Friday, December 01, 2006

W.Va Medicaid: benefits or bust

How's this for a twist to the West Virginia Medicaid program? Recipients get better benefits--mental health counseling, for example--if they promise to, say, join a "stop smoking" program. Or a cardiac patient could go to rehab if he or she joins a weight-loss program after signing a pledge "to do my best to stay healthy." The perpetrators of this New Wave medical care program are tossing in platitudes about "patient responsibility." Er, shouldn't a cardiac patient get rehab anyway? Read more about this at the New York Times whose report is based on an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Back again

I've come back from wordpress. No big reason except I've tweaked my template over here and like the look of it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bt or not Bt, that's the question

Don't get me wrong, I'm not on the side of agribusiness. I'm all for slow food and small farms. But let's call a spade a spade when it comes to biotech food. Agri uses it to maximise profits--in some insidious ways, too, like preventing farmers from collecting seeds from one harvest to use to plant the next. But is biotech food dangerous to our health or the health of the enviornment? Probably less so than some environmental groups would want us to believe. Let's call Monsanto on what it is big, greedy, capitalistic. But let's not squander our fight on the wrong things. Here's a rational Q&A on Bt corn.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Marcia Angell, Lady Warrior

Dr. Angell continues her pounding of Big Pharma with her article in the June 6 New York Review of Books. She reminds us that Merck knew that Vioxx was linked to heart attacks even as it relentlessly marketed the drug to doctors and to us. That's us as in U.S., the only advanced country except New Zealand that allows TV commercials for prescription drugs. She reminds us that many of the FDA advisory people commissioned to protect us against dangerous drugs are associated with the drug companies who market the stuff. And market they do. Conventions and trips and cute office gee gaws for physicians; the promise of a pain-free nirvana for the arthritic. Her articles in the NY Review and her pieces as former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine are must reads (abstract only without a subscription, uinfortunately).

And while I'm at it, a tip of the hat to the Republican legislators who so very consideratly protected these very same pharmaceutical companies' marketing budgets by forbidding drug price negotiation under the recent Medicare Part D (for Damned?) legistlation.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Hotter than ...

The Canada's Environment Minister has silenced a civil service environmental scientist who is author of a sci-fi book on global warming called "Hotter than Hell." She's forbidden him to publicly speak on his book or the science behind it.

The plot may be fiction but global warming sure ain't. And IMHO there's not much we can do about it. The earth's profligate ways have contributed to the trend, but how much? The human race gobbles up fossil fuels and spits their byproducts into the atmosphere at a dizzying rate. Does that mean the warming trend will be reversed if we stop? I think not.

The Earth is getting hotter. Than Hell? Maybe not, but hotter. Take a gander at the Global Warming International Center's Extreme Event Index if you want to get a little shiver. Maybe it's time to pack up the surfboards and head inland. Denver anyone?

Monday, April 17, 2006

There's no biz like methane biz

C/net reports on a grad student's original and imaginative business plan to recover methane from organic waste. The waste he has in mind is the vegetable leavings and paper discarded by supermarkets. I see this as an urban equivalent to manure-generated methane down on the farm. C/net reported that the student, Shane Etan, never saw himself as an environmentalist. But let's face it, this is huge for the environment, because methane is a killer greenhouse gas. His business plan calls for converting supermarket waste into methane, liquid fertilizer, and solid compost. Presumably he shows how this can be done profitably. Calling all grocers. Wouldn't this be the perfect marketing tool for Whole Foods?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Massachusetts I want to love/hate/love/hate you

I do want to love the new Massachusetts universal insurance coverage
scheme to require all citizens to have some form of health insurance just like all drivers have to have accident insurance. I really want to adore Gov. Mitt Romney and Senator Ted Kennedy and all the pols who put the legislation together.

But this is what sticks in my craw: Under the guise of a wide, universal umbrella, the plan will be a crazy quilt of insurance plans, insurance premiums and insurance bureaucracies vying to make life more difficult for thousands of families.
Who, after spending an afternoon on hold with her own insurance company will rejoice at adding a whole bunch of other peoples' afternoons to the hold lines?

And will a bare bones insurance policy make a difference to the lower income mother who can barely afford the minimum?

There are no doubt some pluses. Insured people tend to get admitted to hospitals in our country. Uninsured are usually out of luck. But do we want to perpetuate the pluri-paper nonsystem we have today? Will the low-end premium payers get preventive health care? contraception? heart or liver transplants?

The Physicians for a National Health Program, and Health Care Now and Dennis Kucinich are on the side of right on this matter; Massachusetts is on the side of half-right. Or is is half-wrong?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The protein folds

It blows me away how genes produce proteins. No sooner do their components, amino acids, line up than they start to fold in precise configurations.

A scientific pessimist could say it's impossible to simulate this folding in the lab, but the gang a Folding@Home is trying using thousands of home computers around the world. Anyone can help.

Evolution you are so cool!

Charles Darwin has understated himself again. He said his theory wouldn't be worth two beans (a bloggy paraphrase) unless it could be shown that "numerous, successive, slight, modifications" accrued over time.

Slight-modification-wise, you can't get any slighter than a subcellular biochemical receptor changing affinity for the protein that fits into it. Researchers reporting in Science determined that an ancient hormone receptor existed tens of millions of years before the hormone it now fits even appeared on the evolutionary scene. Its original function was different, but it was "ready" when a brand new hormone evolved millienia later.

I think of that receptor akin to a human hand; it worked well enough in the mists of time to hold a club or even tools. Then one day the baseball came along, and the old receptor was ready to be, well, Jorge Posada.

A nod to the New York Times for the article on this research.