Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cold Medicine is Dangerous for Kids

The FDA said prescription and even over-the-counter cold medications can be harmful, even fatal, for children under 6 years old. They said the medications are not intended for kids under 2 at all. Even the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a group that represents drug makers, supports labeling products "Do Not Use" in children under 2.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Health Care is Top Concern For Good Reason

Politicians are paying close attention to new polls which show health care is the top domestic concern among voters. There's a good reason it's our top priority! The percentage of companies even offering health insurance dropped to 60% this year from 69% in 2000 and the trend is accelerating.

According to a survey released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation 38% of workers last year had deductibles of $500 or more and that's up from 14% in 2000. Even then the amount of coverage continues to shrink too.

Maybe America is reaching the "perfect storm" of circumstances to make changes in health care. Perhaps it will even be enough to bring complementary and alternative therapies in to the health care mix. After all, most of us turn to CAM only after we've run out of options with traditional medicine. Maybe it'll be the same for our health care system too. When it's run out of options maybe it'll open the door to better ways to heal and to be healthy.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Health Care Cost Turning Point

The new contract between GM and the UAW may be the turning point in health care costs in this country. In case you've been under a rock this week the deal turns over the liabilities for the health care of all GM retirees to a new trust that will be funded with $35 billion from GM. The catch is that it will be up to the trust to set and manage the health care benefits.

This is a radical break from the UAW's reliance on job-based insurance and it will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the future. It's a great deal for GM since it gets out from under a huge and growing liability so it can become more competitive. For UAW members, especially aging retirees, it may be the dawn of an unpleasant new day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Insurance Costs Rise

This isn't going to come as a surprise to anybody but the cost of health insurance is going up next year ... again. The best guess seems to be between 7% and 9% and the expectation is that workers will continue to pick up a larger share of the expense. The average is for employers to pay 78% and workers 22% in addition to co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance they must pay. Oh, and you can expect coverage to continue to decline too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Medicine In The Papers

Two interesting tidbits in the papers lately caught my attention. They seem to be two different facets of the same problem. First was the Letter To The Editor in the WALL STREET JOURNAL on Sept. 19th from J. David Gaines, M.D. FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Yale University. He said that 31% of the health care costs in America are for administrative salaries and advertising. In other words out of the 16% of America's GDP that goes for health care 4.96% has nothing to do with medicine.

The other article is from the DALLAS MORNING NEWS today (Sept. 24th) about Dr. Cyrus Peikari. He previously was chief of staff at Baylor Medical Center in Garland, TX but he was so caught up in the money-making process that once saw 51 patients in one 7-hour shift. Now he's the first physician in North Texas to open his own "micropractice" meaning he sees fewer patients and is able to spend more time with each one. He has only an office manager, no nurses, so if a patient needs a shot he gives it himself. In case you're worried he's going to grow poor as a result of this radical change, don't. The doctor says it looks like he's going to make about 1/3 more while working 1/3 fewer hours.

According to Dr. Peikari: "Big industries have interspersed themselves between the patient and the physician and the whole system is collapsing. By doing this I can actually know my patients as people. I can be a friend."

I'm glad to see him join about 500 doctors nationwide in this trend back to sanity in the medical profession.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The FDA Reich

The Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) march towards total control and domination continues. Now they're putting "legacy" drugs under new controls. These drugs have been used for years, in many cases prior to the FDA being created in 1962, but now the FDA is demanding they be subjected to full (and costly) FDA review.

FDA reviews can cost between $5 million and $10 million even for a legacy drug and since they're manufactured by small to medium companies who don't have that kind of money to invest, these drugs will either disappear or have new, higher costs as a direct result of FDA red tape.

The FDA admits it is being "aggressive" and promises to become even more so in the future so hold on to your wallet. This move only benefits the big drug companies who have the money and practice to go through the FDA approval process.

Meanwhile I notice how the FDA is going soft on consumer drug advertising. The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that even allow it and thanks to the just-passed FDA bill the attempt to tone down and retrict ads has been killed. The advertising, media and drug industries worked together to gut legislative attempts to kill their current cash cow. Drug companies spend over $5 Billion in advertising to consumers, 55% on TV.

And who's representing the health and well-being of Americans?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Radio Interview

For those of you who might be interested my next radio interview will be on Saturday, Sept. 22nd at 9:13 a.m. EST on Talk Star Radio and it will be streamed live on the Internet at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Medicare Changes

Tough new restrictions are being proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to basically ban payments for "self-referred services". When doctors refer a patient to their own diagnostic clinic for tests it's referred to as "self-referral" since the money goes into their pocket ... and it's a lot of money today.

A recent McKinsey & Co. study estimated doctors' profits from this practice at $8 billion per year.

