Vol. 140 January 15, 2016 A Review of 2015 Hubslist Blogs

January 15, 2016

Hub thumbnail 2015

 

Click on the date to see the full blog

 

January 1 – 5 out of 10 of my resolutions were “kept”. You guess which ones.

January 15 – 6 reasons why patients are non-compliant , excuse me, “non-adherent”- the new PC term, with their medications.

February 1 – incidence of sudden death while watching the Super Bowl (Patriot fans probably don’t have to worry about that THIS year.)

February 15 – some myths revealed about cholesterol in your diet, global warming, measles vaccination rates, herbal supplements, and Dr. Oz, vendor of snake oil(s).

March 1 – 8 new causes of death caused by cigarette smoking added to the previously identified 12; a total of 20.

April 1 – Athena Health purchases MySpace which raises more concerns about privacy of health care data (April Fools edition).

April 15 – what does a “board certified physician” mean, and what does it have to do with Presidential candidates (Rand Paul)?

May 1 – physicians’ prognoses are often too optimistic for the same reasons patients’ are.

May 15 – E-cigarettes open new avenues for adolescent use of marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids (“bath salts”).

June 1 – annual review of sunscreens and bug repellents plus less universities providing student access to tanning booths.

June 15 – new forensic techniques of identifying individuals by bacterial, viral, and DNA “fingerprints”.

July 1 – 6 positive access outcomes and 4 positive health care delivery outcomes of Obamacare at 5 years of age.

July 15 – dangers of synthetic cannabinoids (attn: Chandler Jones?) and the minimal (“pending”) review of sunscreens by FDA.

August 1 – two websites with the best “symptom diagnosis” track record for helpfulness, and the one that is the worst.

August 15 – [ family vacation in a lighthouse without electricity or running water]
DSC01581

September 1 – why new drugs cost so much, no “gay gene” identified yet, and the myths of low testosterone, chronic Lyme, and  8 glasses of water a day.

September 15 – The health benefits of our “microbiome” and the “microbiome” of the New York City subway.

October 1 – the misleading, untruthful attacks on Planned Parenthood.

October 15 – the scope and magnitude of adverse effects of dietary supplements.

November 1 – transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and hermaphrodite, oh my!

November 15 – toddlers shooting people and other “norms” of gun deaths – “By Degrees“.

December 1 – changing advice about what NOT to eat during the holidays.

December 15 – the benefits of research using fetal tissue, short history of political attacks on Planned Parenthood, and why if you are NOT fat and live a long life you should thank your parents.

HAPPY NEW YEAR


Vol.138 December 15, 2015 Who Buys Baby Parts?

December 15, 2015

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The Colorado gunman who shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is reported to have said “no more baby parts.”

 

The distorted flap about Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts” continues. On December 3 the Senate ( Republican-led) voted to strip Planned Parenthood (PP) of government funding. President Obama (a Democrat) will veto it if it reaches his desk. (I’m not suggesting that this is a political issue, of course) Planned Parenthood received $528 million from the U.S. government in 2014 to help support 700 clinics providing health services to mostly poor women. Why so much money? Basically because PP is providing subsidized women’s health services that in every other developed country except ours is provided by the government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if Congress were to succeed in blocking Medicaid patients from obtaining care at PP health centers 390,000 women would lose access to preventative health care in the first year alone. (1)

Who wants “baby parts”?

In 2014 NIH funded 164 research projects using fetal tissue with about 0.27% of its total grant money. (2) These projects were researching HIV/AIDS (39%) , eye development and disease (32%), Hepatitis C and other infections, (13%), diabetes (8%), and miscellaneous others including Alzeihmer’s and Parkinson’s. “Fetal tissue is a flexible, less-differentiated tissue … and it is a tool for research that can’t be replicated with adult tissue.” (3) It is different from stem cells, a medical tissue that came under attack back in W. Bush’s administration.

Use of fetal tissue has been legal since 1993 when Congress passed the NIH Revitalization Act which permits the tissue from any type of abortion to be used for fetal tissue research. The law requires complete and detailed informed consent from the woman to donate tissue from the abortion after she has made the decision to have an abortion. The law allows clinics to recover “reasonable payments” ($45-60 per specimen at PP) for providing the tissue to biological-research supply companies. The companies process the tissue and provide it to the researcher for about $800 per specimen. (I wonder if any Republicans have stock in some of those companies).

