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Category: health

California Smoke Over Western Washington

California Smoke Over Western Washington

Not just Western Washington, which shows in this photo around Mt. Rainier, but this was on my flight back from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mt. Rainier peeking above the fog of California fire smoke.


Returning to Seattle from a short trip to Salt Lake City, I snapped this photo of Mt. Rainier. But while I was in Utah, I was warned repeatedly that the air there was a so bad that emergency care centers were being overwhelmed with patients experiencing urgent respiratory issues.

I’ve never experienced anything like that, no matter the air quality, until this trip. I was explaining to my mom that we couldn’t stay long due to some unforeseen circumstances when suddenly I started into a coughing fit. That has never happened to me. Could be a one-off.

In the above photo, I had to review it several times to be sure it wasn’t a photo of Mt. Rainier with some extreme color-banding in the clouds. This is smoke over the mountains surrounding Mt. Rainier as we approach Seattle to land at SeaTac Airport.

That’s smoke, not clouds, from <~ 30,000 feet.

Obamacare will grow into Single Payer under Trump

Obamacare will grow into Single Payer under Trump

Obamacare’s Built-in Issues

The problem with the ACA is that it brought the problems of universal healthcare to everyone’s attention. Private insurance can’t cover a healthy young person’s $50/yr needs while simultaneously covering someone else’s $15,000/yr needs and charging both less than it would cost the healthy young person. So the ACA spread the cost out with an “individual mandate” or resultant penalty for everyone and a requirement that insurance companies drop their penalties for “high risk pool” individuals.

The answer has never been and will never be private insurance with a government mandate enforced by a penalty. The only answer is expansion of our current single payer system, Medicare. We all pay into it, ostensibly, and it is an efficient, well managed system whose only challenges are imposed by political agreements between lawmakers and profiteers.

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Let your kids eat some dirt today. It’s good for their immune system.

Let your kids eat some dirt today. It’s good for their immune system.

Too many people are too concerned about ultimate sanitization. They carry around anti-bacterial soaps, hand-sanitizer lotions, and towelettes. They are over-sensitive about getting anything dirty on their fingers… Sure there are some things everybody should be careful about like raw meats known to carry diseases like salmonella, but a little dirt here and there? A gnat landing on your sliced cantaloupe or sandwich or in your beer? You’ll be okay.

Eat some dirt. It’s more likely to make you healthier than make you sick.

In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.

“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”

Dr. Ruebush the “Why Dirt Is Good” author, deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Plain soap and water are all that are needed to become clean, she noted.

Worms? Big ick factor there. You don’t have to seek out worms to eat, but if you accidentally ingest some larvae, it’s most likely the harmless kind.

And you kids? Don’t freak out if they eat something with dirty hands. They’re gonna be okay – maybe even help prevent them from getting allergies.

It’s possible you’ve heard of the “hygiene hypothesis,” which is the speculation that the reason Americans have so many allergies is because we are, quite simply, too clean. Kids are kept in such sterile environments that they never build immunities to common allergens.

A significant amount of research has shown that kids who grow up living on farms with livestock, or with a pet are less likely to develop asthma or allergies. Prior research has also suggested that it’s not necessarily dust that provides a protective benefit, but the microbes that are in our guts that influence our immune system and ability to fight off infections.

So go to the beach or the park, grill some food, don’t freak out if whatever your grilling accidentally gets a little dirt on it, and don’t yell at kids that grab some chips with dirty hands.

You’ll all survive and you all might be a little stronger because of it.

So what’s covered now? Obamacare gutted by Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby?

So what’s covered now? Obamacare gutted by Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby?

Mormons: Cirrhosis of the liver – not covered.
Catholics: Unwed maternity – not covered.
Scientologists: Mental health – not covered.
Baptists: Ex-gay therapy – covered!
Shamans: Peyote – covered!
Christian Scientist: Nothing – covered.

Please feel free to add to the list.

