OP-ED

Invaders From Mars

Just over a half-century ago, in the mid-50s, at the height of our paranoia about communists and the Soviet Union, a boy sees a flying saucer land in the distance.  No one else sees the event.  The occupants of the mysterious spacecraft prove to be invaders from Mars.  Their strategy is to capture people, one-by-one, and to perform brain surgery on them whereby  an electrode controlling device is placed in the victims’ brains rendering them  pawn
s of the invaders, though they retain the superficial appearance of human beings.  The only clue to recognizing one of these unfortunate robots is to look for the telltale antenna at the base of the hairline in the back of the neck.

In order to understand the profound meaning of the Invaders from Mars, you have to know a little neurology.

There are really two people within each of us, a fact that reflects the two almost mirror image cerebral hemispheres, each responsible for the opposite side of the body and extra-personal space.  Put simply, damage to the left hemisphere will cause paralysis and loss of sensation on the right side of the body, including loss of perception from the right side of the world.

This loss of perception is more profound than simple blindness.  If reflects the fact that anything that the brain does not record is actually not there.  We live, after all, in virtual reality. What our brains do not sense is, for us, not there.  Do the following experiment.  What is behind your head?  Not what you imagine might be there or what you think you remember is there.  What is actually there?  Is it black, white, striped?  Try to describe it.  You don’t have the words, because what is there is nothing, and nothing has no color, texture or shape.  Is there an antenna at the base of your hairline?  You couldn’t possible know, could you?

Continue reading “Invaders from Mars with Commentary from Robert Burns”

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Dear White People Poster

The latest Gallup and Healthways poll doesn’t phrase it this way, but its findings that the Affordable Care Act “appears to be meeting its goal of reducing the percentage of Americans without health insurance” is more evidence Obamacare is good for white people.

In an interview with National Public Radio at the end of last year, President Obama was asked whether he and the Democrats had lost support among white voters. He denied it, comparing his share of the white vote favorably to that John Kerry in 2004 and pointing to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a program that benefited working-class white voters without many realizing it. I’d written much the same thing about Obamacare in a THCB blog post a couple of weeks before the 2012 presidential election. But as with other issues related to race, it’s a topic that the president has only reluctantly discussed, even when good policy is also good politics.

In response to NPR questions about race, Obama noted that some of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACA live in places like “Mitch McConnell’s state,” home to relatively few blacks or Hispanics. Coincidentally, a front page story in the print New York Times documented Kentucky’s experience with the law – which, the president wryly noted, Kentuckians do not call “Obamacare” – the same day the NPR interview aired.

Continue reading “More Evidence Obamacare is Good For White People”

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flying cadeuciiInfluential RAND researcher Soren Mattke had this to say in support of Al Lewis and Vik Khanna’s latest post on the Wellness story “Would the Real Professor Katherine Baicker Please Stand Up?

“Gentlemen. Great post. Like you, I am disappointed that researchers of the caliber of Kate Baicker and David Cutler do not respond to the mounting debate about their paper. They should defend or disown their work rather than hope that the debate goes away.

In my mind, their paper is a product typical of high-end academic research. Two brilliant professors spot a gap in the evidence on a hot policy topic and decide to go after it. But the actual work gets done by a graduate student in his cubicle without windows or guidance, and then hastily published.

Then the problem arises that the paper becomes hugely influential and people start having a closer look. For our paper on the PepsiCo program, we reviewed in detail the seven publications that Baicker and colleagues called “high quality evidence”. We found that five of those analyzed programs that operated over 20 years ago and most of them had severe methodologic flaws. (John P. Caloyeras, Hangsheng Liu, Ellen Exum, Megan Broderick and Soeren Mattke. Managing Manifest Diseases, But Not Health Risks, Saved PepsiCo Money Over Seven Years. Health Affairs, 33, no.1 (2014):124-131)

Unfortunately, many defenders of the industry continue to take the Baicker paper at face value, while closely scrutinizing or ignoring more nuanced and scientifically sound findings.

So I herewith support your motion!

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flying cadeuciiM.I.T. economist Jonathan Gruber, whom his colleagues in the profession hold in very high esteem for his prowess in economic analysis, recently appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Gruber was called to explain several caustic remarks he had offered on tortured language and provisions in the Affordable Care Act (the ACA) that allegedly were designed to fool American voters into accepting the ACA.

Many of these linguistic contortions, however, were designed not so much to fool voters, but to force the Congressional Budget Office into scoring taxes as something else. But Gruber did call the American public “stupid” enough to be misled by such linguistic tricks and by other measures in the ACA — for example, taxing health insurers knowing full well that insurers would pass the tax on to the insured.

During the hearing, Gruber apologized profusely and on multiple occasions for his remarks. Although at least some economists apparently see no warrant for such an apology, I believe it was appropriate, as in hindsight Gruber does as well. “Stupid” is entirely the wrong word in this context; Gruber should have said “ignorant” instead. Continue reading “Rethinking The Gruber Controversy: Americans Aren’t Stupid, But They’re Often Ignorant — And Why”

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Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 11.10.26 AM

It might have been the best of times. It could have been the worst of times. But 2014 turned out to be the most mediocre of times. Here’s a recap.

