Category Archives: Health

Sacrifing Abortion.

Was the amendment restricting insurers that get federal dollars from paying for abortions a necessary evil to get health reform passed? Probably. It’s a heartbreaking setback, and, as Emily Bazelon points out in Double X, this only hurts poor women.

Just to keep things in perspective, though, women without health insurance don’t have abortions paid for now. I’d rather be certain that all women are getting the gynecological care they need, including effective birth control, than fight this battle right now.

Executive Mandates, Executive Power and Health Care Reform.

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I predicted this story a few months ago; a grudging acknowledgment that President Barack Obama’s hands-off approach on health care might have been the right one after all. It’s not that I necessarily think it’s better that Obama let Congress hash out the health care plan and then let the town hall hysteria boil and dissipate on national television. It’s just that a kind of coolness and steadiness has always been his strategy, and so far it has worked.

There’s something else at work here, too. Obama seems to appreciate Congress’s place in the process. Respecting Congress might seem a hard thing to do, but it’s what presidents once did. The mini-series on John Adams, based on the biography by David McCullough, lets Adams a little off the hook for The Alien and Sedition acts because he was merely acquiescing to Congress’s will, and they had enough votes to override a veto anyway. In fact, Jon Meacham tells us in “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” that the first six presidents rarely used their veto power, usually overriding only those acts they saw as unconstitutional.

It was Jackson, Meacham said, who used veto power for laws with which he disagreed. It became a political tool and a method for making policy. It was Jackson who first saw himself as having a popular mandate, representing the will of the people over the entrenched interests of Congress.

For many of us here, that probably seems like a good presidential philosophy as long as Obama’s in the White House. It feels like Obama is representative of the popular will, and its tempting to want him to take up the progressive mandate mantle. It’s not as though Obama’s completely against strong executive power, as we’ve argued before; he seems particularly reluctant to roll back Bush era expansions of it. But there’s something to be said for respecting the institution and the slow and steady progress it’s most inclined to make, and Obama tends to put his faith in the electoral process. American democracy can evolve in punctuated equilibrium fashion, and the South, interested from the start in establishing a different kind of America, is still fighting the rupturing battles of the 50s,  60s and 70s (even all the way back to the 30s). Change was faster then, but it came at a price. Gay rights advocates, Americans without health care and all of us breathing increasingly warm and poisoned air can point out that slow change costs us something, too. Perhaps progressives can console themselves with this; change is change, and it’s never failed to come.

A Public Option and Employer Insurance.

A new poll shows that a majority of the public supports a public option, and it’s time for lawmakers to listen. When Senators like Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch inveigh against a government-provided insurance option, we all know on whose behalf they’re speaking. But the problem is some of their constituents believe the nonsense about a public option limiting choice for Americans. The Republicans argue that when President Barack Obama says you can keep the health insurance you have if you like it, he’s not telling the truth. But the real truth is that nothing guarantees you can keep the insurance you have anyway.

Because of rising costs, employees were losing their employer-based insurance before,which is what helped spark this call to reform. Employers are also forcing their employees to contribute more money to crappier plans that then ask for even more out-of-pocket payments if you ever use them to go to the doctor. That’s why the number of uninsured Americans kept growing year after year. The Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that’s likely to keep happening without reform.

One of those crappy, high-deductible plans for which I still have to contribute a sizable percent of my income is what I’ll be struggling to afford next year. I’m going to change insurance companies for the fourth time in two years. The first change was my “fault;” I changed employers and moved to a different state. The other changes came when my company was sold and bought, and then bought again. Now, my new owner has decided the health care plan I elected is too expensive. If I want to keep my doctors on the new plan and they’re not in the network, there’s a good chance my insurance will only cover 85 percent of “reasonable and customary” costs. Is there a list of what the company considers “reasonable” for different types of treatments or procedures? No. I’m sure whatever I face next year, I can count on a confusing bill to follow.

This is what’s frustrating to me about the right’s claims of personal choice and responsibility in the health care debate. I’m pretty trapped with whatever new plan my new employer wants to implement. And it doesn’t feel like choice.

Al Franken Is No Joke.

Of Concussions and Cruelty.

x-posted at False Hustle

In the end, I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I left the game of football with a touch of arthritis, a few battle scars, a bruised ego and memories that get all the more grand and outlandish with each passing year. Did I ever tell you all about that time I scored four touchdowns in a single game?

Now, maybe it seems odd to say that I was lucky. I played football in high school and not-so-much in college, leaving behind mostly a legacy of mediocrity. I never got even the faintest whiff of the dream of every kid who puts on the pads – the NFL. It took me about two practices at TCU in my sophomore year to figure out that LaDainian Tomlinson had a future in the game, and that I had a future writing about it.

