Archive for the ‘Health Care & Medicine’ Category

In which I conclude that the “health insurance industry” is a giant scam

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

So, I have a problem. My student health insurance from Notre Dame expires today, and my group health insurance from the State of Tennessee doesn’t kick in until October 1. That leaves me with a 46-day gap in coverage, which is less than ideal. It’s not a 63-day gap, thankfully, but still, being uninsured is never a terribly good idea. What if, heaven forbid, I get in a car accident or something? Even a plan with a large deductible would be mighty helpful if something catastrophic were to occur. So, I figured I would apply for some basic short-term insurance to tide me over. No big deal, right?

Ah, but it turns out it is a big deal. Every time I try to apply for a policy, I’m encountered with a question like this:

And when I click “yes” (because I’m an “expectant parent,” and my spouse is “now pregnant”) and try to continue, I’m told, “Thank you for your interest in Short Term Medical insurance. At this time, we are unable to issue you a policy because you do not meet the eligibility requirements.”

Huh? I’m “ineligible” for insurance because… my wife is pregnant? WTF?!?

Mind you, I’m not applying for family insurance. Becky wouldn’t be covered under my plan, so maternity costs aren’t an issue. Nor would our child be covered. (Indeed, there’s no child to cover — my requested term ends three months before the kid is due!) But for some reason, just being an expectant dad is enough to render me off-limits from the reach of private health insurance. I am persona non grata, as far as the insurance industry is concerned, because I made the grave mistake of doing my part to propagate the human race.

As it happens, a consumer watchdog group put out a press release about this very issue back in January. It states: “Firefighters, police officers, steel workers, expectant fathers, pregnant women and patients with asthma, acne, allergies, and toe nail fungus will not be sold health insurance policies in California, according to internal insurer underwriting guidelines made public today by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).” Well, I guess it’s not just California. I’m in Tennessee, and it seems I, like those Golden State firefighters and fungus sufferers, have been placed in the seventh circle of health-insurance hell known as “Uninsurable.”


Bush was treated for Lyme disease

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

An annual report on President Bush’s health released this week revealed that Bush was treated for Lyme disease last year.

Among potential symptoms of Lyme disease are neurocognative impairment, hallucinations, and psychosis. Hmmm…I wonder…

Vulcans invade Canada

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

It isn’t easy being green.

A cautionary tale

Monday, May 21st, 2007

This blog has seen some recent, passionate discussions about the idea of mandatory vaccination using the new HPV vaccine, and in light of that, I thought this article would be a good cautionary tale.

Apparently a soldier who was to be deployed to Iraq was vaccinated against smallpox. Unfortunately the vaccinia virus which helps the body develop an immunity to smallpox was spread to his wife and his 2-year old son. While the wife developed some mild lesions which healed easily, the son suffered from kidney failure and lost most of his skin due to the vaccinia induced disease. Fortunately the young boy has recovered due to excellent medical care and some luck, but it just goes to show that vaccines come with risks.

Although in this case, much if not all of the risk could have been avoided — the soldier and his son, because of pre-existing eczema, were both particularly susceptible to the disease — in large-scale vaccinations such edge cases slipping through the cracks would be more likely and should be considered along with potential benefits of mandatory vaccination.

Throat cancer linked to oral sex

Thursday, May 10th, 2007


People who had one to five oral-sex partners in their lifetime had approximately a doubled risk of throat cancer compared with those who never engaged in this activity – and those with more than five oral-sex partners had a 250% increased risk.

There was an even stronger link between oral sex and throat cancers clearly caused by HPV-16 (those tumours that tested positive for the strain). People with more than five oral sex partners had a 750% increased risk of these HPV-16-caused cancers.

It just goes to show that before you put something in your mouth, you oughta know where it’s been.

On a policy level, this study lends scientific support to legislative efforts to mandate an HPV vaccine for school-aged children, male and female, given the dire consequences of not doing so. While some have argued that such vaccinations condone promiscuity or alternatively, constitute yet another example of the excesses of the nanny state, burgeoning evidence linking HPV directly to cancers should reinforce the necessity of the vaccine as a means of promoting public health and reducing future health care costs.

