Health

The Republican Plot to Devour Retirees’ Nest Eggs

Ryan Cooper: “Perhaps the most monstrous thing about the American medical system — and the bar for that title is high indeed — is predatory billing.”

“A great many medical providers adjust their prices based on how defenseless the patient is, and bleed the weakest ones for every last red cent, often with preposterously inflated charges for things like aspirin and bandages. A 2015 study looked at the worst price gougers in the country and found 50 hospitals that charged uninsured people roughly 10 times the actual cost of care.”

“Key to this practice is something called “balance billing,” and it’s why the American Medical Association is strongly supporting Donald Trump’s pick of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare. Balance billing is forbidden for Medicare enrollees, but Price wants to allow it — thus allowing doctors and hospitals to devour the nest eggs of thousands of American seniors.”

The U.S. Spends More on Health Care Than Any Other Country. Here’s What We’re Buying.

Washington Post: “American health-care spending, measured in trillions of dollars, boggles the mind. Last year, we spent $3.2 trillion on health care — a number so large that it can be difficult to grasp its scale.”

“A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals what patients and their insurers are spending that money on, breaking it down by 155 diseases, patient age and category — such as pharmaceuticals or hospitalizations.”

“The analysis provides some insight into what’s driving one particularly large statistic: Within a decade, close to a fifth of the American economy will consist of health care.”

What Makes Christmastime So Deadly? 

Washington Post: “Every winter, deaths from heart-related conditions rise in the United States. Plotted on a graph, the rise in deaths looks like a hill — with two spikes at the top when deaths sharply increase.”

“Now, a group of researchers has further ruled out any notion that the bump in holiday deaths could be accounted for by the overall wintertime effect. In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers examined data from New Zealand, where the holidays fall in the middle of summer. They found that the number of cardiac-related deaths outside of hospitals rose 4 percent over the Christmas holiday — resulting in about four additional deaths per year in the small country.”

“No one knows exactly why this uptick happens, but Philip Clarke, an economist at the University of Melbourne who oversaw the new study, said that it’s possible that people are traveling over Christmas and may not be as familiar with medical facilities. They may forego care. It’s also possible that a change in diet or stress levels plays a role. Medical facilities may be less well-staffed.”

A WHO-Backed Ebola Vaccine Is Showing a 100% Success Rate

Quartz: “The next time Ebola strikes, Africa, and everywhere else, will be better prepared.”

“Findings from tests of rVSV-ZEBOV, a trial vaccine, show a 100% protection rate with thousands of people tested in Guinea all confirmed as virus-free within 10 days. The World Health Organization, which led the trial, says the vaccine could be available for mass use by 2018.”

“The possibility of an Ebola vaccine is a major leap for Africans at risk of the disease following a devastating outbreak mainly in three West African countries which started in 2014. Though now controlled, World Bank estimates put the cost of the outbreak’s economic impact at more than $3 billion in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—the worst affected countries.”

Under Obamacare, Fewer People Skipped Doctors’ Visits Because of Cost

Washington Post: “After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, people in a majority of states were less likely to skip doctors’ visits because of concerns about the cost of care, according to a new report that attempts to paint a snapshot of the effects of the law as its days are numbered.”

The report “found that in 38 states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of adults who said they avoided medical care because of its cost declined by at least two points over the three-year period.”

“That trend was most pronounced in Kentucky, Oregon and Arkansas, where the rate of adults avoiding care dropped at least 5 percentage points. Those states also had some of the biggest changes in the uninsured rate, according to the analysis.”

How Inequality Leads to Obesity

Tom Jacobs: “Everyone who has ever turned to their friends Ben and Jerry for solace following a break-up is aware that painful emotions often lead to overeating. Yet when discussing the obesity epidemic among low-income families, policymakers tend to focus on more tangible factors, such as the cost and availability of healthy food.”

“Over the past few years, a number of researchers have begun pointing out this emotion blindness, suggesting the stress of poverty is an underappreciated underlying problem. Two new studies that confirm and refine this proposition have just been published.”

“So a more equal society, where most members feel respected and experience a sense of belonging, is a lower-stress society, and this reduces anxiety-based eating, which, in turn, combats obesity.”

Healthcare in America Is Grossly Inefficient

“Certain large sectors of the economy are suffering from something like reverse-innovation: Costs are increasing much faster than any incremental improvement in quality. In Gallup’s new report with the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, I argue this is happening in healthcare, housing and education,” Jonathan Rothwell writes for Gallup.

“Take healthcare. From 1980 to 2015, healthcare expanded from 9% of the national GDP to 18%. Some of this is natural and good. The aging population requires more healthcare, and even modest economic growth has freed up spending power for healthcare. The problem is that the per-unit costs of healthcare — actual procedures, visits with doctors, pharmaceuticals — have all soared. So the question must be asked: Has it been worth it? I conclude not.”