So, what makes me lucky? Here, try some Malcolm Gladwell:

The HITS data suggest that, in an average football season, a lineman could get struck in the head a thousand times, which means that a ten-year N.F.L. veteran, when you bring in his college and high-school playing days, could well have been hit in the head eighteen thousand times: that’s thousands of jarring blows that shake the brain from front to back and side to side, stretching and weakening and tearing the connections among nerve cells, and making the brain increasingly vulnerable to long-term damage. People with C.T.E., Cantu says, “aren’t necessarily people with a high, recognized concussion history. But they are individuals who collided heads on every play—repetitively doing this, year after year, under levels that were tolerable for them to continue to play.”

That’s pretty bad. And then I begin to think, maybe I wasn’t so lucky. I had one diagnosed concussion in my abbreviated football career, in my first week of college football practice. Looking back over the course of my playing days, I’m almost certain that I had another during a game in my senior year of high school – I was blindsided by a defender, went to the sideline to throw up and I don’t remember much more about that night. I kept playing, though. It was a bad night.

But what I’m not tallying are all the other little collisions that might have bruised my brain in some way. I started playing the game when I was a mere child, in the streets and backyards of my neighborhood, and started playing organized tackle football when I was 10.

What do all those thuds and thumps over the years mean? Gladwell, again:

Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. … In one column, the HITS software listed the top hits of the practice up to that point, and every few moments the screen would refresh, reflecting the plays that had just been run on the field. Forty-five minutes into practice, the top eight head blows on the field measured 82 gs, 79 gs, 75 gs, 79 gs, 67 gs, 60 gs, 57 gs, and 53 gs. One player, a running back, had received both the 79 gs and the 60 gs, as well as another hit, measuring 27.9 gs. This wasn’t a full-contact practice. It was “shells.” The players wore only helmets and shoulder pads, and still there were mini car crashes happening all over the field.

I had my fair share of car crashes. And, believe it or not, this was the part of the game that I enjoyed the most. I could hardly get my heart rate up for a game that didn’t involve some collisions. To this day, I still long for the chance to randomly stiff-arm someone, or to bury my head into someone’s sternum. Yes, I understand this makes me a Neanderthal.

But it’s this yearning that makes me object to the premise of Gladwell’s piece: that football and dogfighting are more or less the same. Gladwell points out that one of his interview subjects, former NFL lineman Kyle Turley, said “he loved playing football so much that he would do it all again.” You’ll find that most ex-players feel the same way. Nothing feels quite like playing under those lights, on that gridiron.

I don’t pretend to know much about dogs or dogfighting but, to me, the major difference is the element of choice. I – and thousands of others – willingly submitted ourselves to the brutal theater that is football. But dogs, on the other hand, are maniacally conditioned by their owners to “please (their) master,” said Carl Semencic in “The World of Fighting Dogs”. This is coercion, this is abuse, this is sick.

Honestly, I can’t have a serious debate about whether football and dogfighting share any traits other than violence. But Gladwell’s piece is compelling in that we see how players can drive themselves to ruin in much the same way as a “game” canine. The toll seems to be tremendous, man or beast.

Beyond that, I’m much more interested in how dogfighting is juxtaposed against a culture of sport hunting or some of the uglier practices of our industrial food complex. Michael Vick is condemned; Sarah Palin is celebrated. But why?

Because in the end, football can be brutal. But at least everyone knows they’re getting played.

Way, Way Too Much of a Good Thing.

A woman talks about dealing with Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder, a condition which causes her to have 100-200 spontaneous orgasms a day. Her  condition has caused her to shy away from human contact, and left her depressed and lonely.

[via Gerry Canavan]

More Supermarkets, Please.

via Wikimedia Commons.

via Wikimedia Commons.

Up until last fall, I lived in Bed-Stuy, and the only supermarket near me was so far away that I would just do my food-shopping on the way back from my gym — which happens to be in a completely different neighborhood.  The bodegas on either end of the block where I lived only sold white bread; fresh fruit and vegetables were completely out of the question. Fast food restaurants abounded. After 10 p.m., you had to stand outside the bodega and tell the store employee what you wanted through bullet-proof glass; they handed you your goods via a rotating carousel. If you were hungry at that hour — and I usually was, since I work evenings — there was no place to get food, except Papa John’s. (Ugh.)

Then my lease ran out and I stumbled into an apartment for slightly less than I was paying — in Park Slope, that notorious bastion of upper middle class liberalism and helicopter parenting. My mind was blown. It’s just two miles away, but the demographic chasms are ginormous. This is the whitest, most affluent place I’ve ever lived, and the nutritional options border on the cartoonish. There are supermarkets two blocks in every direction, a surfeit of top-shelf restaurantsthe famous Food Co-Op, and the 24-hour bodega on the corner sells fresh herbs and organic kale. As dope this is for me now, I had to move to a completely different neighborhood in order to have regular access to fat-free milk.

The larger public health implications of these kinds of disparities  are obvious. The lack of access to a decent-sized supermarket is a growing problem here in the city, though it’s worse in other places:  there are just four chain supermarkets in all of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city; Detroit, a city with a population of just under a million, doesn’t have any.

When we talk about obesity and the way it correlates is poverty, we spend most of our time talking about pushing low-income consumers into making healthier choices and probably not enough time discussing how we can get food retailers to sell healthy food them in the first place.

More…