An estimated 5.8 Billion (yes, a “B”) people have received vaccines made with the two cell lines derived from fetal tissue. (Oh, NO, another red flag! “VACCINES”, “Guns”, “abortions” – all mentioned in the same blog! It’s almost enough to make you believe that there is a government conspiracy to enslave us all.)

“People are talking about fetal tissue, but really what the discussion is about is abortion.” (4) ( Duh!!)   3% of PP services are abortions, done in 1% of the clinics, and in just 2 states. (5) Planned Parenthood leaders have now instructed any PP clinic providing fetal tissue NOT to accept the measly 60 bucks.

Planned Parenthood has experienced 15 smear campaigns in 10 years according to its medical director (5). The current campaign has included:
1) six votes in Congress to restrict woman’s health care,
2) five Congressional committees currently investigating PP,
3) submission of 25,000 pages of documents by PP, and
4) 5 hours of testimony to one committee by its president.

Abortion politics appear to be as complex and almost as emotionally provocative as Presidential election politics, but the outcome of election politics will immediately affect only two women, not hundreds of thousands.

A HOLIDAY DIVIDEND:
Another learned cardiologist has reaffirmed the Hubslist axiom: “Just pick your parents right .” Dr. Lee Goldman, Dean of Columbia School of Medicine, explains that obesity is due to our genes in his new book, “Too Much of a Good Thing: How Four Key Survival Traits Are Now Killing Us.” He thinks that our overreaction to stress and our cravings for sweet, fatty, and salty foods all served us well in the cave man years when we had a life-span of 30 years, but that these “survivor genes” are now mismatched with our environment as we live into the 80’s. Of course, being a modern scientist he knows it is too late to “pick your parents”, so he is placing his hopes on future drug therapies that will turn off or block specific genes. Dr. Goldman says, “Gaining weight doesn’t mean that you are a terrible, non-virtuous person. This is the way you were built.” (6)

So, my holiday (includes New Year’s eve, of course) mantra for me and you is:
“Merry Christmas. Don’t beat yourself up. YOU are NOT in control.”

References:
1. CBO cost estimate on H.R. 3134, Defunding Planned Parenthood, September 16, 2015
2. Nature Magazine, Dec. 9, 2015, Meredith Wadman
3. Carrie Wolinetz, Associate Director for Science Policy, NIH
4. Shari Gelbar, MD. Weill-Cornell Medical College
5. Tearing Down the Fetal Tissue Smokescreen, NEJM, December 10, 2015, p.2376, Reagan McDonald-Mosley, M.D., M.P.H.
6. Boston Globe December 14, 2015 , B11


Vol. 133 October 1, 2015 What Year Is This? 1984??

October 1, 2015

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“Have you seen the video? You must see the video?” -Carly Fiorina on CNN

 

I must admit that the Republican Presidential debates have been occasionally entertaining as the non-Trumps gradually reveal a little of their own personalities in trying to counter his H-U-G-E one. But sometimes the posturing for a sound bite or a differentiating headline has so grossly distorted the facts that alarm bells go off in my head. Wait, you say, isn’t that normal for a political campaign? Of course it is, but as a physician I can’t help but cringe watching rabid political attacks based on distorted, misleading, and even deliberately misstated “medical information”.

“Planned Parenthood is profiting from selling baby parts obtained from abortions”.

  1. The 1988 Fetal Tissue Transplantation Panel, appointed by President Reagan, after reviewing decades of research stated that there was no evidence that the possible use of fetal tissue for medical research had ever helped persuade a woman to have an abortion.
  2. Only a few Planned Parenthood affiliates in three Western states have arrangements to provide fetal tissue from abortions to researchers.
  3. Permission for donation of fetal tissue cannot be sought from a woman until after she has decided to end the pregnancy.
  4. By law, the fetal tissue can not be sold for profit. A sum of $30 to $100 may be reimbursed to the health care providers/facility (not to Planned Parenthood, not to the patient) to cover costs of tissue recovery.
  5. By law, there is no federal reimbursement for the abortion procedure itself.
  6. Use of the unique characteristics of fetal tissue has allowed successful research for decades in the development of life-saving , disease-preventing vaccines. “Virtually every person in the country has benefitted from research using fetal tissue.” (1)

“Use of fetal tissue is unethical.”

