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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain’s Radical Agenda

By BOB HERBERT
Talk about a shock to the system. Has anyone bothered to notice the radical changes that John McCain and Sarah Palin are planning for the nation’s health insurance system?

These are changes that will set in motion nothing less than the dismantling of the employer-based coverage that protects most American families.

A study coming out Tuesday from scholars at Columbia, Harvard, Purdue and Michigan projects that 20 million Americans who have employment-based health insurance would lose it under the McCain plan.

There is nothing secret about Senator McCain’s far-reaching proposals, but they haven’t gotten much attention because the chatter in this campaign has mostly been about nonsense — lipstick, celebrities and “Drill, baby, drill!”

For starters, the McCain health plan would treat employer-paid health benefits as income that employees would have to pay taxes on.

“It means your employer is going to have to make an estimate on how much the employer is paying for health insurance on your behalf, and you are going to have to pay taxes on that money,” said Sherry Glied, an economist who chairs the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Ms. Glied is one of the four scholars who have just completed an independent joint study of the plan. Their findings are being published on the Web site of the policy journal, Health Affairs.

According to the study: “The McCain plan will force millions of Americans into the weakest segment of the private insurance system — the nongroup market — where cost-sharing is high, covered services are limited and people will lose access to benefits they have now.”

The net effect of the plan, the study said, “almost certainly will be to increase family costs for medical care.”

Under the McCain plan (now the McCain-Palin plan) employees who continue to receive employer-paid health benefits would look at their pay stubs each week or each month and find that additional money had been withheld to cover the taxes on the value of their benefits.

While there might be less money in the paycheck, that would not be anything to worry about, according to Senator McCain. That’s because the government would be offering all taxpayers a refundable tax credit — $2,500 for a single worker and $5,000 per family — to be used “to help pay for your health care.”

You may think this is a good move or a bad one — but it’s a monumental change in the way health coverage would be provided to scores of millions of Americans. Why not more attention?

The whole idea of the McCain plan is to get families out of employer-paid health coverage and into the health insurance marketplace, where naked competition is supposed to take care of all ills. (We’re seeing in the Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch fiascos just how well the unfettered marketplace has been working.)

Taxing employer-paid health benefits is the first step in this transition, the equivalent of injecting poison into the system. It’s the beginning of the end.

When younger, healthier workers start seeing additional taxes taken out of their paychecks, some (perhaps many) will opt out of the employer-based plans — either to buy cheaper insurance on their own or to go without coverage.

That will leave employers with a pool of older, less healthy workers to cover. That coverage will necessarily be more expensive, which will encourage more and more employers to give up on the idea of providing coverage at all.

The upshot is that many more Americans — millions more — will find themselves on their own in the bewildering and often treacherous health insurance marketplace. As Senator McCain has said: “I believe the key to real reform is to restore control over our health care system to the patients themselves.”

Yet another radical element of McCain’s plan is his proposal to undermine state health insurance regulations by allowing consumers to buy insurance from sellers anywhere in the country. So a requirement in one state that insurers cover, for example, vaccinations, or annual physicals, or breast examinations, would essentially be meaningless.

In a refrain we’ve heard many times in recent years, Mr. McCain said he is committed to ridding the market of these “needless and costly” insurance regulations.

This entire McCain health insurance transformation is right out of the right-wing Republicans’ ideological playbook: fewer regulations; let the market decide; and send unsophisticated consumers into the crucible alone.

You would think that with some of the most venerable houses on Wall Street crumbling like sand castles right before our eyes, we’d be a little wary about spreading this toxic formula even further into the health care system.

But we’re not even paying much attention.

Original here

Family Sues Hospital That Lost Tumor Before Biopsy

CHICAGO (STNG) ― A north suburban family says they will never know for certain if a tumor removed from a young woman two years ago was cancerous, since Children's Memorial Hospital lost the tumor.

A negligence lawsuit filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Kara Morris of Highland Park says after having surgery in October of 2006 to remove a tumor encased in her thyroid, Children's lost the tumor before performing a biopsy to determine if it was cancerous.

Kara was 16 years old at the time of the surgery, according to a release from the law firm of Levin and Perconti, which filed the lawsuit. A week after the surgery, when Kara and her family returned to the hospital to receive the biopsy results, the hospital told them that because they lost the sample, no biopsy could be performed and no determination could be made as to whether or not it was cancerous.

"We were in shock," Kara's mother, Charlene, said. "We could not believe that the hospital we trusted to care for our daughter lost the tumor removed from her body. The tumor held all of our answers, and without it, we will never know whether she has cancer. We brought this case against Children's Memorial so that other families do not have to go through what we are facing."

Kara is now a freshman at the University of Michigan. "There isn't a day that goes by when I'm not thinking about it," she said. She undergoes ultrasounds every six months to monitor her thyroid to ensure there is no new growth or changes.

In addition to the stress of the situation, the suit contends, Kara will most likely face great difficulties obtaining individual insurance as she moves into adulthood because of her uncertain health status.

(Source: Sun-Times News Group Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2006. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Original here

5 Tips For Better Sleep

by Kate Dailey

If you do everything right each night—you know, going to bed early and avoiding drinking—your body's internal clock should wake you up at the same time every morning. For the rest of us, here are five simple ways to a better night's sleep:

1.) Charge your BlackBerry in the Living Room
Having too many tech toys in the bedroom makes your mind associate the room with productivity, not relaxation. "You want your brain to know that when you're in bed, that's a place for sleep and sleep only," says Philip Gehrman, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and a specialist in sleep medicine. If nothing else, put that bad boy on silent mode. Whatever e-mails you get can wait until dawn.