Whose healthcare needs do we marginalize next? Which large organization gets to decide which religious beliefs suppress human progress? Which of your friends gets branded a dissenter because the company you both work for disagrees with the decisions they’ve come to with their doctor?

You’re fine because you fit just great with your employer’s religious beliefs. Your friend with a medical dilemma that pits them against even their own religious convictions, takes an option you’d never understand.

But you’d never know any of the details of this private medical issue if your friend hadn’t been blocked from receiving care due to a Supreme Court decision that your employer gets to know how you’re using your health care benefits.

US healthcare system ranks last again. Obamacare will raise its future rankings.

US healthcare system ranks last again. Obamacare will raise its future rankings.

A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund ranking healthcare systems in eleven advanced countries found the United States in last place. And while we languished at the bottom the study, which ranked healthcare delivery on such metrics as quality of care, access, efficiency and healthy outcomes, rated the United Kingdom at number one (take that, Fox News know-nothings). Just to add insult to injury, the UK spends $3,405 per capita on health (second lowest behind New Zealand) while we spend a whopping $8,508, the most of any in the study by a country mile.

Unsurprisingly, we fared poorest in categories associated with access and equity thanks to our lack of universal insurance coverage, and in efficiency where we are burdened with such deficiencies as excessive insurance company administrative overhead, medical duplication and overuse of emergency room treatment.

We also performed the worst in healthy outcomes as measured by infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality amenable to medical care (i.e. unnecessary or avoidable deaths).

As if this study wasn’t bad enough, we also have the International Federation of Health Plans 2013 Comparative Price Report which annually measures the cost of medical procedures and drugs among selected countries. Guess who regularly emerges as the most expensive? Even Switzerland (where a hamburger meal can cost $50) is way cheaper. As Ezra Klein noted about the iFHP 2012 price report in the Washington Post:

This is the fundamental fact of American health care: We pay much, much more than other countries do for the exact same things. For a detailed explanation of why, see this article. But this post isn’t about the why. It’s about the prices, and the graphs.

One note: Prices in the United States are expressed as a range. There’s a reason for that. In other countries, prices are set centrally and most everyone, no matter their region or insurance arrangement, pays pretty close to the same amount. In the United States, each insurer negotiates its own prices, and different insurers end up paying wildly different amounts.

So the US healthcare system is definitely ailing. But relief may be at hand. In noting the results of the Commonwealth Fund report, a New York Times  editorial states:

The poor results for the United States reflect the high cost of its medical care and the absence of  universal health insurance, a situation being addressed by the Affordable Care Act. The federal law is already increasing the number of Americans with health coverage and will substantially cut the number of uninsured in coming years. Other advanced nations are far ahead in the game because they have long had universal health coverage and promoted strong ties between patients and doctors.

Already the ACA’s beneficial effects on the rate of uninsured are being felt, particularly in states that embraced it wholeheartedly, as this piece about Minnesota from Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic shows.

So, despite the best efforts of Republicans to keep us mired in a rotten system that is inefficient, inequitable, prohibitively expensive, and too often lacking in overall effectiveness, there is hope that the future will be significantly brighter for American healthcare, thanks to Obamacare.

America has the best healthcare system in the world! (Except a few people do slip through the cracks…)

America has the best healthcare system in the world! (Except a few people do slip through the cracks…)

Watch this Aasif Mandvi video from last Thursday’s Daily Show featuring an interview with Fox Business Commentator Todd Wilemon. At the 3:35 mark Aasif Mandvi sets up Wilemon with a report of an unhealthy population in a place with very limited access to quality healthcare. Wilemon thinks he is describing a situation in a third-world country. At the 4:12 mark watch Wilemon grapple with a severe case of cognitive dissonance when  he learns the community Mandvi is describing is Knoxville, Tennessee.


What happens to Wilemon is what happens to all Republicans when facts about pretty much anything don’t match up with their unsubstantiated beliefs in American exceptionalism.

