Archive for the ‘Medical’ Category
Michael Grabell and Howard Berkes have an important story in ProPublica:
DENNIS WHEDBEE’S CREW WAS RUSHING to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, North Dakota.
It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrickhand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.
Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee’s body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Coworkers jerry-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.“Babe,’’ he said, “tell everyone I love them.”
It was exactly the sort of accident that workers’ compensation was designed for. Until recently, America’s workers could rely on a compact struck at the dawn of the Industrial Age: They would give up their right to sue. In exchange, if they were injured on the job, their employers would pay their medical bills and enough of their wages to help them get by while they recovered.
Over the past decade, state after state has been dismantling America’s workers’ comp system with disastrous consequences for many of the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer serious injuries at work each year, a ProPublica and NPR investigation has found.
The cutbacks have been so drastic in some places that they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. Workers often battle insurance companies for years to get the surgeries, prescriptions and basic help their doctors recommend.
Two-and-a-half years after he lost his arm, Whedbee is still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency for the prosthesis that his doctor says would give him a semblance of his former life.
The changes, often passed under the banner of “reform,” have been pushed by big businesses and insurance companies on the false premise that costs are out of control.
In fact, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ comp insurance since the 1970s. And in 2013, insurers had their most profitable year in over a decade, bringing in a hefty 18 percent return.
All the while, employers have found someone else to foot the bill for workplace accidents: American taxpayers, who shell out tens of billions of dollars a year through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid for lost wages and medical costs not covered by workers’ comp.
ProPublica analyzed reams of insurance industry data, studied arcane state laws and obtained often confidential medical and court records to provide an unprecedented look at the unwinding of workers’ comp laws across the country.
Among the findings: . . .
What they found is sobering indeed. I have to think that ultimately this sort of government action is due to citizen indifference: the low voting turnouts (in the current race in LA, the turnout is about 8% of voters) means that legislators no longer respond to the public at large and are free to ignore the public welfare. If all vote, then the issues of most concern to the public will get the attention they deserve.
Perhaps the US could adopt the Australian practice of levying a fine (in the $100 range) on those who fail to vote. Since early voting and absentee ballots are readily available, I don’t see a reason that would stop eligible voters from casting a ballot—other than indifference, of course.
Fascinating post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.
Here’s a fascinating little anecdote about lead and crime from a recent paper by Rick Nevin. It shouldn’t be taken as proof of anything, but it’s certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.
Here’s the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red? . . .
Mike Mariani has an interesting article at Pacific Standard:
The state of Kentucky may finally get its deliverance. After more than seven years of battling the evasive legal tactics of Purdue Pharma, 2015 may be the year that Kentucky and its attorney general, Jack Conway, are able to move forward with a civil lawsuit alleging that the drugmaker misled doctors and patients about their blockbuster pain pill OxyContin, leading to a vicious addiction epidemic across large swaths of the state.
A pernicious distinction of the first decade of the 21st century was the rise in painkiller abuse, which ultimately led to a catastrophic increase in addicts, fatal overdoses, and blighted communities. But the story of the painkiller epidemic can really be reduced to the story of one powerful, highly addictive drug and its small but ruthlessly enterprising manufacturer.
On December 12, 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved the opioid analgesic OxyContin. It hit the market in 1996. In its first year, OxyContin accounted for $45 million in sales for its manufacturer, Stamford, Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. By 2000 that number would balloon to $1.1 billion, an increase of well over 2,000 percent in a span of just four years. Ten years later, the profits would inflate still further, to $3.1 billion. By then the potent opioid accounted for about 30 percent of the painkiller market. What’s more, Purdue Pharma’s patent for the original OxyContin formula didn’t expire until 2013. This meant that a single private, family-owned pharmaceutical company with non-descript headquarters in the Northeast controlled nearly a third of the entire United States market for pain pills.
OxyContin’s ball-of-lightning emergence in the health care marketplace was close to unprecedented for a new painkiller in an age where synthetic opiates like Vicodin, Percocet, and Fentanyl had already been competing for decades in doctors’ offices and pharmacies for their piece of the market share of pain-relieving drugs. In retrospect, it almost didn’t make sense. Why was OxyContin so much more popular? Had it been approved for a wider range of ailments than its opioid cousins? Did doctors prefer prescribing it to their patients?
During its rise in popularity, there was a suspicious undercurrent to the drug’s spectrum of approved uses and Purdue Pharma’s relationship to the physicians that were suddenly privileging OxyContin over other meds to combat everything from back pain to arthritis to post-operative discomfort. It would take years to discover that there was much more to the story than the benign introduction of a new, highly effective painkiller.
In 1952, brothers Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer Sackler purchased Purdue Pharma, then called Purdue Frederick Co. All three men were psychiatrists by trade, working at a mental facility in Queens in the 1940s.
