Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Tidbits

Tuesday's the big day for health news, so let's dive right in.

Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day and I didn't post about it -- no excuses, I just blew it. Let's see if I can make up for it today. Researchers are hard at work to find a cause. Autism is far more common than we thought -- 1 in 88 kids has it. Early diagnosis can make a huge difference. But treatments fall short.

We learned some things about the Supreme Court last week. The banter -- almost comedic at times -- showed a less serious side, but nine sharp intellects (well, Justice Thomas doesn't speak, so we can't really say about him) were on full display. Meanwhile, President Obama thinks the Court will rule in favor of the law. Although his comments could be taken as a bit of a warning forecasting what he will say about the Court if they strike down the law, that the Court's reputation for integrity is at stake, that only an activist Court would strike down health reform. Which is true. A majority of Americans, though, say last week's arguments didn't change their view on health reform. Then again, since most Americans probably didn't listen to or read the arguments, that makes sense. But people whose views were changed were more negative of both the law and the Court. Again, no surprise based on the tone and slant of the arguments. Meanwhile, insurers are moving ahead with reforms regardless of what the Court decides. Of course, that story is mostly about Cigna, which doesn't sell much individual health insurance, and it's the companies that do sell to individuals who we have to watch to see what they will do about covering pre-existing conditions. It's hard to imagine that they will do so voluntarily.

Should the FDA think politically, or should it respond solely to health issues? Apparently, the FDA and the White House don't always agree. When they don't, it gets a bit tense. The FDA isn't an independent agency, but should it be?

The Federal Trade Commission has blocked the merger of two hospitals in Toledo, Ohio. Why do we care? The trend right now is mergers and growth. If the FTC is going to step in, that may change that trend and have an effect on how health care providers respond to the health care crisis in America. But the FTC did approve the merger of Medco and Express Scripts -- creating one huge mail order pharmacy company that may well drive prices upwards. When you look at these two decisions side-by-side, it's hard to make sense of them.

Americans are living longer -- and those who do so are apt to have more education, says a new study. Is education a predictor because the more you know, the healthier your lifestyle? Or is education tied to class, making money the predictor rather than a college education? One thing we now know is that DNA is less of a predictor than we thought it was. A study on twins shows less of a connection than had been anticipated.

Sleep disturbances -- even if not as severe as sleep apnea -- are related to depression. That explains a lot! However, the elderly have lower rates of depression than we might have guessed, but part of that is because it's not being diagnosed. That may change, though, now that, under health reform, an annual depression screening is free. I'm all for screening for depression, but I hope this doesn't just mean a lot more people on anti-depressants. We need to get to the bottom of the cause of the depression -- or, at least, that's what I think.

And then again, maybe we just have too many studies. Here's one that really gets me. Too much happiness can make you unhappy. Too much cheerfulness can make you gullible, insensitive, less successful. Really? And even so, do we care? And mammograms may mean we treat tumors that otherwise would have done no harm. That doesn't tell you how many lives have been saved due to mammograms. And then there's fish. Eating it helps you get nutritional essentials, but it also contains contaminants. Sometimes it seems like all these studies just cancel each other out -- maybe we should just do what we like. But then you read that body mass index has been under-reporting our obesity epidemic, and you know that these studies are reminders of things we do need to know and act upon.

And that's it for this morning. Have a great day. Jennifer

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