Erasing what makes us human, Part II: the brave new world of propranolol

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Aaron points to a fascinating Esquire article by Chuck Klosterman which relates directly to the blog post I wrote earlier this month about why I hated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You may recall that I wrote:

Memories are the basic units of our existence. They are what makes life, life! If the fanciful memory-zapping technology of Eternal Sunshine actually existed, I would be just as repulsed by it as some people are by, for example, stem-cell research. There is something supra-biological about memories: they aren’t just collections of brain cells, they are the fundamental building-blocks of our experience on this earth, of our very humanity. You can’t just erase them, whatever they are. I could understand the urge to do so if a person were tormented by a memory of rape or torture or something, but to erase memories for such a trite purpose as forgetting a bad relationship would be profoundly immoral.

Given that sentiment, you can probably guess my immediate reaction to the drug that Klosterman describes:

[Propranolol] inhibits the chemical rush that makes memories hyperconcrete. It doesn’t erase memories, but it makes them more abstract and less painful. In theory, giving accident victims immediate doses of propranolol could dramatically change how lucidly they remember the horror of a specific experience. What’s even crazier is the possibility of propranolol working retroactively: It appears that patients might be able to erode traumas from the distant past by ingesting the drug and self-triggering memories on purpose (i.e., you repeatedly take propranolol and fixate on something that happened twenty years ago — over time, that specific memory grows hazy and normative).

It is hard to imagine how propranolol, used judiciously, wouldn’t be good for society. It’s impossible to justify why a nine-year-old who watched his parents get murdered needs to remember precisely what that looked (and felt) like; I’d feed that theoretical kid a cereal bowl of propranolol. But the problem (of course) is that our society is traditionally terrible at judicious drug use. And while the application of propranolol almost always seems reasonable on a case-by-case basis, the idea of propranolol is significantly more complicated. …

As is so often the case with scientific innovations that feel like hypothetical problems, it’s easy to imagine dystopian worst-case scenarios involving propranolol. What if the government used this drug to intensify the brutality of warfare, knowing the long-term cost on soldiers could be chemically mitigated? What if people used it simply because they didn’t want to fixate over ex-girlfriends [“such as Kate Winslet,” Klosterman adds in a footnote] or the 1982 NFC championship? It would seem that propranolol — like virtually everything else invented by man — has a short-term upside and a long-term consequence. The small picture provides benefits for victims of genuine pain; the big picture suggests a confused society that consciously elects to expunge the pain that makes us human.

Emphasis added, because I love how he echoes the title of my Eternal Sunshine post. Esquire rips off! :) Anyway, I’m not sure I agree with Klosterman that “virtually everything…invented by man…has a short-term upside and a long-term consequence,” but leaving aside that bit of hyperbole, I think his analysis is pretty spot-on… right up until the paragraph that follows what I’ve just blockquoted. He loses me when he argues that using propranolol “to expunge the pain that makes us human” would be simply a more “effective” method of doing something we “already do all the time” — by way of alcohol abuse, escapist art, and nostalgicization* of the past — and that therefore, “I…don’t think it’s something we could ethically stop people from doing.”

As a logical matter, this conclusion simply doesn’t follow. There are plenty of instances where society chooses to ban, or at least discourage, a more “effective” means of doing something that is allowed when it’s done to a more limited, “less effective” extent. The decisive question in each case is whether the newfound “effectiveness” pushes things to a point where the negative effects on society become intolerable. But there is certainly no general ethical principle that says, if you ban any method of achieving a certain end, you must ban all methods of achieving that end. A few examples off the top of my head:


Joe Lieberman, Dem spokesman

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Far be it from me ever to think of politically Annoying any denizens of this here blog (which surely would constitute Unsportsmanlike conduct on the Non Sports Page :) but it’s worth noting that the saintly Senator, a Democrat from Connecticut ;}, today delivers his Party’s response to the Republican President’s weekly radio broadcast. Here’s the text, the subject being the scandalous situation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A good speech ~ sufficiently so for me to grant Rebbe Joe absolution :> for his invocation of the Gnostic First Commandment, i.e., “…together, we must prevent this from ever happening again.” (Said standard Perfectionist locution being Obligatory in such circumstances nowadays, the sin may be deemed Venial & the rhetoric freely-translated as, “These are very crappy practices and conditions which we shall work to Discourage and Deter in the future.” ;)

Read the whole things. Go, Dem Joe! :]

Governor screws Texas families, but at least they won’t spread HPV

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Texas Governor Rick Perry has issued a Gubernatorial order requiring all girls entering the 6th grade in the state of Texas to receive the HPV vaccine Gardisil, which is sold by Merck. The treatment costs $360. Perry’s order apparently avoids opposition from the Legislature and family rights groups. Merck has been lobbying across the country for mandatory vaccination but stepped up its efforts in Texas, funneling money through the group Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female legislators. The governors mother in law is a state director for the group. Sound fishy yet?

