Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd
Getting to the root of the problem: What do gray hairs and vitiligo have in common? They both can be cured by the same medication, according to a new study! First, a mini science lesson: Gray hair is the result of oxidative stress that causes hydrogen peroxide to accumulate in the hair follicle. One of the hallmarks of vitiligo – growing white patches on the skin due to a loss of pigment – is elevated hydrogen peroxide levels in the skin and blood. Basically, both the hair strand and the skin essentially bleach themselves, from the inside out. Researchers were treating patients with vitiligo using a topical complex called PC-KUS (pseudocatalase), which converts hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. They discovered that not only was the pigment returning, but white eyelashes were turning black. Voila! A cure for gray hair! No telling when it will reach the public, though. Source: News reports
Curry’s not cool for vitiligo patients: Apparently turmeric hinders repigmentation in patients with vitiligo. Researchers couldn’t figure out why the PC-KUS treatment wasn’t improving the skin condition of Asian patients. It turns out that the active yellow pigment in turmeric (haldi) is curcumin, which, in high concentrations, impacts the treatment. Besides serving as spice, turmeric was and still is widely used for wound healing and skin lightening in Asia. (The link above has some interesting photographs showing the progression and treatment of vitiligo, which affects about 0.5-1 percent of the world population.)
Genetically modified babies? Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reports that the world’s first genetically modified humans have been created – in the United States. The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments provoked another furious debate about ethics. So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three “parents,” according to the newspaper. Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years in an experimental program at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St. Barnabas in New Jersey. The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilized in an attempt to enable them to conceive. “One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems,” John Smeaton, national director of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told the paper. “But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilization as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line. It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.”
Bringing medicine to you: What if you didn’t have to make the trip to the doctor for a checkup? Technology and smartphones are providing on-the-go and long-distance tools for health care. Companies are rapidly developing miniature medical devices that tap the power of the ubiquitous smartphone in hopes of changing how people monitor their own health, according to an Associated Press article. “We wanted to make sure they have all the right tools available in their pocket” is how Joseph Flaherty of AgaMatrix describes his company’s tiny glucose monitor. Diabetics can plug the iBGStar into the bottom of an iPhone and check blood sugar on the go without carrying an extra device. This mobile medicine also might help doctors care for patients in new ways. In March, a cardiologist tweeted “no emergency landing req’d” when he used his smartphone EKG to diagnose a distressing but not immediately dangerous irregular heartbeat in a fellow airplane passenger at 30,000 feet. The FDA cites industry estimates that 500 million smartphone users worldwide will use some type of health app by 2015. Today’s apps mostly are educational tools, digital health diaries or reminders and fitness sensors. The new trend is toward more sophisticated medical apps, some that work with plug-in devices, that provide information a doctor might find useful. Read my recent commentary on telehealth here.
A discouraging preview of ObamaCare: Canada’s health care experience provides an opportunity to anticipate the future of health care delivery in the United States, according to Jeffrey Singer, a physician and Cato Institute adjunct fellow. “Over the past 20-30 years, the practice of medicine has been slowly morphing into a government-run enterprise, often with private health insurance companies acting as the intermediaries, he writes in Reason magazine. “While not the simple Canadian style single-payer system, the U.S. system, especially with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, gets us to the same place – only in a more Byzantine fashion. True, there are multiple payers, but the insurance companies, as a result of the ACA, have become nothing more than publicly regulated utilities.” Singer says doctors are retiring, slowing down or selling their practices to hospitals; others are becoming cash-only concierge physicians. In the meantime, demand for health care continues to rise, as 10,000 baby boomers become Medicare beneficiaries every day—and will continue to do so for the next 18 years. Emergency rooms continue to be overcrowded, as many people use them to obtain services that would otherwise be given by primary care providers, because they can’t get in for appointments.
Nice places to work: Congratulations to the Endoscopy Center of Columbus and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, both on the list of “100 Great Places to Work in Healthcare.” According to Becker’s Hospital Review and Becker’s ASC Review, over 19 years, the Endoscopy Center of Columbus, an ambulatory surgery center, has grown from one physician and two employees to three physicians and 11 employees and continues to expand. ECC fully funds each employee’s retirement and provides bonuses each quarter. The center also provides employees with educational opportunities. ECC employees are encouraged to participate in community and philanthropic events. For example, staff and physicians have participated together in health fairs, Relay for Life and events promoting colon cancer awareness through local government affairs. Children’s Healthcare is credited with offering a range of employee benefits, as well as training and educational opportunities for professional growth. Benefits include backup care options for employees seeking care for loved ones from infancy to old age. The system provides employees with access to an online database of 3,000 sitters, nannies, pet sitters and house sitters in metro Atlanta. The employee assistance program offers confidential counseling for personal issues and it provides a trained response team to support those coping with traumatic incidents. Children’s Healthcare has been named to Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for seven consecutive years.
Quotes of Note
“So Medicaid, which is going to cost trillions, has been shown in a new study to not improve the physical health of those who have it. It’s trillions of dollars and does nothing. So it’s an easy choice to just cut this and save tons of money, right? Nope, the left are promoting how Medicaid improves ‘mental health.’ Trillions of dollars and people feel better – which is probably just because people feel better thinking they’re covered even though the coverage actually does nothing. So we could just pretend to cover people – placebo coverage – and get the same effect for much cheaper.” – Frank J. Fleming
“The art of medicine is in amusing a patient while nature affects the cure.” – Voltaire