Check out the feature article in this week’s Time Magazine. It’s called “Bitter Pill,” and it’s written by Steven Brill, a savvy insider. In addition to making me apprehensive that health insurance costs are about to spike upward due to Obamacare’s lack of any meaningful price controls on health insurance, it gives an insider’s look into the massively arbitrary pricing of health care services. In the absence of any competitive market, big hospitals (including the so-called non-profit hospitals) are freely allowed to concoct the prices they charge. They quietly maintain their made-up pricing on their non-public “chargemaster” price lists.
At Occasional Planet, Madonna Gauding takes a careful look at what Obamacare means for ordinary people and big corporations.
A generous (and seriously wrongheaded) view of Obamacare is that it was a progressive bill designed to be a steppingstone to single payer. But, in reality, it was designed to strengthen, expand, and more deeply entrench corporate control of healthcare delivery. What will happen when the ACA comes online in 2014? I think millions will decide (out of necessity) to take the IRS fine rather than go into further debt buying inadequate, high deductible insurance. The insurance companies, limited to a smaller profit margin, and not getting the numbers they want, will decide they can’t make enough money to keep their yachts afloat, and fold. Hospitals, tired of treating people in emergency rooms for free, will push for Medicare expansion, as will the general population. Slowly, in fits and starts, we will move to Medicare for all. That will be a huge improvement. But, in order for us to have humane healthcare for all, the profit taking throughout the system has to stop—the $200 a pill prescription, the $15 box of hospital tissues, the many unnecessary, but lucrative procedures that line the pockets of surgeons. The “free market” for-profit health care industry with its bloated costs is the underlying cancer of healthcare delivery in the United States.
I thought I might write about something other than politics this morning, but some things are just too there to ignore. But perhaps this isn’t strictly about politics.
Representative Paul Broun of Georgia recently said the following. I’m pulling the quote from news sources so I don’t get it wrong.
“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
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At Better Medicine, Negoba points out how doctors contribute to the high cost of health care. Even though some doctors make high salaries (some specialists making extremely high salaries), the salaries are not the biggest part of the problem.
A doctor can be just as valuable as a controller of loss as a source of profit. In either case, the amount of money flow a doctor controls is easily 5-10 times the amount he or she makes in salary. Many larger systems with interests both at the office and hospital level will take losses on salary to retain a physician whose orders then net a profit in orders.
Ever since I heard the detailed story of holocaust survivor Ben Fainer, I’ve been haunted by Ben’s story. His video interview is about an hour long and it is riveting.
I was sick for most of the past four days, including two days on which I barely crawled out of bed. I had a fever, my muscles ached, I had chest congestion and migraine headaches and I couldn’t think straight. I’m better now, but while I was at my sickest, I wondered how Ben survived Nazi concentration camps for six years, even through the sicknesses that people periodically experience, especially when they were in the process of being starved. Ben just happened to call me yesterday (on another matter), and I took the opportunity to ask him: What would happen at Buchenwald if a prisoner was so sick that he was unable to report for work duty on even one occasion.
“The system was simple. If you didn’t report for work, several people would go inside the barracks to pick you up, and they would walk you over to the crematorium oven, which was burning 24 hours a day. Even if you were still alive, they would throw you into the oven. I saw this happen and I heard the screams.”
I still can’t conceive of how a young boy could have survived this horror, even as he aged into a teenager during his six years of captivity. And I’m so very lucky to live in a situation where sickness is usually not life-threatening, either biologically or socially.
Progressive sites are howling at the insensitivity of the Tea Party based on a hypothetical. This is how the conversation went down at a recent Republican debate:
Wolf Blitzer: A healthy 30 year old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides—you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy—I don’t need it. But something terrible happens … all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay for it if he goes into a coma.
Ron Paul – He should do whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself . . . My advise to him is to have a major medical policy . . .
Blitzer: But he doesn’t have that and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?
Ron Paul: That’s what freedom is about . . . taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to compare and take care of everybody . . .
Blitzer: Are you saying society should just let him die?”
[A couple voices in the large crowd shout “Yes!”]
Ron Paul: . . . The churches . . . [will help him]
Several things come to mind. The hypothetical was designed to make us not want to take care of this man. After all, if I am working overtime to scrape together huge payments for my family’s health insurance and the man in the hypothetical decides he won’t bother to pay even though he “makes a good living,” my gut feeling is he is trying to cheat the system, which makes me highly ambivalent about him, and much less sympathetic about his terrible situation. How much do I care about this man? I once told a friend of mine that I “cared” about a sad situation, and he said, “No you don’t. If you cared, you would do something to fix the problem and all you’re doing is complaining.” I think he was dead-on with that comment. If we care, we get involved. If we’re merely complaining, we don’t really care, no matter what we say. How do Americans often show they really care? By reaching into their pockets and giving money to the cause. With this in mind, allow me to offer a few of my own hypotheticals.