Why did Sebelius resign?

Never make a promise to your kids that you can’t keep. And never project the number of people who will sign up for the exchanges and change your mind, unless you are the CBO. If you have read about the problem of uninsured in the US you might have considered CBO’s original projection that seven million people will sign up on the exchanges within six months of open enrollment a tad conservative. Weren’t there millions and millions, forty million apparently, gagging for healthcare coverage?

The CBO revised the projection to six million in February with the projection date of March 31st coming tantalizingly close. Towards the end of March you could hear the cheers of “roll baby, enroll” getting louder.

On April Fools’ Day, the ACA remained intact, the country had not descended in to civil war and some eight million had signed up for Obamacare.

Continue reading “2014 A Healthcare Odyssey”

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flying cadeuciiThe recent Health Affairs Blog post by Al Lewis, Vik Khanna, and Shana Montrose titled, “Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings” has triggered much interest and media attention. It highlights the controversy surrounding the value of workplace health promotion programs that 22 authors addressed in an article published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine titled, “Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work?”  That article also inspired several follow-up discussions and media reports, including one published by New York Times columnists Frakt and Carroll who answered the above question with: “usually not.”

There are certainly many points of contention and areas for continued discussion on this topic. It turns out that Lewis et al. and I agree on many things, and there are other areas where we see things differently. Continue reading “The Value of Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs”

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Optimized-SalwitzIt is a heart pounding, head spinning, edge of your seat page-turner; the sort of rare saga that takes your breath away as it changes you, forever.  It hints at a radically different future, a completely new world a few years away, which will disrupt the lives of every man, woman and child.  Available now, from the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), Office of the Secretary, United States Department of Health and Human Services, is finally, without further ado; the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020.

You think I am kidding.  A satirical dig at another monstrous, useless, governmental report?  Absolutely not.  The concepts outlined in this blueprint will transform healthcare.  It is a tight, clear, document, which at only 28 pages, delivers almost as much change per word as the Declaration of Independence.  This may be the most powerful application yet of computerized information technology.

If you want to know where healthcare and health IT are headed, The Plan is absolutely worth a read.

I have only one complaint; it is coated with too much sugar.  Restricted by policy structure and jargon, the report does not go far enough.

Continue reading “Grading the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan”

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Vivek Murthy

In defiance of dire predictions, children haven’t been sent to workhouses and women haven’t been chained to utensils after the GOP gained strength in the House and the Senate. And Vivek Murthy, the unabashed Obamaphile, was finally confirmed Surgeon General.

To be honest, I always thought the controversy surrounding Murthy’s nomination because of his stance on gun control was rather daft. Stopping doctors from pontificating over guns, such as the Docs versus Glocks legislation, is like banning me from trying to convert Pope Francis to Hinduism. The legislation is a parody not just for its own sake but because what it seeks to prevent is parody as well.

Murthy’s first challenge is to raise the position of the Surgeon General from that tokenism of a career UN bureaucrat to something vaguely useful. Which means Murthy must resist the call of banality, the banality of ideology and the ideology of making all of mankind’s imperfections public health problems.

Continue reading “Advice to Vivek Murthy: Be Nonpartisan, Use Common Sense and Move Americans”

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Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 1.27.35 PMAt 3PM EST on December 10, 2014, medical and dental students at over 70 schools participated in the “National White Coat Die-In.” The event was organized on Facebook and spearheaded by students at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine who described the event as “a demonstration in response to the events in Ferguson and New York because #BlackLivesMatter.”

Across the country, there have been numerous protests against the grand jury’s decision in Fergurson, Mo. not to indict officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenage boy. Similarly, in Staten island, NY, the grand jury decided not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, using a banned chokehold.

Continue reading “#Whitecoats4Blacklives”

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Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 2.27.00 PMI was enjoying drinks last week with Jody Holtzman (AARP)Terry Booker (IBC), and Doug Ghertner (change:healthcare) at a wonderful conference sponsored by Oliver Wyman. Jody was waxing eloquent about how every start-up needs a strategy for the senior population, when – after a few too many drinks – I emphatically told everyone at the table that I had the senior market cracked. I had experienced first hand the ills of the American health care system for seniors and had identified the perfect solutions.

My father-in-law grew up on a small, Kosher dairy farm outside of Pennsylvania (insert Jewish farmer joke here). He is 72 years old, he was about 40 pounds overweight, he has been widowed for about four years, and, about 30 minutes after my mother-in-law passed away, he started dating a woman that my wife never quite accepted, which is akin to saying that Russia is watching events unfold in the Ukraine from the sidelines (and to be clear, I don’t condone either position).

In January of this year, he was jumping from a backhoe onto a helicopter pad (don’t ask), fell 6 feet, and shattered his heel. The heel is a terrible bone to break in general (poor circulation) and, in particular, for someone who is older and a bit overweight (my goal is to not use the word “patient” once in this article because we aren’t patients, we’re people). Continue reading “Starvation: The Cure For the Obesity Epidemic. Or Will Esther Dyson Be My Next Mother-In-Law?”

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