  1. Just today the pediatric neurosurgeon running for President answered a question in New Hampshire about Planned Parenthood with, “Tearing babies apart? Is that what you mean? The medical ethics of selling body parts and manipulating babies in order to preserve certain body parts? It’s illegal.” Besides mixing “legal’ in with “ethical’, two different concepts, Dr. Carson has also apparently forgotten that he participated in a 1992 medical research study using tissue from aborted fetuses. (2)
  2. “The research use of fetal remains is ethical.” said Reagan’s 1988 panel.
  3. The Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Bishops has written “it may not be wrong in principle for someone unconnected with an abortion to make use of fetal organ from an unborn child who died as a result of an abortion.” (3)

“Planned Parenthood is in the abortion business.”

  1. Three per cent (3%) of the 10.6 million services delivered annually by Planned Parenthood were related to abortion procedures in 2014. That does represent over 320,000 abortions, so I can understand why believers in “zero abortions” might be upset, but Planned Parenthood services are much broader:
    42% for sexually transmitted disease tests (including HIV tests),
    34% for contraception services,
    11% for pregnancy tests,
    and 9% for cancer screening and prevention.
  2. “The inconsistent or incorrect use of contraception accounts for nearly half of unintended pregnancies and half of those end in abortion.” (4)
  3.  78% of the people served lived at or below the 150% federal poverty level.
  4. “We strongly support Planned Parenthood not only for its efforts to channel fetal tissue into important medical research but also for its other work as one of the country’s largest providers of healthcare for women, especially poor women.” (5)

“Have you seen the video? You must see the video?” -Carly Fiorina on CNN

  1. The Video” of Planned Parenthood physicians describing how they obtained fetal tissue is a heavily and deceptively edited compilation of 30 months of taping obtained by actors who misrepresented themselves and asked leading questions.
  2. “The Other Video” and pictures of a bucket of dead baby parts being sorted out by a technician has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood and is from “stock footage” from an anti-abortion organization.

I have no association with Planned Parenthood, and I am not an advocate of abortion as “a means of contraception”.
I am dismayed when information about a major health care provider and a valuable medical research resource is so distorted in such a believable fashion for political means.

In New Hampshire Dr. Carson decried political correctness and likened it to “group-think in Nazi Germany”.  In our present state of political polarization, demand for political correctness, a discouraged middle-class, growing fear of foreigners and scapegoating of immigrants, and even a popular, narcissistic candidate with a distinctive hair style, could “It” happen here?

References;
1.  NEJM 373:10, September 3, 2015 , p.890
2.  Boston Globe, Oct. 1, 2015, B4
3.  Biomedical Politics 1991
4.  Guttmacher Institute 2014
5.  Editors of the NEJM, Sept. 3, 2015

 

 


Vol. 128 July 1, 2015 Obamacare is Five Years Old. Can It Walk and Talk?

July 1, 2015

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“From a historical perspective,
5 years is a very short time.
Many of the key insurance provisions have been
in effect only since October 2013.” (1)

Now that the Supreme Court has decided that a key provision in the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the federal subsidy of health insurance for eligible citizens, is legal, the infancy of Obamacare is over. It looks like it is here to stay. How is the toddler doing? What has it done? Luckily, The Commonwealth Fund just published a summary of ACA effects so far. (1)

The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation formed in 1918 with Harkness family money made from the early oil business, (Shell Oil).

“The Commonwealth Fund has sought to be a catalyst for change by identifying promising practices and contributing to solutions that could help the United States achieve a high-performance health system. The Fund’s role has been to establish a base of scientific evidence on what works, mobilize talented people to transform health care organizations, and collaborate with organizations that share its concerns. The Fund’s work has always focused particularly on the challenges vulnerable populations face in receiving high-quality, safe, compassionate, coordinated, and efficiently delivered care.”

This health-care-focussed fund and think tank reports that it is too early to see many benefits of the ACA, but lists some of its immediate, observable effects.