Brian Merchant writes in Motherboard:
It’s 2015—when we feel sick, fear disease, or have questions about our health, we turn first to the internet. According to the Pew Internet Project, 72 percent of US internet users look up health-related information online. But an astonishing number of the pages we visit to learn about private health concerns—confidentially, we assume—are tracking our queries, sending the sensitive data to third party corporations, even shipping the information directly to the same brokers who monitor our credit scores. It’s happening for profit, for an “improved user experience,” and because developers have flocked to “free” plugins and tools provided by data-vacuuming companies.
In April 2014, Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, custom-built software called webXray to analyze the top 50 search results for nearly 2,000 common diseases (over 80,000 pages total). He found the results startling: a full 91 percent of the pages made what are known as third-party requests to outside companies. That means when you search for “cold sores,” for instance, and click the highly ranked “Cold Sores Topic Overview WebMD” link, the website is passing your request for information about the disease along to one or more (and often many, many more) other corporations.
According to Libert’s research, which is published in the the Communications of the ACM, about 70 percent of the time, the data transmitted “contained information exposing specific conditions, treatments, and diseases.” That, he says, is “potentially putting user privacy at risk.” And it means you’ll probably want to think twice before looking up medical information on the internet.
Here’s what’s happening in a bit greater detail: Let’s say you make a search for “herpes.” Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site—say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains thetop search result from Google—but to companies that own the elements installed on the page. Here’s why.
When you click that CDC link, you’re making a so-called “first party request.” That request goes to the CDC’s servers, and it returns the HTML file with the page you’re looking for. In this case, it’s “Genital Herpes – CDC Factsheet,” which is perhaps the page on the internet you’d least want anyone to know you’re looking at. But because the CDC has installed Google Analytics to measure its traffic stats, and has, for some reason, included AddThis code which allows Facebook and Twitter sharing (beckoning the question of who socializes disease pages), the CDC also sends a third party request to each of those companies. That request looks something like this—http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/STDFact-Herpes.htm—and makes explicit to those third party corporations in its HTTP referrer string that your search was about herpes.
Thus, Libert has discovered that the vast majority of health sites, from the for-profit WebMD.com to the government-run CDC.gov, are loaded with tracking elements that are sending records of your health inquiries to the likes of web giants like Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and data brokers like Experian and Acxiom.
From there, it becomes relatively easy for the companies receiving the requests, many of which are collecting other kinds of data (in cookies, say) about your browsing as well, to identify you and your illness. That URL, or URI, which very clearly contains the disease being searched for, is broadcast to Google, Twitter, and Facebook, along with your computer’s IP address and other identifying information. . .
Remember privacy? I do, and I miss it.
Contrary to the headline of this article, by Pam Martens in Wall Street on Parade, I do not believe Giulani is a hypocrite. I think he is simply stupid. The article begins:
Let’s hope this latest rant by former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, ends once and for all that preposterous moniker of “America’s Mayor” that he claimed solely because of 9/11.
While Mayor, Giuliani was sued 30 times by the New York Civil Liberties Union. It won 27 of the lawsuits. Many of the cases involved Giuliani’s assault on free speech and other First Amendment abuses under what truly makes America unique: its Bill of Rights.
In case there is still someone on the planet who hasn’t yet heard the rant, on Wednesday night Giuliani told about 60 guests at a right-wing dinner at Manhattan’s 21 Club that: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
The rant was reported Wednesday night by Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn. According toPolitico’s Dylan Byers, the dinner guests included Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; John Stossel and Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network; CNBC’s Larry Kudlow; James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page; and Stephen Moore, a former member of the Journal’s editorial board who is now Chief Economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Wall Street On Parade has previously raised questions about Stossel, Kudlow and Moore’s ties to right-wing front groups and Maria Bartiromo’s involvement with Citigroup while she was at CNBC.
This is what the New York Civil Liberties Union had to say about the Giuliani era in its 60th Anniversary Annual Report: . . .
Giulani may be more than stupid. There seems to be some active mental imbalance at work. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, for example.
In the New Yorker Amy Davidson writes to remind us of recent history:
March 18, 2005, the House and Senate subpoenaed Terri Schiavo, ordering her to appear as a witness before committees in both chambers. No one in Congress was waiting to hear what she had to say—everyone knew that Schiavo couldn’t say anything. She had been in what doctors called a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years, although her husband, Michael, had long said that she wouldn’t have wanted to be kept alive in such a condition. When, a couple of weeks later, she finally, indisputably died, at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, an autopsy found that her brain was so atrophied that it was probably less than half the size it had once been. Instead, the point of the subpoenas, pushed by the Republican leaders Bill Frist and Tom DeLay, was to theatrically invoke federal “witness protection” laws to threaten anyone who removed her feeding tubes with the crime of obstructing her appearance before Congress. Republican aides told reporters that thepenalty might be five years in prison.