Don’t get me wrong, there are upsides to this as well, the vaccine does indeed help prevent the spread of HPV, a leading cause of cervical cancer. However this method of forcing it on people is a blatant slap in the face to individual rights. Governor Perry claims that this is simply like vaccinating against polio, except for one thing. You can avoid infection by not having sex or only having sex with a partner who is also not infected. Polio was highly communicable through food water and human contact, it was incredibly difficult to avoid its spread, unlike HPV. Gov. Perry has overstepped his bounds and apparently one so due to the influence of a pharmaceutical looking to make lots of money, and is claiming to do so for completely altruistic reasons. Hopefully the measure will be struck down and the families and individuals of Texas will be given the choice about this vaccine.

Baby is X-ray-scanned as carry-on item at LAX

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

But no harm done:

December 20 2006 – A woman going through security at Los Angeles International Airport put her month-old grandson into a plastic bin intended for carry-on items and slid it into an X-ray machine.

…A screener watching the machine’s monitor immediately noticed the outline of a baby and pulled the bin backward on the conveyor belt.

The infant was taken to Centinela Hospital, where doctors determined that he had not received a dangerous dose of radiation.

Officials, who declined to release the 56-year-old woman’s name, said she spoke Spanish and apparently did not understand English.

…Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which manages LAX screeners, said the agency doesn’t have enough workers to constantly stand at tables in front of the screeners to coach passengers on what should or should not be sent through X-ray machines.

…”There’s an obligation on the traveler to use some common sense,” said Larry Fetters, the TSA’s federal security director at LAX. “If they don’t understand, they should ask somebody. If they ask us, we are generally able to find someone who speaks that language and assist them.”

…”We’re trying to figure out what changes we can make, short of putting up signs saying, ‘Don’t put your baby through the X-ray machine,’ ” Melendez said. “We’re trying to determine how we can make this not happen again.”

[Comment: You can’t. The only real reason to stop “short of” posting those Signs is, they would Increase the incidence of Babyscanning pursuant to the No Peas Up The Nose principle. / But be Forward-leaning & Pro-active: focus on deterring people from checking their children through with the Non-carry-on baggage. :| ~the guestscreener :]

* * * * * * * * *
Radiation doses:

The baby that went through the airport luggage machine was exposed to less radiation than a passenger on a cross-country flight. Typical radiation exposures*:

Luggage screener: 1
Cross-country flight: 5
Chest X-ray: 10
Mammogram: 30

* Measured in millirems, which takes into account both the amount of exposure and the biological effect of the type of radiation in question.

Source: EPA

Scan the whole thing. :>

I, for one, welcome our pulseless bovine cyborg overlords…

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Cardiac surgeon “Bud” Frazier and his team at the Texas Heart Institute (come on, what other state did you think you’d find a cardiac surgeon named Bud in??) are busy working on the next version of the artificial heart, only this one is going to be a little different. You’ll have no pulse. Thats right, no pulse.

The way our hearts work now is just like a squeeze bulb, the muscles continously squeezing oxygenated blood through your body. Previous artificial hearts have attempted to simulate this behavior, but complications such as size and wear and tear on the mechanical parts have limited their usefulness and lifetime. So Frazier and his team decided to do away with the pulse mechanism all together and instead create a device that would provide a contious flow of blood throughout your body. About the size of an adult human thumb and consisting of only a single moving part (a rotor) their device can adjust for increased and decreased activity and oxygen demand by flowing slower and faster, but its all a continous stream rather than a periodic flow as in normal people.

