Checking Up On Health: November 26, 2013

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

BENITA DODD Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Welcome to the Thanksgiving holiday edition of Checking Up On Health, my unsuccessful attempt to turkeynotmake you feel especially guilty for indulging this week!

A funny thing happened on national TV this month. On MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” program host Rachel Maddow took it upon herself to criticize the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and my boss, Kelly McCutchen.

I view it as a feather in our cap.

You see, at the Foundation, we don’t believe that the state of Georgia should expand Medicaid under the unfortunately named Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. We’ve proposed alternatives, here, here and in numerous other commentaries you can find here. And this month Kelly wrote an op-ed – that appeared, among other publications, in the Savannah Morning News – praising Georgia Governor Nathan Deal for refusing to add more Georgians to the already-flawed Medicaid program. Maddow shared Kelly’s op-ed on her show. If you read last week’s Friday Facts, you know we called her the doyenne of Big Government. We’re all about personal responsibility and limited government at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. And, to nanny government types, that makes us terrible folks.

Maddow goes out of her way to link us and our sister state-focused think tanks to those evil billionaire Koch brothers. Of course, her syndicated talk radio program of the same name used to air on billionaire George Soros’ Air America Radio. And, in typical leftist fashion, she told only part of the narrative, neglecting to mention that we proposed a viable alternative to expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare. Watch Maddow’s invective here: (We’re mentioned in a two-minute clip starting at the 10:30 mark on the video.)


Care but no caregivers? Forty-four percent of physicians said they do not plan to participate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges, according to a survey by Jackson & Coker.

Drug trends: The long-term impact of Obamacare on the pharmaceutical industry in terms of drug spending is still not clear, according to a report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. However, certain trends are recognizable, such as the greater portion of the market that will be taken by generics and biosimilars as well as drugmakers’ focus moving from treatments that can provide incremental improvements to those that exhibit greater improvements. The report also projects higher spending on drugs next year as fewer patents expire and health care coverage increases. On the last two points, I’m not taking bets. And I anticipate that the trend toward generics and biosimilars will affect R&D as revenue for drug companies declines. Source:

No persons have been harmed by this kit: The Food and Drug Administration issued a letter Friday to direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe telling it to stop marketing its spit kit and genome service to consumers until it receives authorization from the agency. More than a half-million have used the $99 DNA home-test kit 23andMe to learn more about their ancestry, health risks and genetic predisposition to a wide variety of factors. There have been no complalints, but the FDA cites the “potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications.” TechFreedom has launched a petition urging the FDA to focus its efforts on educating doctors and patients about the benefits, and limitations, of genetic testing – not banning home test kits. As Reason Foundation points out, “What the test results would actually lead patients to do is to get another test and to talk with their physicians.”

Best in class: WebMD’s Medscape app has been named Best Medical Mobile Application and won an Award of Excellence from the Rx Club. Download the free app at or

Antibiotics, probiotics and cancer. Gut bacteria have been shown to help in digesting food, fighting infections and brain development. And now, apparently, they help some cancer therapies work, at least in mice, according to a National Geographic report. Two independent groups of researchers – one at the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the other in Gustave Roussy Institute in France – found that three cancer therapies seemed to rely on the gut microbiome to be effective. Just what this means for cancer patients isn’t yet clear, the report notes, not only as these findings need to be replicated in people, but also because clinicians may not want to take their patients off of antibiotics as cancer patients are susceptible to infections. Also, if they wanted to instead treat patients with a probiotic, which bacteria would be best to give isn’t yet known. Source: National Geographic,

Bone marrow: an organ? I shared a while back that after a court ruled the FDA couldn’t declare bone marrow an organ, the agency is trying to redefine the term “organ” in order to prevent compensation for bone marrow donations. The Institute for Justice has a report in Forbes magazine highlighting how this could jeopardize and stifle bone marrow donations. Did you know? Every year, at least 1,000 people die because they cannot find a matching bone marrow donor.

Think about it … after Thanksgiving: WebMD has a slide show of the Naughty List of Holiday Foods. If you like turkey skin and/or buttery mashed potatoes, don’t read it! WebMD also issues an ugly reminder about the study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing the average person puts on a pound during the holidays and never loses it. On the bright side, as an immigrant, I probably haven’t had as many Thanksgiving holidays as many of my readers …

In time for next Thanksgiving: The FDA could make a final decision on obesity drug Contrave by June, making it the third obesity drug cleared by the FDA since last year. Orexigen Therapeutics plans to resubmit the drug for FDA review within several weeks after an interim analysis found that the drug doesn’t significantly raise heart risks compared with a placebo. Other drugs the FDA already has approved are Arena Pharmaceuticals’ Belviq and Vivus’ Qsymia. Source: San Diego Business Journal

Who do you tip, and what? You may think it’s a stretch, but I consider this health-related to the extent that you contribute to others’ mental health and wellbeing if you tip well for services rendered well. Take the quiz on who you should tip for the holidays, by

High season anxiety? There’s a nasty holiday surprise known as the “Merry Christmas coronary” or “Happy Hanukkah heart attack.” According to WebMd, for many years, researchers have been intrigued by a disturbing pattern: Deadly heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season. The cold plays a role, but one study even found distinct spikes around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Researchers speculate people might delay getting treatment because they don’t want to disrupt festivities. Or holiday travelers might take longer to find competent medical care, which heightens the risk. Also, hospitals may be short-staffed on major holidays. One researcher says other factors may play a role, such as emotional stress and overindulgence. During the holidays, legions of Americans eat too much and drink more alcohol while ditching their exercise routine. Read WebMD’s tips on avoiding a heart attack here.

Quotes of Note

“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.”  – Erma Bombeck

“On Thanksgiving I will stop to give thanks that my family is safe and healthy, especially because I realize that, following the tragedies of this year, it is all too real a possibility that they might not have been.” – Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Governor, after Hurricane Katrina

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