“One reason for the decline in Americans’ self-reported health status is the extraordinary inefficiency of the U.S. healthcare system.”

Price Transparency Is Nice. Just Don’t Expect It to Cut Health Costs. 

Austin Frakt: “How would you find the best deal on an M.R.I. or a knee replacement? No idea, right? This lack of price transparency in health care has been cited as one of the reasons we spend too much on it. It’s easy to overpay. Health care prices vary tremendously. And there is no established relationship with quality.”

“But improved transparency isn’t working as well as hoped. Health care pricing apps and websites don’t always help patients spend less.”

Without Obamacare, 52 Million Americans Could Be Denied Insurance

Washington Post: “One in four non-elderly adults has a medical condition, ranging from diabetes to pregnancy to severe obesity to arthritis, that would make them uninsurable under the health coverage rules that prevailed before the Affordable Care Act, according to a new study.”

“The new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows just how important that provision is to many Americans. The study examined 2015 data to see how prevalent preexisting conditions are and found that 52 million non-elderly Americans could be ineligible for insurance under the old rules. The analysis can’t distinguish what type of insurance those people have now; many are likely covered by an employer-based plan. But if those people were to lose their jobs or have a gap in coverage and found themselves purchasing a health plan on their own, they could run into restrictions, higher premiums or even denials if the pre-Obamacare rules were back in place.”

Republicans, Democrats Find Common Ground on Many Provisions of Obamacare

A new Pew Research survey on the Affordable Care Act found that, while Americans were divided on whether to keep or repeal the health care law, the majority of Democrats and Republicans alike favored its major provisions.

The exceptions: mandate penalties and requiring employers with more 50+ employees to pay a fine if they do not offer health insurance.

Americans Still Split on Government’s Healthcare Role

Gallup: “Slightly more Americans agree (52%) than disagree (45%) that the federal government is responsible for making sure all Americans have healthcare coverage. This balance of views is similar to last year but represents a shift from 2012 to 2014, when majorities said ensuring healthcare coverage for all was not the government’s job.”

“When asked if they would prefer a government-run healthcare system or a system based on private insurance, majorities of Americans have consistently said they prefer a private system. However, this year’s 10-percentage-point gap in favor of a private system (53%) compared with a government system (43%) is the narrowest in Gallup’s trend.”

Americans Don’t Sleep Enough, and It’s Costing Us $411 Billion Every Year

Washington Post: “Lack of sleep exacts an economic toll of more than half a trillion dollars per year in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan alone. The lack of sleep in these countries and across the globe affects work, business and, as a result, the world’s economy.”

“Using a large employer-employee dataset and data on sleep duration from the five countries, we were able to quantify the predicted economic effects from lack of sleep. Out of the five countries, Japan had the largest GDP loss as a result of lack of sleep (2.92 percent), closely followed by the United States (2.28 percent) and the United Kingdom (1.86 percent). Canada and Germany had the smallest GDP loss as a result of lack of sleep (1.35 and 1.56 percent, respectively).”

“While these percentage figures may seem small, they equate to net losses of hundreds of billions of dollar per year, $411 billion per year from the U.S. economy alone.”

Could Ecstasy Help Fight PTSD?

Gizmodo: “Ecstasy isn’t only for ravers—a small series of clinical trials have demonstrated taking MDMA can be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration granted permission for large-scale, Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA, which is the next step in the process to get it approved as a prescription drug.”

“A 2012 study conducted in Charleston treated veterans, victims of sexual assault, police officers and firefighters who had struggled with PTSD symptoms for an average of 17 years. None of the patients responded to traditional PTSD treatments. ‘After three doses of MDMA administered under a psychiatrist’s guidance, the patients reported a 56 percent decrease of severity of symptoms on average,’ The New York Times reported.”

Autistic People Can Solve Our Cybersecurity Crisis

Kevin Pelphrey: “Alan Turing was the mastermind whose role in cracking the Nazi Enigma code helped the Allies win World War II. He built a machine to do the calculations necessary to decipher enemy messages and today is hailed as the father of the computer and artificial intelligence. He’s also widely believed to have been autistic.”

“While Turing’s renown has arguably never been higher, today we are failing to recognize the potential in millions of other talented minds all around us. Like Turing, many of them are also capable of exceptional technological expertise that can help to safeguard our nation.”

“The common prejudice is that people with ASD have limited skills and are difficult to work with. To the extent that’s true, it’s a measure of our failure as a society. Almost half of those diagnosed with ASD are of average or above-average intellectual ability… more than three-quarters of cognitively able individuals with autism have aptitudes and interests that make them well suited to cybersecurity careers. These include being very analytical and detail-oriented as well as honest and respectful of rules.”