Wilemon froze as the contrary evidence penetrated his skull and ricocheted around his cranium. After some moments of uncomfortable contemplation, he responds with, “you know people do fall through the cracks”. To say otherwise would be to admit that America doesn’t have “The Best Healthcare System in the World“, and to admit that would cause his head to explode so, in an act of self preservation, he grabs hold of that inconvenient thought in his head and shoves up his ass where he thinks it belongs.

Wilemon recovers a bit and then argues that the healthcare-deprived people in Knoxville are unhealthy because they chose not to buy healthcare. At the 5:30 mark Mandvi delivers another bullet to the cranium with,”because they can’t afford it”, and “So if you’re poor, just stop being poor”. It is of course and absurd statement, unless you’re a Republican. Then it’s “a good idea”.

Republicans and their mouthpieces on Fox News cannot accept that America doesn’t have the best healthcare system in the world. They don’t believe the Number 37 ranking. They can’t believe it because they lack empathy for anyone not like themselves. Live in poverty? Your fault! Got sick? Your fault! Don’t have access to a healthcare network? Get a job! And stop being poor because you are ruining my fantasy.

Friend and breastfeeding activist is looking for some help

Friend and breastfeeding activist is looking for some help

Help lunar mama grow.

I know this isn’t the type of thing I normally post, nor is it the standard fare for this blog. But a friend reached out to me recently and asked me to help out with a project she’s working on that I wholly believe in. She’s been a long time, activist supporter of breast feeding. Seems like a subject that wouldn’t need activist support, right? But, weirdly, it does. There are laws against breastfeeding in some places. There are rules on Facebook about breastfeeding. There is a wide range of opinions about breastfeeding. And breast milk has even been regarded as less healthy than formula at times.

In order to publish my book I need to get some help editing it. I’ve begun a workshop with a well respected author to begin editing and have found a self-publishing group that can print the books in just the right format to fit in the kits as well as make them available for direct purchase at a very low cost. I’ve also found a great course on Women’s Herbal Health by an internationally known educator that will round out my 17 years of herbal and holistic health self-study and provide me with a certification to be a Women’s Herbal Health Educator. All of this will enable me to offer outstanding, well rounded products as well as low cost exemplary education and workshops to women and birth workers. Your contribution will have not only an impact on the mamas I am able to reach but their children and future generations that will have access to this life changing, and in many cases life saving information.

I’ve known her for years and there was a time in her life where she didn’t think she’d even be able to have kids. But now she’s got 4 and she’s very active in her interests as a mother. Her kids adore me, which earns her points with me, and as a father myself, I support her views on breast feeding and her activist role in promoting parental rights.

Anyway, I’m linking to her Indiegogo promotion to give her a little help.

The overlooked benefit that is the real promise of the Affordable Care Act – for all of us.

The overlooked benefit that is the real promise of the Affordable Care Act – for all of us.

The chaotic rollout of the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act beginning with the failed federal and some state websites has obscured a fundamental and crucial benefit that accrues to all of us on 1st January 2014: none of us need ever again be compelled by circumstances to do without health insurance for ourselves or for our families, as this insightful piece earlier this month by Ezra Klein in The Washington Post highlights.

When full implementation of the ACA commences on January 1st, being laid off in America, or quitting employment to become self-employed, or retiring prematurely to pursue other interests, will not mean losing one’s health insurance. By creating an individual private insurance market that prevents the exclusion of anyone based on a pre-existing medical condition, and by providing subsidies to those with a middling income or eligibility for an expanded Medicaid for low-income adults, the ACA ensures that being laid off will no longer be quite the unmitigated disaster it has been until now for American workers. Like their counterparts in other industrialized countries, Americans will be assured of reasonably affordable health care coverage regardless of their employment status.