Access to care:

  • 7.0 to 16.4 million young adults from chronically uncovered populations ( hispanics, blacks, and those with low incomes) have gained health insurance coverage since 2010 (different survey methods and timing cause the difference in results).
  • 11.7 million Americans selected a health plan through the health insurance marketplaces established by the ACA. 87% of those people were eligible for federal subsidies of premiums.
  • 10.8 million additional Americans have enrolled in Medicaid since the ACA was passed.
  • 3 million previously uninsured young Americans have gained coverage through the ACA extension of dependent coverage to age 26.
  • 8-12 million Americans have benefitted from the ACA’s regulation that prevents insurers from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions.
  • 75% of those newly insured seeking appointments with primary care or specialist physicians have secured one within 4 weeks or less.

Delivery-System Reform:
“ The law constitutes one of the most aggressive efforts in the history of the nation to address the problems of the health care delivery system through funding many divergent experiments though lacking a coherent strategy.” (1)  The Commonwealth Fund report lumped the efforts into four categories.

1. Changes in Payments:
Reduce readmissions – There are 150,000 per year fewer Medicare hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge partly attributed to ACA financial penalties to hospitals with higher than expected readmission rates.
Reduce hospital-acquired conditions – ACA financial penalties to hospitals in the highest quarter of avoidable hospital-acquired conditions may have helped the composite rates for those to drop by 17% from 2010 to 2013.
Pay for Performance – ACA payment incentives to hospitals and physicians to improve their performance on various cost and quality measures: “too early to tell”.
Bundled payments – This departure from fee-for-service reimbursement pays the hospital, the physician, and post-hospital services with a single payment for a procedure or condition. 7000 providers have signed up for it, but it is “too early to tell”.

2. Changes in the Organization of Health Care Delivery:
Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – An ACO is an organization of physicians and hospitals formed to improve the integration and coordination of ambulatory, inpatient, and post-acute services for a defined population of Medicare beneficiaries. 405 ACOs are participating in a program that allows them to keep a portion of any cost savings they can generate without degrading quality. Although the pilot program of about a dozen Pioneer ACOs “saved” $385 million in the first two years, it is “too early to tell” if the others will have a postive effect.
Primary Care Transformation – A pilot program to reduce costs and improve quality in primary care has shown a $14 per month cost reduction per Medicare enrollee and less emergency room visits and hospitalizations in the 2.5 million patients participating in its first year, but it is “too early to tell”.

3. Changes in Workforce Policy:
The effects of increased primary care reimbursement for Medicaid patient services, increased National Health Service Crops scholarships for practicing in underserved areas, and establishment of a National Health Care Workforce Commission (but remains to be funded by Congress) are all “too early to tell”.

4. Increase Innovation in Health Care Delivery:
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) was funded at $1 billion a year for 10 years to undertake a wide variety of experiments in improving quality for patients and reducing the 43% share of national health costs now paid by the government.

  • Commonwealth Fund says: CMMI is perhaps the most promising of the ACA efforts, but “way too early to tell”.
  • The CMMI itself reports it has launched 26 “demonstration models” of cost reduction and quality improvement. The Pioneer ACOs mentioned above is the first model “to meet the statutory criteria for expansion”.(2)
  • A separate report from Weil Cornell Medical College Department of Healthcare Policy and Research states that to date the CMMI has spent only one-third of its $10 billion, that it seems to be slow in distributing data from its experiments to participating organizations, and that it is hampered, as most quality improvement efforts are, by the lack of consensus on what constitutes “ improved quality”. So it is “too early to tell” (2)

Wow, that is definitely more than you may have ever wanted to know about the ACA so far!
It is certainly more than I can remember.
It is clear that Obamacare does have a lifetime before it.
As that lifetime unfolds one can only hope that responsible adults will guide it through its future developmental stages.

Bottom line: carry a small laminated copy of this blog in your pocket or purse to pull out when engaged … embroiled, …immersed, …or even entangled in any discussion about Obamacare, which will continue, even if Hilary renames it.

Remember, Medicare was just as controversial when first passed. One governor that opposed Medicare actually mobilized his state’s National Guard the day Medicare was passed in fear of the hordes of newly insured people that he expected to overwhelm emergency room departments.

