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Nicholas Kristof, who is rapidly pulling ahead of Gail Collins as my favorite New York Times columnist, today talked to Wendell Potter, former spinner for Cigna, the health insurance concern, now reformed.

Potter was one of the people responsible, at Cigna and before that Humana, for the meme that the Big Bad Gubmint is going to socialize our healthcare. And that this would be bad.

Would that it would happen, though! That would mean all citizens would have access to healthcare, including the sick, minorities, and the self-employed. This would be good for everyone, wouldn’t it? If people could get care when they’re sick, even if they don’t get a wage or salary—not just unemployed, I mean contractors and entrpreneurs of all sorts, any dreamer of the American Dream—they would be able to contribute to society rather than being a drain on it, such as by taking up space in a pauper’s grave. Healthy people are the ones who put into society, and society benefits proportionally from keeping them healthy.

Right now, Kristof says, the health insurance companies’ business model involves not insuring people. Possibly one of the few businesses, in fact, in which it’s considered perfectly ethical—even, according to the column, grounds for a perfect performance review—to take customers’ money and provide nothing in exchange. Even a casino offers better odd than that. But insurers frequently “seiz[e] upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums and finally gets cancer or some other expensive disease.” In any other field, that would be un-American. In health insurance, apparently, it’s the American way.

The socialized medicine meme, alas, is fiction, a lie created to scare people into acting against their own interests. None of the half-dozen or so plans floating around involves anything like socialism, unless your definition is “something and I don’t like it.” But socialized medicine is what would help people.

If that’s what you’re interested in.

I had a computer issue the last couple of days, so I’m making Thursday’s post today.

Meanwhile, people have been lining up on their sides of the health care reform “debate” (despite there being no valid case for leaving the current system untouched). Former NY Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey so thoroughly collapsed on The Daily Show (the highlight for me was her reading sections of the bill out loud and then completely misrepresenting what they said) that it cost her her job at Cantel Medical Corp, albeit supposedly because they suddenly noticed she’d been involved in the debate since February. Lou Dobbs toured such desolate realms as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada and saw the dead and dying piled up six high in the streets except, you know, in reality. Roger Ebert expressed his support for the public option and was told it’s bad because it’s socialism and socialism is bad because it’s socialist. Or something like that.

What I haven’t seen is an argument against insuring sick people. I am inadequately insured. Why should I go untreated? No, tell me, I really want to know. It’s a hereditary, chronic illness, so it’s not like I went out and got myself sick in a fiendish plot to make other people pay for it. I don’t think anyone does that, actually. You’re left arguing against insuring the Wrong Sort, which does seem Republican, come to think of it, but the people shouting speakers down at town hall meeting often are what they would call the wrong sort (except for race, of course).

Again, I haven’t seen any explanation of what’s good about the current system. It leaves some people unable to access healthcare when they need it, and it puts preventative care—so they don’t need more and more expensive care later—out of reach of 47 million Americans. It needs to be changed; it needs to be improved. And lying about what that means helps no one.

I know people—some as close as the mirror—who will go to work as long as they have vital signs. America’s so-called “Protestant work ethic” says that takinng off for illness is weakness, and since illness itself is weakness, the least you can do is press on. Furthermore, if you can skip a day, you’re obviously not that important, and who wants to admit that?

For us, today’s New York Times offers some plain advice.

A useful suggestion it is, indeed. Except except except: how many people can take sick days? Half of all workers don’t have paid sick leave, some studies suggest, and there are a hundred and one ways to officially or unofficially encourage employees who do not to take it. Illegal, perhaps, but the vast majority of the time companies will get away with it. Moreover, the employer is perfectly within their rights to require some sort of proof, obtained at the employee’s expense.

Consider, too, the plight of those who don’t get paid when they’re sick and are living paycheck to paycheck, with no cushion. If you miss a day’s pay, somewhere down the line you’re short, and if you miss a day, you risk being told not to bother returning.

So it’s all well and good to suggest that workers take the day off when they’re ill. The changes in the culture, however, have to go further, and reach the people who run the organizations. It is they who can—must—make it possible for sick workers to recover, rather than infect co-workers and customers.

Swine flu is back. A variant of the disease that killed almost 600,000 Americans in 1918 has resurfaced not quite a century later, though not for the first time.

Typicallly, swine flu affects one person every two years, so the seven cases in Texas and California are cause for alarm.

But not too much alarm. In 1976, President Gerald Ford, a weak incumbent campaiging to be elected to the office that had been bestwed upon him by the ITT and the Watergate scandals, ordered everyone in the country be vaccinated after swine flu killed a soldier. Pvt. David Lewis indeed turned out to be the only fatality of swine flu—but 500 people were killed or permanently sickened by the vaccine causing an alllergic reation. One employee at the CDC even predicted that, Project Censored noting “[h]e was fired from the FDA by Commissioner Alexander Schmidt for ‘insubordination.'”

