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Hold your wee for a Wii

From the current issue of The Week magazine:

A watery death
A woman who entered a water-drinking contest to win a video-game console for her three children died last week from water intoxication. Jennifer Strange, 28, was a contestant in the "Hold your wee for a Wii" contest held during the "Morning Rave" program on Sacramento FM radio station KDND. The station offered a $250 Nintendo Wii game console to the person who could drink the most water without a bathroom break. Strange drank 2 gallons of water in three hours. Several hours later, she was found dead at her home by her mother. KDND took the morning program off the air and suspended the three DJs who host it. Excess water consumption can disrupt the body's internal chemistry and cause fatal swelling of the brain.

Health Insurance in the News

Several stories in the news recently... Via Slate's Today's Papers column, from an article in the LA Times by Lisa Girion titled "Healthy? Insurers don't buy it":

...the ranks of uninsured Americans have swelled to more than 46 million.

...part of what experts say is a largely hidden aspect of the nation's health insurance crisis: the uninsurables, people whom insurance companies won't touch, even though they can afford to pay high premiums. steep rates for lean coverage from the state's high-risk insurance pool. Others simply go without. Insurers have wide latitude to choose among applicants for individual coverage and set premiums based on medical conditions. Insurers say medical underwriting, as the selection process is known, is key to keeping premiums under control.

Consumer advocates see the practice as cherry-picking - a legal form of discrimination that is no longer tolerated in schools, public accommodations or workplaces - and a way to guarantee profits.

According to regulators' postings, rejection letters and interviews with brokers, conditions that can lead to outright rejection or a higher premium include: AIDS, allergies, arthritis, asthma, attention deficit disorder, autism, bed-wetting, breast implants, cancer, cerebral palsy, chronic bronchitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic sinusitis, cirrhosis, cystitis, diabetes, ear infections, epilepsy, gender reassignment, heart disease and hemochromatosis (a common genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron). Other conditions are hepatitis, herpes, high blood pressure, impotence, infertility, irritable bowel syndrome, joint sprain, kidney infections, lupus, mild depression, muscular dystrophy, migraines, miscarriage, pregnancy, "expectant fatherhood," planned adoption, psoriasis, recurrent tonsillitis, renal failure, ringworm, severe mental disorders, sleep apnea, stroke, ulcers and varicose veins.

Also via Today's Papers, Dennis Cauchon reports in USA Today in an article titled "States to expand health coverage":

States are planning large expansions in health care coverage this year in an aggressive and potentially expensive attempt to reduce the ranks of the 42.4 million Americans who are uninsured. The states are acting at a time when Congress, now under Democratic control for the first time since 1994, has put health care lower on its agenda. Governors and state legislators in both parties and most states have made expanded medical coverage a priority for legislatures - all 50 of which are in session this year, 43 starting this month. Popular proposals include guaranteeing medical coverage to all children; subsidizing medical insurance at small businesses; and providing tax incentives for businesses and individuals to make coverage more affordable. A few states are considering universal health coverage for all residents. Others are focusing on price competition and preventive care.

And also via Today's Papers, Arnold is leading the charge to make sure everyone has healthcare in California as reported in an article titled "Gov. offers bold prescription" by Jordan Rau in the LA Times:

Calling for massive changes throughout a healthcare system he called "broken," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday proposed a $12-billion plan that would require all Californians to obtain medical insurance while helping the poorest to afford it. The plan, which both critics and supporters called the most audacious in the country, would dramatically reshuffle the financial underpinnings of an already fragile industry. The governor said his plan would control spiraling health costs while ensuring coverage for the quarter of a million children and 5.6 million adults who lack insurance.

Only Massachusetts has required all residents to carry insurance, but California's larger population of uninsured and poor makes Schwarzenegger's goals much more challenging. To pay for the plan, Schwarzenegger proposed placing new fees and obligations on doctors, hospitals, employers and insurers - all powerful lobbies in Sacramento. Schwarzenegger was widely praised for tackling such a huge issue so comprehensively. But many leading consumer advocates, academics and business leaders said they feared that the governor's proposal was inadequately financed and would shift more responsibility for healthcare to families while unintentionally encouraging businesses to drop or downgrade the coverage they now offer.


Pillow Angel Ethics

Via Slate's Today's Blogs column, from a Newsweek article of the same title by Nancy Gibbs:

The case: Ashley is a brain-damaged girl whose parents feared that as she got bigger, it would be much harder to care for her; so they set out to keep her small. Through high-dose estrogen treatment over the past two years, her growth plates were closed and her prospective height reduced by about 13 inches, to 4'5". "Ashley's smaller and lighter size," her parents write on their blog "makes it more possible to include her in the typical family life and activities that provide her with needed comfort, closeness, security and love: meal time, car trips, touch, snuggles, etc." They stress that the treatment's goal was "to improve our daughter's quality of life and not to convenience her caregivers." But the treatment went further: doctors removed her uterus to prevent potential discomfort from menstrual cramps or pregnancy in the event of rape; and also her breast tissue, because of a family history of cancer and fibrocystic disease. Not having breasts would also make the harness straps that hold her upright more comfortable. "Ashley has no need for developed breasts since she will not breast feed," her parents argue, "and their presence would only be a source of discomfort to her." The parents say that the decision to proceed with "The Ashley Treatment" was not a hard one for them, but the same cannot be said for the doctors. "This was something people hadn't thought about being a possibility, much less being done," says Diekema, who chairs the bioethics committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics and was brought in to consult on this case. For the ethics committee of Seattle Children's Hospital, which reviewed the proposed treatment, "it took time to get past the initial response-'wow, this is bizarre'- and think seriously about the reasons for the parents' request," says Diekema.

The ethics committee essentially did a cost-benefit analysis and concluded that the rewards outweighed the risks. Keeping Ashley smaller and more portable, the doctors argue, has medical as well as emotional benefits: more movement means better circulation, digestion and muscle condition, and fewer sores and infections. "If you're going to be against this," Gunther says, "you have to argue why the benefits are not worth pursuing."

Bizarre is an understatement. The family's blog is here.


Housework cuts breast cancer risk

broom.jpgVia Dvorak Uncensored, from an article of the same title from BBC News:

Women who exercise by doing the housework can reduce their risk of breast cancer, a study suggests. The research on more than 200,000 women from nine European countries found doing household chores was far more cancer protective than playing sport. Dusting, mopping and vacuuming was also better than having a physical job.

Experts have long known that physical exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer, probably through hormonal and metabolic changes.

The latest study looked at both pre- and post-menopausal women and a range of activities, including work, leisure and housework. All forms of physical activity combined reduced the breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women, but had no obvious effect in pre-menopausal women.

Out of all of the activities, only housework significantly reduced the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal women getting the disease. Housework cut breast cancer risk by 30% among the pre-menopausal women and 20% among the post-menopausal women.

Men, I guess this justifies our lack of interest in housework since breast cancer is about 100 times less likely for us.

Ukraine babies in stem cell probe

Via Slate's Today's Blogs column, Matthew Hill (a correspondent for the BBC) recently made the disturbing report that:

Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.

Ukraine has become the self-styled stem cell capital of the world. There is a trade in stem cells from aborted foetuses, amid unproven claims they can help fight many diseases. But now there are claims that stem cells are also being harvested from live babies.


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