References:
1. NEJM June 18, 2015;  The Affordable Care Act at Five Years
2. NEJM May 21, 2015;  Assessing the CMS Innovation Center


Vol. 123 April 15, 2015 What Does “Board Certified Physician” Mean? What Does It Have To Do With The 2016 Presidential Candidates?

April 15, 2015

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 “Nowadays, medicine is an open-resource team approach. I get all this information in the room with a patient in seconds, and then I use my experience and my knowledge to pull together a plan”

– Dr. Jonathan Weiss, a triple-board-certified physician explaining why he is against a test every ten years to maintain board certification;
NY Times, April 14, 2015, D3

A “board-certified physician” is one who has voluntarily applied for and passed a test of medical knowledge in one of 24 general specialities or over 30 subspecialties.. A non-profit American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) composed of physicians was established in 1933 to administer the tests to physicians who apply for the certification after completing their residency training. Each approved specialty board issues a certificate to successful candidates (It hangs on the wall in your physician’s office). Unlike the bar exam for lawyers, physicians are expected to pass the test the first time, though a second attempt is sometimes necessary in some specialties. Most hospitals and many health insurance companies require board certification as a sign of competence as part of their credentialing. States do NOT require board certification for licensure.

One of the founding specialty boards in 1933 was the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO), which brings us to the 2016 Presidential candidates.

Rand Paul, MD, a recently announced Republican candidate for President, took and passed his ophthalmology boards in 1995.  In 1997 he and 20 other practicing eye doctors protested the ABO’s changing of its certification from “lifetime” to “must be renewed every 10 years.” They argued that this Maintenance of Certification (MOC) test every ten years was “time-consuming for the practitioner, expensive ($1,500-$3,000), and irrelevant to patient care”. They formed a new board, the National Board of Ophthalmology (NBO), that would issue life-time certification for $500. Rand Paul was the lead organizer. He, his non-physician wife Kelley, and his non-physician father-in-law became members of its Board of Directors. NBO was never recognized by the ABMS, was dissolved by the State of Kentucky in 2000, was recreated in 2005 ( that just happened to be 10 years after Rand Paul was initially certified by ABO), and finally was dissolved again in 2011. It certified about 60 physicians in its lifetime.

Rand Paul is not the only critic of the ABMS and the Maintenance Of Certification (MOC) concept. Others have questioned the ABMS certification exams’ ability to evaluate actual clinical decision-making and clinical competence. Others have suggested that the exams’ heavy emphasis on memorized medical facts and pharmaceutical details is irrelevant, when nowadays such details are just a click or two away from the doctor in the exam room via electronic device. In 2013 a prestigious-sounding organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) brought a “restraint of trade” suit against the ABMS for its MOC requirement.

I was impressed by that name, until I Googled it. The AAPS is an ultra-conservative organization established to fend off  “the evils of socialized medicine”. Its positions include “HIV is not the cause of AIDS”, “abortions are associated with breast cancer”, and “childhood vaccinations cause autism”. Rand Paul and his father Ron, also a physician and a past presidential candidate himself, are both members of the AAPS.

“So what” you might think at this point.
Rand Paul’s beliefs and actions indicate to me that he has an excellent ability to create, maintain, and operate within his own reality, one which ignores accepted evidence. Perhaps one could say that very same thing about any politician with whom you disagree, but I don’t disagree with every thing that Rand Paul says.  Physicians are trained to make decisions often using inadequate data. I am surprised that Rand Paul, as a trained physician, can successfully maintain a belief construct that is so at odds with established facts.  Also, he tried, and failed, to develop an alternative governing body of his profession when he disagreed with its policies. It was NOT about trying for better patient care.

These are undesirable attributes in a President of the United States. It also makes Hilary’s real estate shenanigans in Arkansas, her use of more than one email address as Secretary of State, Jeb Bush’s claim to being Hispanic, and Elizabeth Warren’s claim to being Native American look pretty penny ante by comparison.


Vol. 116 December 15, 2014 Obamacare Update

December 16, 2014

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“After a year in place, the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded
in delivering on President Obama’s main promises.”
– NY Times

“Americans would rather see it improved than repealed.”
– Boston  Globe

Today, December 15, is the deadline for new enrollees to sign up for health care insurance under Obamacare ( December 23 in Massachusetts). It seems an appropriate time to take a look at how it is going. The deadline for renewals is February 15.