2.) Be Cool
You think it's too hot, and she's always too cold. Since she'll probably sleep with an extra blanket no matter what the room temperature, lower the thermostat to just about our ideal comfort level, and let her layer as necessary. "You can always add more blankets on one side," says Gehrman. "It's harder to cool off." Another option: Invest in a dual-weight comforter, which has heavier down in one side than the other.

3.) Go Mattress Shopping
Talk about something being worth your hard-earned cash. Studies show that 47% of people lose at least three hours of sleep per week due to their partner's snoring, tossing and turning, and insomnia. If her restless sleep keeps you up, buy a new mattress, says Gehrman. Your bed should be big and stable enough so that her movements don't disrupt your side of the bed.

4.) Do it Sideways
You don't have to sacrifice sleep because your girl needs to cuddle. Lay in the classic spoon position to give her the contact she needs and you the sleep you crave. There might be even more benefits. "If you're sleeping on a good-quality mattress and pillow, the position has actually been shown to help lower stress levels while boosting intimacy," says Jodi Fidler, a chiropractor and sleep expert at Davis Chiropractic in Minneapolis.

5.) Go Old-School Clock
Staring all night at the glowing digital display while you're trying to fall asleep can jack up your stress levels and keep you up. So trade your digital clock for an old-fashioned one with hands. That way, when the lights go out, you can't tell what time it is. Unless of course, you're crawling into bed at the crack of dawn. In which case, you're pretty much screwed anyway—at least when it comes to sleep.

Original here

Study: TN River water samples contain common drugs

CHATTANOOGA — At least 13 common drugs, including caffeine, several antibiotics, antidepressants and substances that lower human cholesterol levels, were found in test samples of the Tennessee River, according to a study.

Sean Richards, a professor of biological and environmental sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is taking the samples as part of a study conducted with another UTC professor to gauge pharmaceutical concentrations.

A landmark study published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2002 and an Associated Press investigation last March delved into the issue, but neither included studies in Tennessee.

The UTC team has spent 2 1/2 years analyzing river water samples from Knoxville to Chattanooga. Richards said so far the drugs have been detected in minuscule proportions, the same as in other areas of the country. As in other studies, the pharmaceuticals were measured in parts per trillion in the local study.

“Everyone’s worried about pesticides in the water, but the amount of pharmaceuticals that get dumped in the water via just taking them is going to equal or exceed that of pesticides,” Richards said. “You have to wonder what it’s doing to the ecosystem. If we’re upsetting the balance in any way, it can’t be perceived as a good thing.”

Environmental Protection Agency officials have said they believe the water supply is safe, but are looking into water standards for pharmaceuticals.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet set drinking water standards for (pharmaceuticals) at this time, and utilities are not required to test for them,” Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said in a written statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

But the EPA isn’t ready to take action until scientists are sure about the potential dangers involved, said Suzanne Rudzinski, deputy director for science and technology in the agency’s Office of Water.

“We believe the water supply is safe,” Rudzinski said, “We want to figure out what’s going on, and then if it’s appropriate, take action.”

The EPA is collecting information from health care facilities about how they are disposing of drugs and trying to educate the public about proper disposal procedures at home to avoid unnecessary dumping.

That would reduce but not eliminate the problem, which persists because drugs are excreted naturally into the sewer system through toilets, sinks and showers, according to Christian Daughton, a research scientist with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

EPA researchers are looking more closely at which pharmaceuticals might be present in sewage sludge and also sampling fish tissues from 154 sites across the country for toxicology testing, including a site on the Tennessee River downstream from Chattanooga, according to EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones. Those results will not be available until late 2010 or early 2011.

More details as they develop online and in Monday’s News Sentinel.

Original here

A Vegetarian Diet Shrinks the Brain

(Our happy hour fact to amaze your drinking buddies with.)

According to a new study, vegetarians and vegans are six times more likely to suffer from brain shrinkage than meat eaters.

The link was discovered after scientists at Oxford University ran memory tests, physical checks and brain scans on 107 people between the ages of 61and 87, and then retested them five years later.

Researchers speculate the loss of brain mass in vegetarians and vegans is due to a deficiency of Vitamin B12, which is found in meat, fish and eggs. This type of brain atrophy is linked to Alzheimer's Disease and other cognitive failings.

The decision to eat meat is often attacked by veggies, but it now seems as though these kinds of affronts may just be a product of small-mindedness.

Original here

Anti-Theft Lunch Bag Deters Sandwich Thieves

If office gremlins are making off with your daily meal, innovative designer Sherwood Forlee has a clever solution: the Anti-Theft Lunch Bag. Simply put, Anti-Theft Lunch Bags "are regular sandwich bags that have green splotches printed on both sides." With your sandwich inside, the bag simulates mold and makes the contents look disgusting. These bags aren't available for purchase, but the idea shouldn't be difficult to replicate if you need more sandwich security at your workplace. Thanks Patrix!

Original here

Five Flaws in the New U.S. ‘Country of Origin’ Food Labeling

GM Asks for Government Support on Battery Development