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The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President

The resurgent debate about President Trump’s mental health prompts me to update a piece I wrote for THCB last June. That piece drew lively comments and debate.

It’s also the one-year mark of the Trump presidency.

As The New York Times editorial page recently asked, bluntly, on Jan. 11: “Is Mr. Trump Nuts?”

Since last summer, that question has gained more traction and spurred more earnest debate. The results from Trump’s medical and “cognitive” exam on Jan 12 are unlikely to quell concern.   (More about those results below.)

Nearly every major newspaper and magazine has run stories. Print media columnists and TV commentators dwell on it constantly.   It’s catnip for late night comedians. It’s been a trending topic on social media for months.   And, of course, it’s a topic of discussion and banter almost everywhere you go.

Lawmakers have finally joined in, too, after reluctance for the better part of 2017. Some even render an opinion publicly.

Articles have begun to pop up in medical journals, too—most recently Dr. Claire Pouncey’s piece in the New England Journal of Medicine (Dec. 27, 2017).

And then there’s the book, which sparked Dr. Pouncey’s piece as well other articles and reviews since it came out last fall.   I’m not talking about Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff—although that book is certainly relevant in this context.

Rather, I’m talking about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a specialist in law and psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.

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Can the Press Save DSM 5 from Itself?

DSM 5 has suddenly become a star press attraction. In just the last three weeks, more than 100 news stories featuring DSM 5 appeared in major media outlets located in more than a dozen countries. (For a representative sample see Suzy Chapman’s post on Dx Revision Watch.) The explosion of interest started with a flurry when The New York Times published two long DSM 5 articles and three DSM-5-related op-ed pieces, all within a few days. An unrelated press conference in London then generated a widely distributed Reuters story and also many independent pieces. Several other reporters had also been working on their own DSM 5 stories that just happened to arrive at the same time.

The intense press scrutiny of DSM 5 is really just beginning. I know of at least 10 additional reporters who are preparing their work now for publication in the near future. And many of the journalists whose articles appeared during these last few weeks intend to stay on this story for the duration — at least until DSM 5 is published, and probably beyond. They understand that DSM 5 is a document of great individual and societal consequence — and that its impact and risks need a thorough public airing.

The press coverage has been almost uniformly and devastatingly negative. The two most common themes are 1) DSM 5 will radically expand the boundaries of psychiatry, medicalising normality and leading to unneeded and harmful treatment; and 2) DSM 5 decisions are being made arbitrarily, based on narrow input and lacking sufficient scientific support. The DSM 5 proposals that have elicited the most concern are changes in the definition of autism and the expansion of major depressive disorder to capture much of normal grief.

The articles sometimes contain small inaccuracies and sometimes emphasize peripheral issues. And the most dangerous DSM 5 proposals get far too little mention. I will discuss in later blogs how DSM 5 will worsen the over-diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder and the over-prescription of antipsychotic mediation. But the press has gotten the main points just right and somehow manages to see the risks of DSM 5 much more clearly than do the people working on it.

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And What Happens if the Individual Mandate is Struck Down?

An alarming article in Politico.com looks at what could happen if the Supreme Court determines that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision is unconstitutional—something that the current conservative leaning of the Court seems to indicate is somewhat more likely than not.

Assuming that such a possible decision by the Court follows that of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in ruling that the mandate is unconstitutional but the remainder of the ACA may stand, the Politico.com article anticipates some potentially disastrous consequences.

The provisions of the ACA—some of them already in force—include guaranteed issue, elimination of annual and lifetime limits, and a ban on basing premiums on health status, essentially decoupling coverage and premiums from insurance risk. Without the requirement for almost everyone to have coverage, there will be nothing to ensure that the risk pool contains a large percentage of individuals in good health as well as those with medical problems, and nothing to stop anyone from waiting until they’re sick or injured to demand coverage.

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A Bizarre Report

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I have been watching the release of the Medicare Trustees reports for many years and I have never seen anything as strange as what happened last week.

Although these reports are normally carefully embargoed, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released parts of it (the parts most consistent with the administration’s spin) several days in advance. Then Sebelius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other trustees, all with happy faces, appeared for the formal release last Thursday, where one person was notably absent: Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster.

Enterprising reporters who researched all the way to the end of the report (page 281), where Foster’s sign-off signature would normally appear, found instead a statement disowning the entire report, encouraging readers to ignore it, and diverting everyone’s attention to an alternative report prepared by the office of the Medicare actuaries.

As noted the other day at my blog, I think I can safely say this has never happened before in the history of Medicare.

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