House Republicans Vote to Cut Food Safety Funding

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Via WaPo:

Arguing that the U.S. food supply is 99 percent safe, House Republicans cut millions of dollars Thursday from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget, denying the agency money to implement landmark food safety laws approved by the last Congress.
Saying the cuts were needed to lower the national deficit, the House also reduced funding to the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspection service, which oversees meat, poultry and some egg products. And lawmakers chopped $832 million from an emergency feeding program for poor mothers, infants and children. Hunger groups said that change would deny emergency nutrition to about 325,000 mothers and children.
The House also waded into a controversial issue pending at the FDA, forbidding the agency from approving the sale of genetically engineered salmon, a matter that has triggered an intense debate about the place of biotechnology in the food supply.
No Democrats voted in favor of the agriculture appropriations bill, which passed by a vote of 217 to 203. Nineteen Republicans joined the Democrats in opposition.
The White House opposed many of the cuts, saying they would force the USDA to furlough inspectors at meat and poultry processing plants and leave the FDA unable to meet the requirements of a food safety law passed in December. The legislation, which was the first major change to the nation’s food safety laws since 1938, calls for the FDA to significantly step up scrutiny of domestic and imported food and devise a system aimed at preventing the kind of contamination that sickens one in six Americans every year.
The law, which received bipartisan support, followed years of cutbacks at the FDA and waves of food-borne illnesses linked to foods as varied as spinach, peanuts and cookie dough.
To carry out the new law, President Obama is seeking $955 million the FDA’s food safety program in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Republican leaders in the House pared back that to $750 million, which is $87 million less than the agency currently is receiving for food safety.
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Dementia cost ‘to top 1% of GDP’

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The costs associated with dementia will amount to more than 1% of the world’s gross domestic product this year at $604bn (£388bn), a report says. The World Alzheimer Report says this is more than the revenue of retail giant Wal-Mart or oil firm Exxon Mobil.The authors say dementia poses the most significant health and social crisis of the century as its global financial burden continues to escalate.  They want the World Health Organization to make dementia a world priority.

Campaigners say more investment in dementia care and research into new treatments is needed. Spending more money now would save nations more money in the future by decreasing the disease burden, they say.A large part of the problem is people living longer – as life expectancy goes up around the world there will be more people who will develop dementia.  

‘Substantial investments’ 

The number of people with dementia is expected to double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050.But experts say the costs of caring for people with dementia are likely to rise even faster than the prevalence, especially in the developing world, as more formal social care systems emerge and rising incomes lead to higher opportunity costs. Data from individual countries such as the UK suggests that dementia is already one of the costliest illnesses 

The article doesn’t say what costs. This probably includes the actual medical care for home care, medication, specialist treatments, hospitalizations, etc. But it could and/or should include lost productivity for caregivers, mistakes and errors caused by the illness, lost productivity for those with the onset of dementia but are unaware of it. Whatever is included in this calculation, it is too high. 

Good dancing is sign of male health, scientists say

Via BBC:

Dr Nick Neave looks at the difference between “good” and “bad” dancing

Scientists say they’ve carried out the first rigorous analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women.

The researchers say that movements associated with good dancing may be indicative of good health and reproductive potential.

“When you go out to clubs people have an intuitive understanding of what makes a good and bad dancer,” said co-author Dr Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, UK.

“What we’ve done for the very first time is put those things together with a biometric analysis so we can actually calculate very precisely the kinds of movements people focus on and associate them with women’s ratings of male dancers.”

Dr Neave asked young men who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and their movements with 12 cameras.

These movements were then converted into a computer-generated cartoon – an avatar – which women rated on a scale of one to seven. He was surprised by the results.

“We thought that people’s arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands [make], for example. But in fact this was not the case,” he said.

“We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding.”

Movements that went down terribly were twitchy and repetitive – so called “Dad dancing”.

Dr Neave’s aim was to establish whether young men exhibited the same courtship movement rituals in night clubs as animals do in the wild. In the case of animals, these movements give information about their health, age, their reproductive potential and their hormone status.

“People go to night clubs to show off and attract the opposite sex so I think it’s a valid way of doing this,” Dr Neave explained.

“In animals, the male has to be in good physical quality to carry out these movements. We think the same is happening in humans and certainly the guys that can put these movements together are going to be young and fit and healthy.”

Dr Neave also took blood samples from the volunteers. Early indications from biochemical tests suggest that the men who were better dancers were also more healthy.

Insurer targeted HIV Patient to drop coverage

Via Reuters/Dkos:

(Reuters) – In May, 2002, Jerome Mitchell, a 17-year old college freshman from rural South Carolina, learned he had contracted HIV. The news, of course, was devastating, but Mitchell believed that he had one thing going for him: On his own initiative, in anticipation of his first year in college, he had purchased his own health insurance.

Shortly after his diagnosis, however, his insurance company, Fortis, revoked his policy. Mitchell was told that without further treatment his HIV would become full-blown AIDS within a year or two and he would most likely die within two years after that.

So he hired an attorney — not because he wanted to sue anyone; on the contrary, the shy African-American teenager expected his insurance was canceled by mistake and would be reinstated once he set the company straight.

But Fortis, now known as Assurant Health, ignored his attorney’s letters, as they had earlier inquiries from a case worker at a local clinic who was helping him. So Mitchell sued.