The recent Jonathan Gruber “revelation” about Obamacare’s “non-transparency” alleged that “ they did not tell the public that young, healthy people must subsidize sick people to make the numbers work.” Well, hello, what about insurance don’t you understand?! Those of us whose house has not burned down are subsidizing (aka “insuring the loss of”) those whose house has burned down!

Since the ACA was passed in 2010 the number of uninsured has fallen by 25%-33% depending on the study. At least 8 million and perhaps 11 million previously uninsured are now covered. Critics of the ACA charge that number is overstated by about 700,000 who merely got dental insurance coverage. More about that later in this blog. The law “is helping the health care industry by providing new paying patients and insurance customers.” It certainly is!  Health insurance companies are looking at a “nearly $2 trillion ( yes, TRILLION) of subsidized coverage through insurance exchanges and Medicaid over the next 10 years,.” Share prices of four of the major health insurance companies – Aetna, Cigna, Humana, and United Health – have more than doubled since March 2010. (1)

ACA subsidies are helping many who could not get health care coverage previously, but deductibles and variable out-of-pocket costs can remain a burden on low- and middle-income Americans. Please note the key word “Americans” here because the law does NOT extend coverage to un-documented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants and adults in 23 states that have not extended their Medicaid coverage as subsidized by the ACA comprise the major portion of uninsured persons. Texas, Florida, and California have the highest proportions of those people.

ACA health care insurance premiums were predicted to skyrocket, but in fact they will rise an average of 5% for 2015. “One reason may be that insurers who came in high in 2014 found themselves beaten out for enrollments. 77 new insurance plans will be competing for customers in 2015.” (2)  The online application for new customers is down to 16 screens from the original 76 screens that scuttled the first website application.

A physician from Kentucky in an essay in the NEJM pointed out that the two Kentucky senators remain vehemently opposed to Obamacare despite the fact that 413,000 Kentuckians have gained health insurance coverage under the ACA law. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has suggested that Kentucky could keep its health care exchange established by the ACA, Kynect, “even if the ACA is repealed”. (Does “have your cake and eat it too” come to mind here?) “It is unfathomable that they can continue to oppose the law and that geography can determine the adequacy of American’s care.” (3)

Government reports reveal that 1.4 million new enrollees have made selections of plans through December 5 through federal exchanges in 37 states. Reaching the CMS announced target of 9.1 million enrollees by 2015 appears to be imminent. The law’s “penalty” for individuals remaining underinsured started out at $95 (or 1% of income) annually in 2014 will go to $325 (or 2% of income) in 2015.

It is too early in its implementation to evaluate the ACA’s promised improvement of quality. A recent study of Massachusetts mortality rates after ACA implementation suggested that its effect has been positive, but many criticized the study’s conclusions as speculative and premature. Obamacare did create the Medicare Hospital Readmission Reduction Program aimed at reducing readmission within 30 days of hospital discharge; an expensive event supposedly associated with inadequate treatment during the first hospitalization or inadequate follow-up as an outpatient. The national readmission rate for Medicare dropped from 19% in 2007-2011 to 17.5% in 2014, “in part as a result of the ACA”.

An early sign of the success of Obamacare might be the very recent demand to expand its dental insurance benefits for children to adults via a proposed Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2013. (4) Look to this concept and the coverage of non-documented immigrants to become issues in the 2016 election. For those of you with a really long-term outlook, expect Hilary’s Affordable Veterinary Office Care (HAVOC) to be a hot issue in 2020.

Even during this very polarized midterm election some perceived a subtle shift on the Republican side from “Obamacare opponents” to “Obamacare critics”. They may be getting the message that a large portion of the citizenry is liking the health insurance coverage that reduces their stress and concern about the potential impact of uninsured illness on their life and pocketbook. Maybe more member of both parties will switch from Obamacare “opponents” to Obamacare “critics”, since we all agree that Obamacare, or whatever Hilary chooses to call it during her first term, can be improved.