DeLay and Frist were just late-game entrants in the fight for Schiavo’s body, or, rather, the fight to turn what was left of it into a political object. The politician who had the most to say about Terri Schiavo was Jeb Bush, who was governor of Florida then and now seems to be running for President. In 2003, when a court affirmed Michael Schiavo’s right, as Terri’s guardian, to have her feeding tube removed, Jeb Bush pushed a law through the Florida state legislature giving him the power to overrule the court—and so “stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis,” as the Tampa Bay Times put it in a review of the case earlier this year, going “all in on Schiavo.” The bill was called “Terri’s Law,” but, in terms of decision-making, it was all Jeb’s. He then issued an executive order and, as Michael Kruse described it in an piece for Politico last month, “A police-escorted ambulance whisked her from her hospice in Pinellas Park to a nearby hospital to have her feeding tube put back in.” When a judge overturned Terri’s Law, and the Supreme Court let that ruling stand, Bush turned his efforts to lobbying Congress, at a time when his brother was President.
Bush’s new campaign has brought Schiavo’s story back. E-mails about the case were among those he recently released, and last week Michael Schiavo wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald, warning voters against “trusting” Bush, who Schiavo said “abused the powers” he had as governor. “He made life miserable for my family, the doctors and staff at the nursing home, the police—all because he wanted to involve himself in something that both the law and common human decency told him that no government official should have gotten involved in,” he wrote. Schiavo is giving other interviews as well.
There are those for whom the case is seen not as an embarrassment for Bush but as a conservative credential. The video images of Schiavo remain vivid—in a hospital room, as her parents attempt to get her to look at a balloon and exhort her to show that she realizes that they are there and that they love her. Her parents saw the videos as evidence of her mind’s presence, and proof that she should be kept alive. Many viewers, looking into Schiavo’s drifting eyes, had a sense only of the power of wishful affection to see something that was not there. The doctors who examined her saw nothing else. Schiavo’s parents came to despise her husband, whose intentions they impugned. Their supporters called Michael Schiavo a murderer. The family was Catholic, and their religious beliefs were taken as an irrefutable license to levy such attacks. After Congress, on a March weekend, passed another dubious bill, DeLay decided to call it the “Palm Sunday Compromise.” (A judge soon dispensed with DeLay’s witness-protection ploy.) Much of the passion had to do not with Schiavo, or even the right to die, but with an issue for which her case was taken as a proxy: abortion. Hendrik Hertzberg wrote at the time, “Her lack of awareness actually increased her metaphoric usefulness. Like a sixty-four-cell blastocyst, she was without consciousness. Unlike the blastocyst, she was without potential. If letting her body die is murder, goes the logic, then thwarting the development of the blastocyst can surely be nothing less.”
The abortion debate, which has hardly abated, is just one of the ways that the Schiavo case retains its emotional resonance. (As governor, Jeb Bush worked torestrict reproductive rights, at one point trying to get a guardian appointed for the fetus of a disabled rape victim.) There are others: . . .
Something is wrong with this attorney. Josh Harkinson reports in Mother Jones:
Several California congressional representatives issued a statement Friday accusing the Department of Justice of “not acting within the spirit or letter of the law” in its pursuit of a three-year-old legal case aimed at shutting down Harborside Health Center, one of the country’s largest and most respected pot dispensaries.
“As Members of Congress we have watched the public acceptance of medical marijuana develop and grow while the Federal policy on it stagnates,” wrote Reps. Sam Farr, Dana Rohrabacher, and Barbara Lee.
In 2012, US Attorney Melinda Haag initiated civil forfeiture proceedings against Harborside, which does $25 million a year in sales, on the grounds that it had grown too big. The move came as shock to many in California’s medical marijuana industry; Harborside was widely viewed as one of the state’s most ethical and legally compliant dispensaries. A few months later, the City of Oakland sued to block Haag’s case, arguing that shutting down Harborside would create a public health crisis.“It’s clear now that Melinda Haag is the real criminal,” says Harborside founder Steven DeAngelo.
The following year, the Justice Department issued a memo laying out a more permissive federal policy on pot, and federal prosecutors dropped similar civil forfeiture proceedings against several dispensaries in Los Angeles. But in Northern California, Haag pressed on with her case against Harborside and the Berkeley Patients Group, another large, well-respected dispensary.
Motivated in part by Haag’s prosecutions, Reps. Farr and Rohrabacher won a provision in December’s federal appropriations bill that blocks the DOJ from spending money to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries or patients that abide by state laws. The move was expected to be the nail in the coffin for Haag’s pot cases. But on February 3, she appeared before 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to push the case forward, arguing that the City of Oakland shouldn’t be allowed to challenge the proceedings.
“It’s clear now that Melinda Haag is the real criminal in the Harborside case,” says Harborside founder Steven DeAngelo. Haag’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The DOJ’s ongoing pursuit of the case has led to much debate about Haag’s motivations. Some observers wonder . . .
Apparently Eric Holder and President Obama have no control over this attorney.