The new rules are scheduled to go into effect as early as January.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Radio Perspective

Called in to a local Dallas talk show this week since they were talking about Hillary's new health plan. It was an opportunity to throw out the idea that WHAT we're paying for should also be part of the debate.

As our conversation developed I offered several statistics such as the recent report that the U.S. has fallen to #40 in longevity in the world. To my surprise the talk show host said this was a good thing! It was a sign that our country still had the freedom to smoke, to drink, to have guns and engage in dangerous behavior. I didn't bother to mention that we had all of those freedoms decades ago when we ranked in the top 10 nations for longevity, he clearly didn't want to be bothered by the facts.

In fact he responded to my litany of information with "figures lie and liars figure" which is probably as clear an indication of the intelligence level of the discussion as anything.

After the show I offered to send the show a free copy of my book so we could have a better discussion but the producer bluntly replied that they probably wouldn't be interested.

Hillary Care 2.0

I guess I should say something about Hillary Clinton's newest health care proposal since it's what everybody is talking about lately. OK, so she's learned a few lessons on the health care issue. This effort is opposed by both extreme left and extreme right and supported generally by the middle. The big difference is the climate of the country has changed. Insurance rates have gone up for a decade and coverage has declined. Today we have 46 million people uninsured which taxes the entire health care system.

What is interesting is that Hillary accepts a lot of money from the drug and medical industries now. In fact, she's the #2 recipient of donations from the pharmaceutical lobby, which has to make you question her goals and priorities.

I don't know if this is the right plan or not. We spend more on health care than any other nation at 16% of GDP. Perhaps if Britain (8%) or France (9%) spent more then they wouldn't have the long waits and other problems with their systems. With the aging Baby Boomer population it's clear that something has to be done and this political race is an opportunity to air a lot of ideas to begin building a consensus.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

U.S. Rank Continues Fall

The Associated Press has reported the classic "good news/bad news" story. The U.S. life expectancy at birth for 2005 rose to 77.9 years, an increase of a full year since 2000.

The bad news is that we rank #42 in the world. In other words while we're doing well more than 40 other countries are doing better. When you consider that the U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation on earth, 16% of our Gross Domestic Product, you appreciate that we're not getting a good return for our investment.

Other countries don't rely on prescription drugs and they capitalize on prevention.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rising Insurance Costs

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation the cost of insurance premiums has gone up 78% since 2001, much more than the 19% increase in wages and 17% jump in inflation. This year the amount went up 6.1% while wages went up 3.7% and inflation rose just 2.6%. Kaiser estimates that 1 to 2 million people join the ranks of uninsured every year.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Confusing Medical Bills

There are several new tools to help you unsnarl the confusing pile of medical bills. Anyone who's ever had major treatment with allopathic (mainstream) medicine knows how the bills pile up from every facet of treatment and insurance companies until it's hard to know which end is up. Most of these new services are web-based except for Quicken which is software for your home computer.

SmartMedicalConsumer is free and features automatic error detection.

MedBillManager charges a $25 annual fee but also lets you see what others in your area are paying for services.

Quicken Medical Expense Manager is a $50 software program you load on your computer to manage medical bills and maintain a family medical and prescription history.

Revolution Health is the premium service started by AOL founder Steve Case. It charges $129 annually but in addition to managing medical bills it also offers personalized telephone service for medical and insurance questions. They'll even fight for disputed insurance claims on your behalf.

In any case, GOOD LUCK.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Health Care Costs Escalate

The cost for health coverage is expected to increase 6.7% next year, the most since 2004. As usual, employees are expected to shoulder the biggest share. Costs have gone up more than 6% for the last 3 years which is DOUBLE the rate of inflation and wage increases.

America already spends 16% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, how long can these increases continue before it breaks the bank? We need to look at what we're paying for because it directly impacts how much we pay. Then we can worry about who's paying. Complementary and alternative therapies have a lot to offer Americans, if the drug companies and medical establishment aren't successful in taking away our freedom to choose.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gold Standard Human Genome

J. Craig Venter may have lost the race to decode the human genome but he has managed to set the bar a little higher by completely decoding his own genome. The government-financed consortium finished the genome in 2003 with then state-of-the-art technology. Today after nearly five more years and $10 million he completed the new diploid version that is entirely his own DNA. This more complete sequence has become the new gold standard in genetic research.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Living To 100

Big front-page article in today's Dallas Morning News about how there were nearly 80,000 people 100 years old or more in the U.S. in 2006. The number has been doubling about every 10 years and is expected to continue to rise.

Sounds great until you contrast that with the fact that the lifespan of a child born in our country in 2004 ranks #42 in the world.

More important is the quality of life at extreme old age. The U.S. healthcare system does a great job of keeping people alive but a poor job of maintaining life. We need to focus more on the quality of the years instead of the quantity.