So it’s important to take action, but more important to ensure it’s the right action.

(h/t Puck)

From Rachel at Feministe, the public comment period on the repeal of the HHS regulations preventing women from having access to reproductive care ends April 9th.

That means you have three more weeks to make yor voice heard in support of requiring healthcare workers to treat patients or refer them to someone who will, regardless of the patient’s sex, income level, or religious beliefs.

Yesterday, Barack Obama lifted the Federal ban on research in new stem cell lines. That means research labs using Federal money are no longer restricted to the 20 or so so-called “Presidential lines” of embryonic stem cells that existed before August 9, 2001, when the ban was instituted.

A commenter at Feministe explains some of the absurdity this led to:

[I]f you were working on non-Presidential lines (with non-federal money, of course), you couldn’t buy a pen with federal money and use it to write in your notebook. The janitor who changed the lightbulbs in your lab couldn’t be paid with federal money.

Embryonic stem cell research could be the key to treating neurological injuries or diseases or even diabetes.

The president notes that “the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown,” but that’s a reason to do stem cell research, not an excuse to prohibit it. We’ll never know if we don’t try.

Following in the footsteps of popular New York Governor David Paterson and his tax on non-diet soda, a group of Scottish doctors are calling for a tax on chocolate.

This is different from the soda tax for the very important reason that I don’t drink soda and I do eat chocolate. I also need chocolate; six months ago I was underweght by anyone’s standards and my adult weight has varied over a range of 135 pounds. So when the British Medical Association and David Paterson and all such are trying to modify my behavior through tax policy, they are actually acting against my interests.

That’s because there are no panaceas, no nutritional or medical approach that is always and only good for everyone. Is chocolate bad for you? Proabably not, but I know someone who’s allergic to it. On the other hand, there’s some evidence chocolate is actually good for you. That’s not even a contradiction—chocolate, like anything else, contains multitudes. As does the populace

No one wants children to die. That’s a bit of a sweeping statement, but, I think, a safe one. You can always find someone who’ll take any improbable position, if only to be an asshole, but I don’t think we’re losing anything important if we ignore the pro-dead-children perspective.

So I’m going to assume that people who go around saying that vaccines cause autism actually believe it, and aren’t striving to expose as many chidren as possible to potentially fatal illnesses.

This is a scientific claim; only one study has shown any such link (contrasted with many studies that have shown no link) and there is some evidence—in fact, quite a bit of evidence—that the data was faked.

Naturally, the antivaccination movement has disbanded and de facto spokespeople such as model Jenny McCarthy have issued public retractions.

HA! Antivax is a religion, and no amount of evidence will shake it in the minds of the faithful. One approach taken by antivax propagandists is to frame this as a debate on academic freedom. Now, academic freedom is a wonderful thing. No researcher should have to fear the consequences of coming to the “wrong” results. That doesn’t mean, however, that all results are equally valid. That’s what peer review is for, and peer review doesn’t support the vaccination-autism link.

Peanut Corporation of America may have poisoned over 630 Americans before going bankrupt this past weekend—because no one was paying attention. Last fall melamine got into baby formula because no one was watching; now salmonella-tainted peanuts reached shelves because no one was watching

The devil is in the details, of course, as he so often is. While there is strong evidence that the Chinese inspection system was hamstrung by corruption, the inspection system here that missed tainted peanuts simply collapsed under its own weight. As part of the government’s duty to protect its people, there needs to be a better system in place for food safety oversight. Split among the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and about ten other agencies, American food inspections are an illogical mess that provides no accountability—a problem that was recognized a decade ago (PDF).

Now The New York Times is holding the administration’s feet to the fire on this, calling for President Obama to fulfill his promise “to create a government that does a better job of protecting the American consumer.” New technology, both of government and of food production, makes it possible and necessary to coordinate and consolidate inspection dutiesin a way that we could not have dreamed of a generation ago. This is an important step to secure the safety of all Americans when we’re universally vulnerable.

How much money would you spend to prevent critically ill people from getting treatment?

If you’re an American, your tax dollars go to support research into quack remedies rather than legitimate medical treatment. So how does that prevent people from getting the help they need?

Biomedical research funding is falling because of the nation’s budget problems, but biomedical research itself has never been more promising, with rapid progress being made on a host of diseases.

That’s from Change.gov, a Web site set up by the Obama transition team to allow people to suggest priorities fr the new administration. This is from a proposal to stop funding the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the division of the National Institutes of Health that investigates nonsense claims.

The site allows users to vote up or down, so go to support the fight against antiscience.

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