Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thursday Themes

Good morning! A little snow, a little freezing rain, but nothing can keep your intrepid reporter (me) from bringing you the morning's health news. Here goes:

One of my favorite columns -- another medical puzzle to solve. This one involves a patient with constant, stabbing abdominal pain. Can you figure out the diagnosis? I can't.

The Senate is going to vote on what's being called the Blunt Amendment (named after its sponsor), which would allow any employer -- not just religious employers -- to refuse insurance coverage of anything -- not just contraceptives -- to which they have a religious OR MORAL objection. GOP moderates haven't yet decided how they will vote. At least one Dem moderate will vote in favor of the Amendment. This is horrible policy -- dangerous -- and it's going to be a very close vote. And we know that most Americans support free contraceptives. Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Kathellen Sebelius decries the "cynical attacks" on women's health.

When states choose their essential benefits package, they should consider the highest-cost patients, according to a report. I can't really tease out the full meaning of this from the press accounts, so I will have to see if I can find the study and see what it's really saying.

A new poll shows that 58% of Americans trust President Obama more than the GOP when it comes to health care, including health reform and Medicare.

23 states are considering drug testing applicants for Medicaid and food stamps. Because if you're a substance abuser, you don't need food and medical care? I almost understand drug testing people before they get cash assistance -- we don't want them using government money to buy drugs. But food and medical care? Really?

The House passed a bill that would eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is intended to compare treatments to see what's most cost effective and attempt to eliminate costly treatments that work no better than less costly ones. This is an important cost-saving measure as part of health reform. It makes me nervous -- I fight against denials of coverage enough so I know that, for some patients, the cheap option won't work, and in some cases, making people try the cheaper alternatives before letting them access the more expensive ones is deleterious to their health. But we have to do something about health care costs in America. If we aren't even going to try out the IPAB and see how it works, what would the GOP suggest instead?

A judge has ruled that graphic cigarette label warnings violated the Constitution by "compelling" speech (i.e., making the manufacturers use those labels). This ruling conflicts with the decision of a judge in another court, so with a split, the issue could go to the Supreme Court.

So UnitedHealthcare buys a physician practice, and then, allegedly, the practice starts steering patients away from other coverage (Blue Shield in particular), recruiting them for UnitedHealthcare. Blue Shield seeks $10.5 million in damages. Interesting.

I don't write about abortion much on this blog, but this is too much. Kansas is considering a bill that would exempt doctors from malpractice if they withhold information from a patient about a risk to the mother's life in carrying the pregnancy to term as long as they withheld the information to prevent an abortion. Are you kidding me? It's okay for a doctor to decline to inform a woman that she might die if she carries to term? And if the woman dies, the doctor can't be sued? What planet are we on?

Eating disorders are incredibly difficult to kick -- and more difficult to live with.

There are new safety alerts for cholesterol drugs or statins. They now say they present "rare" risks of memory loss, diabetes and muscle pain.

A medication used to treat Parkinson's has shown promise in helping to treat brain injuries. While further studies are needed, this may signal some relief for those with traumatic brain injuries. What a great thing that would be.

And that's it for today. Have a great day! Jennifer

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