade, according to STAT. The reasearchers, from Boston University and Johns Hopkins University, had published respected papers about alcohol marketing and teenagers, angering the industry. The industry official Koob had emailed previously worked at NIAAA. Other publications have previously reported that Koob was trying to get industry funding for studies to see whether “moderate” drinking was good for the heart.

California Sues Sutter Heath for Antitrust

California’s attorney general filed an antitrust lawsuit against Sutter Health, the dominant healthcare system in the northern part of the state, and accused it of overcharging consumers and employers, CaliforniaHealthline reported. The lawsuit comes as concerns grow about national consolidation among hospitals, insurers, and other industry middlemen. The lawsuit alleged Sutter uses a variety of improper tactics, such as gag clauses on prices, “punitively high” out-of-network charges, and “all-or-nothing” contract terms that require all of its facilities to be included in insurance networks.

Whether VA Chief Resigned or Not Could Have Broader Implications for Agency

Any formal reform actions Robert Wilkie takes as acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs could face a legal challenge, Politico reported, as a debate played out over the weekend as to whether David Shulkin, MD, resigned or was fired by President Donald Trump. By naming Wilkie, a Defense Department official, Trump bypassed Shulkin’s deputy, who was next in line to succeed him. That decision has reignited a debate among legal experts about the president’s ability to select replacements for ousted Cabinet secretaries. The debate centers on vague language in a 1998 law which gives the president broad authority to temporarily fill a vacancy at a federal agency with an acting official if the current office holder “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” Shulkin is denying that he resigned. Some legal experts note that the law does not explicitly grant that authority to the president in the case of firings. That could make Trump’s decision to appoint Wilkie a potential test of presidential authorities.