This is a huge deal because it will add immeasurably to the sense of security of most American workers – once they figure out what it all means. In the din that has accompanied the ACA’s rollout, however, the law’s benefits (and this one in particular) have not received much of a hearing. However, once things settle down in the New Year, it should become increasingly obvious to more and more people that the ACA represents a very significant strengthening of the social safety net, one that ultimately benefits all of us and not just the uninsured.

Obamacare’s overdue reform of a lousy private health insurance market.

Obamacare’s overdue reform of a lousy private health insurance market.

We’re hearing an awful lot from and about those in the private health insurance market who are receiving policy cancellation letters with lots of heat but little light being shed on what is a serious issue. Much of the focus has been on President Obama’s repeated and misleading assertions that everyone would be able to keep their existing insurance plan and doctor. Perhaps mindful of the fact that, more often than not in America, nuance falls on deaf ears, he foolishly neglected to make a distinction between employer-provided insurance plans, which will be unchanged, and those purchased on the individual market which constitute about 6% of the insured overall.

Republicans who have been and continue to be unmoved by the plight of the uninsured are apoplectic in behalf of the people in this small segment of the insurance market who are losing their current insurance plans. This selective outrage is driven, of course, by their desperate desire to seize on anything that can help them destroy the Affordable Care Act.

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein is one who has successfully put the issue in some perspective and his detailed analysis is a must read.

The individuals and families affected and whose plans fail to meet the requirements of the ACA, broadly fall into two categories. The first group has lousy insurance plans with features such as high deductibles, limited coverage and low caps on total expenditures by the insurance company, that ensure crushing out-of-pocket expenses in the event of a chronic or acute illness requiring serious and expensive treatment. The cancellation of these policies is an unequivocally good thing since such bare bones plans offer little security to the policy holders and cause higher costs to health providers and ultimately to the rest of us. The ACA will almost certainly provide much better, affordable plans once subsidies for those who qualify are factored. These people have little to complain about.

The second group, however, has a genuine beef. They are generally healthy, middle aged or older folks who have a decent insurance plan which, nevertheless, does not meet the ACA. Some of them, as highlighted in Klein’s story, have received cancellation letters and been unable to find a plan as good as the one they are losing at a comparable price either in the exchanges (assuming they’ve been able to check the federal website if they reside in a state without its own exchange) or from their current carriers. If they have a decent income they don’t qualify for subsidies.

Regrettable as their situation may be, it has to be kept in perspective. As Klein points out, these people have benefitted enormously from the ability of insurance companies to exclude others from coverage that had pre-existing conditions. By excluding these poor risks, insurance companies were able to offer more favorable plans to those who are now vexed by seeing them cancelled. A further consequence is that some of those who previously benefitted from the dysfunctional and rather pitiless individual health insurance market will likely pay more for less under the ACA, as appears to be the case for the individual mentioned at the beginning of Klein’s piece.

It is likely scant comfort for this group to know that many more people will gain health coverage previously denied them under the reformed private insurance market, and that others will get better, more comprehensive plans than they had before. Nevertheless, for the country as a whole and the cause of social justice, it’s a very worthwhile tradeoff.

What Finger Length Can Tell You about Personality, Sexuality, and Health Risks

What Finger Length Can Tell You about Personality, Sexuality, and Health Risks

According to the BBC, testosterone levels in the womb affect finger length.  Low testosterone levels are linked to shorter ring fingers.   The relative lengths of ring fingers and index fingers can indicate levels of some cognitive traits, sexual orientation, and signal susceptibility to some diseases.

Some findings:

Women with male-like, longer ring fingers do better in spatial ability tests. (link)

Financial traders whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers make the most money. (link)

Boys with ring fingers shorter than their index fingers have a greater risk of heart attack.  (link)

Men with index fingers that are longer than their ring fingers are significantly less likely to develop prostate cancer.  (link)

Children with shorter ring fingers do better at reading tests than math tests.  (link)

Men with shorter index fingers are likely to be more “boisterous.”  (link)

Women with shorter index fingers are more likely to be lesbians.  (link)