Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

March 3, 2015

Another Win for Coffee Drinkers

They have cleaner arteries, and thus lower risk of heart disease, according to recent research from South Korea. Guess I can keep at my longstanding addiction to Peets.

February 4, 2015

Yes, Hospitals Can Kill You

This is just crazy. The WSJ reports on how mortality rates are far higher for heart attacks that occur in hospitals than for those that occur outside. This from a study of cardiac event response at UNC Chapel Hill’s hospital. Part of this effect is explained by the older sicker patient population found in hospitals, but not all. The graphic showing the dramatic difference in treatment times for cardiac events is mind-boggling. I have always (half) joked that “being in a hospital can kill you” but here is scientific evidence.PJ-BZ842_HEARTB_16U_20150202173311

I do want to highly commend the researchers at UNC however. Most for-profit hospitals, one suspects, would not publish this data. This candor will help shine a light on, and hopefully improve, hospital care nationwide.


January 31, 2015

The scenery of the Belgian Ardennes, the health statistics of Bangladesh

America still has both a health and health-care problem. This article in The Atlantic examines the miserable economic conditions in a rural coal mining area in Virginia where 20% of the population is on disability. It is a very stark reminder of another America, one that has few of the benefits we take for granted.

December 8, 2014

Being Mortal

I am sending Atul Gawande’s latest, “Being Mortal,” to all my doctors this Christmas. I suggest you do the same. I am a huge Gawande fan. And this may be his most important book yet.

October 2, 2014

Ebola Talking Points

This post on the spread of Ebola, by a very credible group of economists, suggests the West will not see a major outbreak of the disease. They do believe that hundreds of thousands of Africans will die from it. I am no health expert, but this seems a credible enough analysis. I pass it along as people I speak with are starting to be concerned and a case of Ebola has been confirmed today in Texas.

May 30, 2014

To Age Well, Exercise

So says a new study in the medical journal JAMA and reported by the NY Times. The study found that exercising three hours a week in a combination of walking and light weight training significantly reduced disability rates for those aged 70-89. This is great news for anyone as disability is something most people would prefer to avoid. Most of us are going to live a lot longer than we expect and three hours of moderate weekly exercise seems a small price to pay to avoid the pain and cost of being debilitated.

Sadly, I know that many of our ingrained behavioral rationales “That’s not going to happen to me,” and poor longer-term decision making – failing to save today for great gains later – will cause many of us to stay on the couch.

March 5, 2014

What Should You Be Worried About? Health Edition

What Kills US? is an excellent short video on the real threats to our health and lives in the US. This is behavioral economics at its best – and explores how we obsess to our detriment on “headline risks” such as terrorism and airplane crashes when we would be far better off simply getting more exercise.

Thanks to The Big Picture

January 17, 2014

Train That Brain

Older adults who underwent a brief course of brain exercises saw improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed that could be detected as long as 10 years after the course ended, according to results from the largest study ever on cognitive training.

This is from an NBC News report discussing recent research in the field of “brain training.” These mental workout programs are demonstrating positive results in slowing or arresting the trajectory of cognitive function decline in aging adults.

I first became acquainted with this concept after a broadcast series on the topic on our local PBS affiliate. In addition to crossword puzzles, I added Lumosity to my own personal regimen two years ago. (Caveat: I have not seen any studies that compare the results of a consumer brain-training program like Lumosity with the results obtained by the more rigorous methodologies discussed in the research.)

March 22, 2013

The Best Birthday Present, Ever

For my upcoming 65th birthday, the Federal Government will start “gifting” me several thousand dollars each year for the rest of my life.  Come April, I am eligible for Medicare, which in effect transfers a significant share of the cost of my healthcare to the Federal government.  I was walking on air when I got my little red, white and blue eligibility card.  This is hands-down the most valuable birthday present I have ever received.

Gone will be a $600 per month (and rising) premium for a high-deductible health insurance plan.  Gone also will be most of my out-of-pocket medical costs.  In place of expenses that typically have run between $8,000-$10,000, I will instead be out-of-pocket $3,000-$5,000 per year.  What to do with this four figure annual windfall is a pleasant dilemma.

As excited as I am at this “found” money – and I am, no kidding – there is this nagging problem. Someone is going to have to pay for the shortfall between the actual (e.g. market) costs of my coverage and what I will pay in Medicare premiums and share of cost.  Studies show this shortfall to average in excess of $100,000 per person over a current retiree’s lifetime. With 50 million Americans receiving Medicare today, rising to a projected 80 million over the next 20 years, it is not hard to understand why Medicare’s own projections show it facing an unfunded liability of $35 trillion.  How the government is going to pay this inconceivable amount over the next 20-30 years is a question that no one has yet been able to answer.

As they say, what cannot go on forever, won’t.  We are going to have to come to terms with the reality that that we either pay more in taxes to sustain current subsidies, find a politically acceptable way to significantly reduce costs and/or trim Medicare benefits. But while I wait for the political forces to figure this problem out, I am unhesitatingly seizing my opportunity to join the millions of American seniors already enjoying their Medicare “free ride,” courtesy of our Federal government.

NB:  The time to sign up for Medicare Parts A & B is the period three months before to three months after your 65th birthday.  You can do so quite easily here.

January 21, 2013

Sitting is the “New Smoking”

We Americans sit an average of 9.3 hours a day, longer than the 7.7 average hours we spend sleeping. The lack of physical activity has substantial consequences, both to us personally and to the cost of our healthcare, according to this article from the Harvard Business Review. The death rate associated with over-eating and obesity is now 35 million in the US, compares with just 3.5 million for tobacco. Walk more, stand more, bend over – any amount of physical activity you can add to your everyday routine helps, the more the better.

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