In 2004, a jury in Florence County, South Carolina, ordered Assurant Health, part of Assurant Inc, to pay Mitchell $15 million for wrongly revoking his heath insurance policy.

In September 2009, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s verdict, although the court reduced the amount to be paid him to $10 million.

By winning the verdict against Fortis, Mitchell not only obtained a measure of justice for himself; he also helped expose wrongdoing on the part of Fortis that could have repercussions for the entire health insurance industry.

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell’s case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.

Gum Disease Linked to Early Birth

Via BBC:

Successful treatment for gum disease cuts the risk of pregnant women giving birth early, US research suggests.

The preliminary research showed those whose gum disease was not treated successfully were three times more likely to give birth before 35 weeks.

The study of 160 women was presented to the annual conference of the American Association for Dental Research.

UK experts said the finding was “controversial” but advised pregnant women to take care of teeth and gums.

Doctors have previously established that severe gum infections cause an increase in the production of prostaglandin and tumour necrosis factor, chemicals which induce labour, to be produced.

The study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania enrolled women who were between six and 20 weeks’ pregnant.

All of the volunteers had gum disease. These women were given treatment, which was successful in one third of the cases.

The researchers found a “strong and significant association” between successful treatment and full-term births.

Those whose treatment did not work were “significantly more likely” to give birth before 35 weeks.

Virginia Refuses Healthcare

Via WTOP, Virginia has voted to refuse to allow mandatory health coverage.

Virginia’s General Assembly is the first in the nation to approve legislation that bucks federal health care reforms by banning mandatory health insurance coverage.

Without debate, the House of Delegates voted 80-17 Wednesday to accept Senate amendments to a bill that supporters say preserves Virginia’s prerogatives as a state.

Thirty-four other legislatures have filed or proposed similar measures rejecting health insurance mandates.

But Virginia’s legislature, scheduled to adjoun Saturday, is the first to finish work on a bill. The measure goes to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who plans to sign it.

The measures are advancing nationally as Republicans capitalize on voter discontent over Democratic-backed federal health care reform efforts in Congress.

Unwitting Birthplace of “Death Panel” Myth

Wapo has an article on the Wisconsin hospital that was the unwitting birthplace of the whole death panel fooliness.

LA CROSSE, Wis. — This city often shows up on “best places to live” lists, but residents say it is also a good place to die — which is how it landed in the center of a controversy that almost derailed health-care reform this summer.

The town’s biggest hospital, Gundersen Lutheran, has long been a pioneer in ensuring that the care provided to patients in their final months complies with their wishes. More recently, it has taken the lead in seeking to have Medicare compensate physicians for advising patients on end-of-life planning

[SNIP]

But the controversy has had most resonance where it arguably took root, in this town of 52,000 where nearly everyone of a certain age has an advance-care directive.

La Crosse became a pioneer in addressing end-of-life questions in the mid-1980s, after Hammes, a native of the city who has a doctorate in philosophy from Notre Dame, arrived at Gundersen as the director of medical humanities, charged with educating resident physicians about ethics. He noticed a “troubling pattern,” he said, in which family members struggled to make medical decisions, such as whether to continue dialysis after a stroke.

“We’d turn to the family and say, ‘We need your input. If your mother or father could speak now, what would they tell you?’ And the family would say, ‘If we only knew,’ ” said Hammes, 59. “I could see the distress. They were going to have to live with themselves, with the worry about making a mistake. This was unacceptable.”

The hospital began urging families to plan while people are healthy. For those who want help writing a directive, a physician will discuss the powers and limits of medicine and explain to family members what it means if they agree to serve as the “health-care agent.” They will also help people define the conditions under which they would no longer want treatment. Hammes said people often define this as “when I’ve reached a point where I don’t know who I am or who I’m with, and don’t have any hope of recovery.”

The directives are power-of-attorney forms that protect physicians and family members against liability, and the hospital makes clear to its doctors that they are expected to follow them. Today, more than 90 percent of people in town have directives when they die, double the national average.

The reliance on directives has an impact on the type of care people receive: Gundersen patients spend 13.5 days on average in the hospital in their final two years of life, at an average cost of $18,000. That is in contrast with big-city hospitals such as the University of California at Los Angeles medical centers (31 days and $59,000), the University of Miami Hospital (39 days, $64,000) and New York University’s Langone Medical Center (54 days, $66,000).

Those disparities are not explained just by the hospital’s end-of-life philosophy. Under Medicare formulas, Gundersen and other Upper Midwest hospitals receive lower reimbursements. The high-spending hospitals argue that they are also dealing with a more diverse and costly patient base.

I am young, very, very relatively speaking, and my wife and I have advanced healthcare directives. These directives are very necessary and more people should be encouraged to have them. However, with poiticians muddying the waters, we get this death panel nonsense.

Here’s a link to the Mayo Clinic’s page on Living Wills and Advance Directives. Then there’s this guide to Living Wills from a SUNY Buffalo page which looks fairly good. Of course, there’s Wikipedia on Advance Healthcare Directives. Also, any decent attorney will have a advance healthcare directive template and you can get one done fairly quickly. In fact, many bookstore have great books with all manner of forms that can help you get started with the process.