Pew Health Group (from Pew Prospectus 2010)

Source Organization: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Author: Shelley A. Hearne

03/15/2010 - Americans should not have to worry about hidden dangers in the products they use every day—in the medicines they take, the food they eat or the financial and consumer items they rely on.

The Pew Health Group implements Pew founder Joseph N. Pew Jr.’s vision of telling the truth and trusting the people by shining a light on potential and actual hazards in these products while advocating for policies and practices that reduce unacceptable risks to the health and well-being of the American public.

For instance, credit cards can be an effective means to manage cash flows or finance important purchases, but they also pose dangers. Credit card users can fall prey to lenders who modify agreements and create extra charges, which can leave individuals and families with long-term financial challenges.

Much anecdotal evidence about lender abuse has emerged in recent years. In partnership with the Sandler Foundation, the Pew Health Group conducted a quantitative examination into consumer use of credit cards, studying industry products, practices and revenues. We found that a full 100 percent of the almost 400 credit cards offered online by the leading card issuers included methods defined by the Federal Reserve Board as “unfair or deceptive.”

Drawing from comprehensive research, Pew staff established the Pew Safe Credit Card Standards and clear guidelines to protect cardholders. Then the team worked diligently to see credit card reforms put into law by sharing our findings with legislative staff on Capitol Hill.

Our efforts contributed to significant reform that simplifies pricing and allows people to make better- informed decisions. In the end, many of the Pew standards became key elements of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, which President Obama signed last May. As the government implements the act, our financial security team continues to advocate for strict adherence to the legislation and transparency in credit card practices.

The Pew Health Group has applied this same winning combination—rigorous research followed by diligent advocacy when the facts are clear—to address concerns in the food and pharmaceutical industries.

The public should not fear that the food they eat might send them or a loved one to the hospital, yet our nation relies on food safety laws put into place by President Theodore Roosevelt over 100 years ago. Contamination in foods such as cookie dough, peanut butter and spinach has resulted in food-borne illnesses across the nation. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the nation has 76 million food-related illnesses and 5,000 deaths annually.

Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have the power to recall contaminated foods or require companies to regularly test their food and report any contamination to the agency, and it inspects food-producing factories an average of only once per decade.

The Pew Health Group has been striving over the past two years to modernize the woefully outdated food safety statute. We lead the Make Our Food Safe coalition, which includes consumer and public health groups and organizations representing victims of food-borne illness. Its efforts have greatly increased awareness of food-borne contamination issues across the nation and in Congress, resulting in successful reform measures in both the House and the Senate.

We are also addressing the overuse of antibiotics, particularly in the production of meat on industrial farms. Drugs are given to healthy animals to promote weight gain and compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary conditions—a dangerous practice that reduces the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs and contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Indeed, each year, some two million Americans acquire bacterial infections, and 90,000 die as a result; about 70 percent of the infections are associated with bacterial pathogens resistant to at least one drug.

In a joint initiative with the Pew Environment Group, the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is fighting to end the injudicious use of antibiotics.

Just as we believe that antibiotic use should be based on sound science and informed policy, so the Pew Health Group aims to ensure that all pharmaceuticals—an essential part of modern daily life—are effective and reliable. We created the Pew Prescription Project to press for changes that will increase evidence-based prescribing and assure that pharmaceuticals are approved, manufactured and marketed in the safest way possible. The nation needs improved transparency in the marketing of drugs and medical devices and better oversight of the way drugs are made and distributed.

The Pew Health Group is also committed to basic science through the Pew Scholars in Biomedical Sciences program, which, over the past 25 years, has supported more than 600 innovative biomedical researchers early in their careers. Alumni have risen to senior leadership roles in top research institutions and won many honors, including three Nobel Prizes. We are dedicated both to furthering advances that may help produce new therapies and diagnostic procedures and to nonpartisan policy analysis and advocacy as we promote a safer, healthier nation.

Shelley A. Hearne
Managing Director, Health and Human Services Policy

Read more about Pew's work in Pew Prospectus 2010 (PDF).

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