The device has been tested for over two years in cattle and has succesfully extended the life of otherwise terminal bovine patients. But the long term affects of a pulseless blood flow are still up in the air. With our bodies designed around a pulse mechanism what added complications might there be from such a device. On top of that is the practical concern. What is a paramedic supposed to do when they come across someone with one of these devices? Checking for a pulse they will find nothing and presumably start unnessecary chest compressions and even defibrulation. Not to mention how freaky it would be yourself to not have a pulse. (Does not having a pulse make you a zombie? mmmmm brains…)

Will it work? Will they add an artificial pulsing to the system (speeding and slowing the rotor at regular percievable intervals perhaps? Or addding some sort of pulsing light ala ET to the persons chest cavity? (pimp my torso!) Only time will tell…

New twist to Washington’s law against sexual orientation based discrimination

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

A year ago when I started working at my current employer I had an interesting e-mail exchange with Brendan. I noticed during orientation that my company provides benefits to same-sex partners in the same way they provide them to married couples. This is interesting in that it sets up an area where gays and lesbians actually have MORE rights than their heterosexual peers. As there is no legal standing for homosexual couples in this state (or any other except Massachusetts) there is no way for the company to verify this status so they offer the benefits on good faith. You could theoretically include any same-sex roomate/housemate in your benefits, you wouldn’t necessarilly have to be gay, but it certainly provides a more flexible option, as marriage is required for partners who are not of the same sex.

Well that practice may now be illegal, or so claims a woman who works for Honeywell International here in Washington. Why? Because earlier this summer Washington passed a law that makes discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. The woman claims that it is discrimination that she can not extend benefits to her live in boyfriend, the same way a gay coworker might, and based on the law I think she may have a point.

There are certainly obvious solutions, some more complicated than others. First of course is creating legal civil unions for couples of any orientation, but like most states, the voters of Washington have thus far rejected the idea of gay marriage. Next, you could and might have to stop offering benefits to non-married couples, which of course puts them at a disadvantage to companies in other states who can still offer those benefits as an incentive. Finally, and most costly companies may have to start providing benefits to ANY roomate of an employee, regardless of orientation or relationship status.

It is certianly and interesting, and by many unforseen consequence of the law.

Morgellons update

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

A while back, I blogged about “a bizarre and mysterious infection called Morgellons disease” that seemed to be spreading at random in several Southern states. Well, now the CDC is launching a study of the condition, which is often misdiagnosed as delusional parasitosis. (Hat tip: Alan Sullivan.)

Bush issues first veto over stem cell bill

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

As expected, President Bush has used his first veto on a bill that would have given funding to embryonic stem cell research.

Limbaugh held at FL airport re undocumented Viagra upon return from Dominican Republic

Monday, June 26th, 2006

OK, here’s the deal. The aptly-named Rush is (we trust) Off the Narcotics but now there might be Another pharmacological issue, here. Of course it’s also possible he simply got Stiffed by left-leaning Law Enforcement in Palm Beach County. / Ultraliberal MSM souce: Fox News ~

 Rush Limbaugh was detained for about three-and-a-half hours at Palm Beach International Airport after authorities said they found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription.

The 55-year-old radio commentator’s luggage was examined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after his private plane landed at the airport around 2 p.m. from the Dominican Republic, said Paul Miller, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

ICE officials found in Limbaugh’s luggage a prescription bottle labeled as Viagra, a prescription drug that treats erectile disfunction, Miller said.

“The problem was that on the bottle itself was not his name, but the name of two Florida doctors,” Miller said.

…”He said he had the Viagra in his possession for his use and that he did obtain it from his doctors,” Miller said.

Sheriff’s investigators confiscated the drugs [ oh, the inHumanity / ~ the guestblogger :], and Limbaugh was released around 5:30 p.m. without being charged.

A doctor had prescribed the drug, but it was “labeled as being issued to the physician rather than Mr. Limbaugh for privacy purposes,” Roy Black, Limbaugh’s attorney, said in a statement…

Read what little I left out. Well, the Presumption of Innocence applies & now we’ll have to wait & see what comes of this one. As Briandot has recently reminded us, hard cases do make bad law :}. Let us all hope poor Rush doesn’t get scr*wed again. (Now what was Brendan’s so-wonderfully-discovered Teutonic noun, again? Oh yeah, that’s it: Schadenfreude. :)

Briandot has a drug problem

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

His problem is, he can’t find drugs that work!

(And by “drugs” I mean “cold medicines.” What, did you think I meant something else?)