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Today I ate and much enjoyed a hamburger for lunch (it was grass-fed beef, the restaurant said). I eat burgers about once every two weeks, and I eat chicken quite often. Once in a while someone will offer me a processed meat like hot dogs or bacon, and eat that sort of food about once a month. I don’t buy pork or order it at a restaurant, but if it is offered to me by a host, though, I will gladly eat it. Two years ago I decided that pork would be a meat that I didn’t eat, after seeing and hearing a truck full of squealing pigs being taken to slaughter in the middle of Springfield, Illinois. I eat fake meat about once per week: I typically use the popular brands of veggie burgers and fake sausage sold at the grocery story (such as Morningstar’s “burger” patties and “sausage” links). If you haven’t seen these products cooked up, here are some photos.
At bottom, I enjoy eating meat, but I’m an ambivalent meat eater, and that ambivalence has been made all the worse with two recent articles I’ve recently read. One of the articles is by Neal Barnard, M.D., who brings this bad news:
At least 58 scientific studies have looked at the issue, and the jury has rendered its verdict, which is now beyond reasonable doubt. The more hot dogs people eat, the higher their risk of colorectal cancer. And it’s not just hot dogs. Any sort of processed meat — bacon, sausage, ham, deli slices — is in this group. And here are the numbers: Every 50 grams of processed meat you eat on a daily basis (that’s about one hot dog) increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. And just as there is no safe level of smoking, no amount of hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham or other processed meats comes out clean in scientific studies.
I’d like to know more about this study, but if this is accurate, it gives me serious pause about eating hot dogs and other processed food.
The other bad news comes from the Environmental Working Group, which warns of the harsh environmental impact of eating meat. Check out the damage caused by meat-eating in the at-a-glance brochure. There is a lot more information here. These brochures also mention studies indicating that high rates of meat eating are associated with high rates of cancer and heart disease.
If you’d like to take the first step to cut back on meat eating for yourself and for the planet, here’s an easy way to start: Meatless Mondays.
Dave deBronkart learned that he had renal cancer in 2006. From his doctor and from many internet resources, he heard that his death was imminent. Then, he hooked into an internet network of renal cancer patients, where he learned about a scientific (but not well-known) treatment that offered him a chance. He pursued the treatment and had a great result. He became an e-patient, a patient who became empowered because he acquired access to important data. Now, 4 years later, he gave the following TED talk, and you’ll see that he’s very much alive and kicking.
I recent had a similar experience, though not in nearly as serious a situation as Dave’s. I was diagnosed by two doctors with “tennis elbow.” I don’t play tennis, but I play the guitar, and I suspect that that strumming was the precipitating cause for me. About three months ago, before I noticed any problem, I assumed that tennis elbow was irritating, but that it quickly went away when you stopped engaging in the causative activity. The two doctors I consulted told me otherwise. They said that tennis elbow lasted for as long as a year, or more, and that it can be disabling. They said that you simply take aspirin and rest it, that it is a long drawn out problem and that there is not much else you can do about it. I “confirmed” this first-hand, when I stopped playing the guitar for two months, but the condition did not get any better. I bought two types of arm wraps at the drug store and I wore one or the other for weeks. My arm remained extremely weak. For instance, I could not lift a heavy book with the affected arm. When someone shook my hand, I felt excruciating pain at the elbow.
Like Dave, I refused to stop searching for a better answer. I took to the internet, and about three weeks ago I found what appears to be a cure. It’s a rubber bar that costs $15:[caption id="attachment_18575" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Thera-Band FlexBar"][/caption]
I’ve been doing the simple exercises for two weeks (click this link and watch the short video demonstrating the exercise); it’s amazingly simple and it takes less than 10 minutes per day. My pain has decreased by 95% and my strength has probably tripled, even though I’m taking only one over-the-counter Naproxen per day. This is a scientifically-designed and tested remedy, which suits me fine. In fact, the device and exercise was being tested in a double-blind study that was so incredibly successful that the experimenters stopped the study in mid-stream and gave all of the patients rubber bars. It pains me to think of all of the victims of “tennis elbow” out there who are suffering with the pain needlessly because their doctors are telling them what my doctors told me.
I have no interest in any form of voodoo, such as homeopathic medicine, and you’ll hear a lot about these unscientific treatments on the Internet. This post is not about unproven and unscientific remedies. What you heard from Dave (and from me) is that there are often effective and proven remedies out there, and that you will not learn about from your doctor. I agree with the main point made by Dave, that we need better methods for sharing information regarding successful treatments that are already out there. E-patients, unite!