CTLS Conference Examines Health Care From a Global Perspective

June 24, 2014 — Health care spending is not just a concern in the United States but around the world, as governments balance the desire for universal coverage with budgetary realities. A half-day conference sponsored by the Center for Transnational Legal Studies (CTLS) in London brought together experts from around the world to discuss “The Welfare State in Crisis: Health Spending v. Other Social Needs” in Georgetown Law’s Gewirz Student Center on June 19.

Georgetown Law Professor M. Gregg Bloche, academic co-director of CTLS for 2013-2014, noted that by 2011, medical spending as a percentage of gross domestic product had reached double digits in nine countries, with the United States leading the way. Yet anecdotal evidence shows that pouring money into high-end medical technologies — as governments are now pressured to do — may not have the best results. 

“What’s remarkable to me is how similar these pressures are in different societies,” Bloche said, adding that the pressure can come from drug and medical device companies, doctors, hospitals and others who benefit financially. “But these players would not be so potent were it not for the primal appeal of rescue. We fear for ourselves and we fight for our loved ones when we or they are in dire circumstances.”

Speakers including University of Toronto Professors Trudo Lemmens and Kent Roach (both past faculty of CTLS), University of Melbourne Professor Ann O’Connell (currently on the CTLS faculty) and Maria Louisa Escobar of the World Bank Institute and the Brookings Institution explored such topics as how tax subsidies distort health spending; how stakeholders such as drug and medical device companies contrive to keep adverse clinical trial data secret; and how health care spending crowds out other social needs.

“The most challenging part [of universal health coverage] is deciding what to give to people” — establishing priorities that everyone will accept, Escobar said. One hundred and fifteen countries now recognize a right to health in their constitutions, a right that some patients and health care industry stakeholders have exploited to divert resources from basic needs to high-technology spending, with marginal benefits.

Commentators included Georgetown Law Professor from Practice Timothy Westmoreland; Adjunct Professor Diane Millman; the Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein; and Professor Julian Lopez-Murcia from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Law School in Bogota, Colombia (also a CTLS faculty member). CTLS Executive Director Scott Foster was also in attendance. The program was put on with support from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

The Center for Transnational Legal Studies is a one-of-a-kind educational and research partnership between the faculty and students of Georgetown and 23 other law schools worldwide. It was launched in 2008.