References:
1. Bos Globe Nov. 18, 2014; pg A8
2. Cape Cod Times Nov. 1, 2014
3. The Affordable Care Act, 1 Year Later, NEJM 371;21, pg. 1960, Nov. 20 2014
4. Integrating Oral and General Health Care, NEJM 371:24, pg. 2247, Dec. 11, 2014


Vol. 108 August 15, 2014 “Big” Marijuana?

August 15, 2014

hubWhat will be the future impact of marijuana use?

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests very plausibly
that the history of tobacco use tells us how the marijuana industry might develop.

 


“The tobacco industry has provided a detailed road map for marijuana:

  • deny addiction potential,
  • downplay known adverse health effects,
  • create as large a market as possible as quickly as possible,
  • and protect the market through lobbying, campaign contributions, and other advocacy efforts.”

Marijuana (MJ) IS LESS addictive than tobacco. Presently about 9% of MJ users meet the criteria for dependence as compared to 32% for tobacco users. But, recent studies show that heavy MJ use by an adolescent can lead to structural brain changes and subsequent dependency as an adult. All researchers agree that MJ use in those under 21 years can be harmful and should not be permitted. Most agree that MJ is NO more a gateway drug than alcohol and tobacco are.

MJ’s effect on cognitive functioning IS LESS than alcohol, but it can slow reaction time. Effects of MJ are independent of blood or urine levels. There is no breathalyzer test for MJ. DUI standards for MJ do not exist. (see Buzzfeed video, “Drunk vs. Stoned”)

We now accept that smoking tobacco is a major cause of death. To our knowledge no one has ever died of marijuana. Since it is inhaled it can cause lung damage, but it doesn’t cause cancer. Sensitive to the concern about damage caused by inhaled MJ, sellers are already pushing vaporizers and edible products. A rumored joint venture between a medical MJ vendor and an e-cigarette manufacturer apparently sent stock prices soaring.

MJ is cited often for its useful effects for cancer and AIDS patients, and those benefits are real. There is very little evidence that MJ “reduces anxiety”. Such claims imply that “a little reduction of anxiety” will, of course, make your work and life easier and users will be more successful. Can’t you just envision the ad campaigns for “cool”, “mellow”, and “helpful MJ”?

Cigarettes started out as a “roll your own” process used by a small portion of the population in the 1880’s. By 1950 half of our population used tobacco, mostly cigarette smoking. As the process of making cigarettes was industrialized, 120,000 cigarettes a day were rolled and packaged by machines. Advertising and marketing soon expanded the use of cigarettes to the general population with special targets of women and the young. Cigarettes were made “more mellow” and had additives to speed absorption and “enhance taste”. Increasing the potency of MJ is already well under way and literally has free rein, since there is no standardization of MJ products. Competitive sellers boast of their product’s enhanced potency and use it as a marketing tool.

As the tobacco industry grew, so did the smoking lobbies and corporations that resisted regulation of tobacco products or distribution of the scientific studies of tobacco effects. The National Cannabis Industry Association with 450 business members and offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver already exists.  The strength and power of the tobacco lobby prevented us for 50 years from accepting cigarette smoking as a public health problem. Unlike cigarettes, MJ also has the internet that provides direct, and directed, advertising to the public; a fantastically effective and profitable way to sell a product as proven by our pharmaceutical companies.

Anyone that does not believe that MJ will become a major business need only look at the competitive scramble for permits in states newly allowing medical marijuana dispensing ; a fierce competition despite ambiguity of Federal vs. state law compatibility, as well as hefty application and annual permit fees.

“The free-market approach to tobacco clearly failed to protect the public’s welfare and the common good: in spite of recent federal regulation, tobacco use remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.” The author calls for “collaboration among the FDA, NIH, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) , the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other agencies” to “understand the harms and forecast the effects of industrialization” of MJ. In light of the ineffectiveness of multiple governmental agencies in “collaborating” to ensure proper, transparent food labeling and enhance the public health, one can’t be too optimistic about government’s effectiveness in influencing the manufacture, selling, and use of MJ in the future.

References:
1. NEJM 371:5 July 31, 2014 “Big Marijuana – Lessons From Big Tobacco”, Richter and Levy
2. Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Health, 1982
3. Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine – Assessing the Science 1997


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