Keep Your Money!

Mylan’s proposed half-billion dollar settlement with the federal government — an attempted quick fix for the bad publicity the Epi-pen maker has suffered for its widespread fraud and profiteering — should be rejected. We need to hold Mylan accountable for their actions. And the government should make an example of this greedy, inexcusable corporate conduct [...]

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Don’t use the Soap!
Antibacterial Soap

Those little bottles of anti-bacterial soap that people clip on to their purses and backpacks in recent years seem to have spread like a virus.  And now, it turns out, this product may not even work and — worse yet — might actually be dangerous. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that [...]

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Frankenfish Fillet? I’ll have the salad instead.

The FDA has now declared an answer to the first question, proclaiming GM salmon safe for consumption. For the FDA, the lack of convincing scientific evidence that GM salmon is unsafe for human consumption is good enough to declare that it is safe.

This is lousy logic, but that is the way the FDA works. The kind of scientific research that could document the real health concerns about GM salmon takes a lot of time and a lot of money, money that just isn’t available from public or private sources. The biotech industry proclaims that the gene-altered fish is safe and it doesn’t seem to matter that these companies have an obvious financial interest in saying so.

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My GI Doc’s Hand is Out

Now that we have all given thanks, and now that the day of mob shopping is thankfully behind us, now begins the season of giving. I mean, charitable giving. Many of us are thinking about which organizations and causes we want to support financially and about writing those checks before the end of the year.

So it is not surprising at all that every day’s mail brings more and more solicitations to my home, as well as so many telephone solicitations, from innumerable worthy causes: the ASPCA, United Way, Planned Parenthood, and many other organizations and groups that we support and that would like our support.

What was surprising was getting a fundraising solicitation from my gastroenterologist.

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The $35 Solution

So much has been written about the excesses of health care and ways to reform, cut, improve or save the system. I have a more modest proposal: Read the medical bill and get annoyed, like I did.

A year ago, our firm switched to a health savings account (HSA) system. Previously, we had fully paid for our employee’s health insurance. Under the new system, each employee has an HSA account and pays for health care services up to a specified dollar amount per year, the deductible, out of that account. Once the individual reaches the deductible limit, insurance pays for all further services needed. At our firm, the partners decided to pay the amount of each employee’s deductible. For the employee, this means no out of pocket costs. Meanwhile, the price of our firm’s overall health insurance costs annually went down.

I haven’t come to the proposal yet; but the HSA system led me to my proposal.

Now, when I go to the doctor, the bill still goes to my insurance company – that way, they can track how much of my deductible I have used – and then I get a statement for the amount I must pay for that doctor visit. I send a check in to the doctor’s office and keep a copy for my records.

Since our move to an HSA system, I am far more keenly aware of what health care costs. That is part of the point of this approach. If health care consumers are brought into closer contact with the business of medicine – by actually writing a check each time a health care service is provided – then the consumer may exercise some restraint in how health care dollars are spent.

Well, I have been brought into closer contact with the business of medicine and I am not happy.

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Junk Food: Time for a New Prohibition?

Let’s face it, so many of us battle an addiction to junk food. As a kid, I loved Hostess chocolate cupcakes. In college, Cap’n Crunch fueled many a group study session. As an adult, I mostly eat healthy foods – except for chocolate chip cookies. And an occasional ice cream. And . . .

For many Americans, junk food – foods high in calories, sugar and fat but low in nutritional value – is the staple of every day’s diet. And it shows.

There is no denying that we face an obesity epidemic in our country. Nor is there any denying that pervasive obesity is having an belt-busting impact on health care. Health care costs attributable to diabetes alone – according to the American Diabetes Association – account for 1 in every 10 health care dollars annually. That doesn’t even count lost time from work, reduced productivity and other economic consequences of the disease.

So, what is wrong with the idea of regulating junk food as a means to better health? When New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently proposed outlawing jumbo-sized sugary soda drinks, he ignited a firestorm. The proposal had nothing to do with outright banning Coke or Mountain Dew, but libertarians barked anyway at the idea of any government encroachment into personal choices.

What about my personal choices? Dietary decisions are a significant cause of obesity, which leads to higher rates of chronic disease, which leads to greater demand for health care, which leads to super-sized health care costs. Widespread obesity in our country, in short, affects us all.

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Caveat Patients

For as long as I can remember, Consumer Reports has been the name most closely associated with straight up ratings of innumerable consumer products and services from dishwashers to cameras to, well, you name it. Last week, Consumer Reports issued its first-ever review of hospitals across the country with a focus on patient safety.

If you’re a patient or you might someday be a patient, if you’re a physician or a nurse or a hospital administrator or, frankly, if you’re breathing, these results should be disturbing.

Consumer Reports (CR) explains that its review is based on the “most current data available,” including “information from government and independent sources on 1,159 hospitals in 44 states.” That sounds pretty good, except that CR was only able to reliably consider data on 18 percent of hospitals. Clearly, 18 percent is not good.

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