The recent past has not been kind to federal regulators.
Regulators need to regulate
For health and safety issues, the nation needs watchdogs to be on guard
Start with the incredible failure of oversight involving the banking and mortgage-lending industries that contributed to the economic morass we’re still slogging through. We may never know the extent of damage inflicted when the housing bubble burst, helping to launch the Great Recession in December 2007. While the economy may be showing stronger vital signs, we’re reminded of all that went wrong every time new foreclosure data are released.
Meanwhile, as congressional testimony from top Toyota Motor Corp. executives highlighted last week, consumer safety can never be taken for granted. Here’s a company whose very name has long been equated with high quality and technological refinement, yet 8.5 million of its vehicles are now under recall amid an investigation into deaths and injuries caused by some of its cars.
What came to light in recent reporting on this probe was the company’s haggling with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, leading to a modified recall and saving Toyota $100 million at the same time. Again, regulators stumbled badly.
Over at the Food and Drug Administration, it looks like more of the same. This time, at issue is a once top-selling diabetes drug called Avandia, made by GlaxoSmithKline. Last month brought a scathing report resulting from a multiyear Senate investigation into the drug initiated after data showed that the patients taking the medicine were at high risk of suffering heart attacks and heart failure.
As the New York Times reported, a study by the Cleveland Clinic back in 2007 indicated that the drug could be harmful to patients’ hearts, prompting the FDA to issue a warning. Some FDA doctors called for the drug to be pulled. A panel of independent experts also cited the same risks but recommended the drug stay on the market. An FDA oversight board later voted 8-to-7 to side with the panel, according to the Times, which detailed a “fierce debate within the agency” over what course of action to take with Avandia.
The drugmaker stands by its product, and more studies are under way, but the question remains whether the FDA acted with the best interests of patients in mind.
More recently, reports of radiation overdoses from routine imaging procedures and other medical treatments are also leading to calls for stepped-up regulation of the industry to try to establish stronger patient safeguards.
Throughout the healthcare reform debate, there has been a constant drumbeat of calls for a lesser role for government. For the nascent Tea Party movement, “limited government” is one of its tenets. While regulatory missteps hint at bureaucratic fumbling and might give traction to such calls, when it comes to vital health and safety matters, that wouldn’t be a prudent approach. The issue here is diligence and competence among regulators.
And let’s not forget self-regulation. Companies and corporations have a direct responsibility to their customers and communities regarding their products and services. If there’s a problem—even the potential for a problem—admit it. That certainly applies to healthcare providers as well.
There are some things only government can do, and most taxpayers are willing to foot the bill. For example, most of us are willing to pay more to make sure our country has clean air and drinking water. We all want to ensure our aging nuclear power plants are operating safely. We finance research to be fairly certain drugs promote healing, not lead to dying.
Private watchdog groups can shine a spotlight on problems and help educate, but only government can regulate. They just need to be serious about it.
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