Today I attended the Million Med March held in cities across the US and here in Chicago.  It was sponsored by Docs 4 Patient Care, a grassroots organization of physicians, healthcare professionals, and concerned citizens who want to reform health care while preserving the integrity of the patient-physician relationships we enjoy in this country.  I didn't know much about the group before today.  There weren't exactly 1 million doctors at Chicago's rally today- maybe 200-300.  Even so, there were some important messages.  Here is a summary of what was said, and my reflections on the event.

 

1. We are blessed to live in a country where the exchange of ideas is protected by law.
It was a privilege to gather with like-minded people today and express my views on an issue that I care about.  Few nations on earth protect, and even encourage, free and peaceful assembly to promote a cause.  The police who were present were not there to break up our meeting, or even monitor what we were saying, but to protect our right to assemble.  I'm not a big "rally" guy, but I appreciated the chance to participate today with no risk to my personal safety, my job security, or my family's well-being.

2. Doctors are bad protestors/activists.
Today's rally lacked the energy that I have experienced at other public events.  It was not because the doctors present do not believe strongly in sensible health care reform.  I think most physicians, in an effort to provide their patients with the best, evidence-based medical care, get used to just falling in line with the latest recommendations and "standard of care."  Protests do not come naturally.  That, combined with the even-tempered personalities often found in physicians, makes us bad activists.  We are not a "rah-rah" crowd.

Most of the doctors I talk to are not in favor of the current health care bill.  Most of them also feel there is not much they can do to impact the health care reform efforts in Congress.  Part of that is due to the fact that very few doctors were actually invited to participate in the process.  The American Medical Association (AMA) supports the bill, but it represents less than 30% of doctors.  (Many AMA members are newly graduated physicians who have not taken time to cancel the free membership they received as a medical student.)  Another reason doctors don't feel we can have an impact is that, for whatever reason, we tend not to rally together.  Perhaps it is the self-sufficiency we learned in medical school and residency training.  It may be that we are too busy to ask each other to participate in an event seen as an "extra" thing.  The laws prohibiting physicians from forming a union also prevent us from uniting around a cause.  I am proud of those physicians who attended today.  As one physician and speaker put it, "I wasn't going to come today because I have a busy practice, a family, and few minutes to spare, but then I realized, that is why I needed to come today, because health care reform is going to affect all of those things."

3. The introduction of a public option will lead to government-run health care.
Even if this is not the stated intention, offering a government-subsidized health insurance plan to all will eventually destroy private health insurance as we know it.  The argument for the "public option" says that health insurance companies need a competitor to "keep them honest" and the government needs to provide this competition to prevent abuse.  Sounds great, but since when did the US government compete with its own people?  One enters a competition for one reason: to win.  That means that the clandestine goal of the government-run plan is to make private insurance companies into losers.  Since a government plan does not have to remain profitable to stay in existence, it will play by different rules.  Since its inception in the 1960's, Medicare has operated at a $37 trillion loss, yet it is bigger than ever.  No private company can "compete" against a beauracracy that bulletproof.

4. The "opt-out" provision in the Senate bill is a sham.
To create the impression that the public option is not being forced upon us, the Senate included language that will allow individual states to opt out of offering the public option.  What is not publicized is the fact that states who opt out will still pay the same taxes as states who opt in.  They will incur the same costs but no benefits.  It's doubtful that any states will opt out of the plan, since they cannot opt out of the cost.

5. Estimates of the bill's costs are grossly underestimated.
You have probably seen the CBO estimates of a $849 billion price tag for the current health reform bill.  The CBO numbers are based on a ten-year projection.  Since the changes to the health care system are slated to take place in 2013, the estimates only include 6-7 years of costs, but they include 10 years of increased taxes that will start immediately.  In other words, three of those ten years are income-only years for the program, with no costs.  Let's say you move into a house in June and paying six months of mortgage payments of $1000 each.  Would you then assume that, since you paid $6000 for your mortgage this year, that you would pay $6000 again next year, and your payments would only be $500/month?  Of course not, because you failed to take the entire year into account, but that is essentially the way the CBO is projecting the costs of this health care plan.

Plenty more was talked about today, and I encourage you to read as much as you can and get as involved as you can.  To learn more about today's event, visit Docs 4 Patient Care.

 

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Here it is: the breakdown you've been looking for on the flu vaccines.
Who should receive them?

First- the regular seasonal flu vaccine, available now.
You should get the flu vaccine this year.
The only people who should not are infants less than 6 months, people with an egg allergy, and people with a previous reaction to the flu vaccine.

Next- the H1N1 vaccine, available in the next few weeks.
The following groups of people should get this vaccine:
Pregnant women
Children age 6 months to 18 years
Caregivers for children this age
Young adults 18-24
Health care workers
People age 25-64 with a chronic medical condition
(Examples include diabetes, asthma, COPD, and autoimmune conditions)

People age 65 and older are at lower risk for H1N1, so they are not recommended for the vaccine until the higher priority groups are inoculated.  Sometime in December or January, people age 65 and older may be recommended to receive the H1N1 vaccine.

The H1N1 vaccine will be available as a nasal spray and as a shot.  Pregnant women cannot receive the nasal spray because it contains a live virus.  It is safe for everyone else except those with a compromised immune system (as in HIV).  Children under 10 will require 2 doses about 4 weeks apart.  Everyone else will need only one dose.

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Some of you have possibly seen the e-mails going around that tout Listerine as an effective mosquito repellent. I decided to try it myself and... it seems to work. Most mouthwash products contain eucalyptus oil, which is known for its insect repelling properties. The only caveat: because the concentration of eucalyptus in the mouthwash is much lower than in commercially available repellents, the Listerine must be sprayed more frequently to keep up the effect.

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About 2 weeks ago, the "Check Engine" light began to appear each time I started my car. When this happens, my emotions go through several stages. First, denial. "There's probably nothing wrong, the light is just malfunctioning." Next, anger. "I don't have time to take my car in! Doesn't it know this is a crazy week for me?!" Then I move into bargaining. "OK, car, if you can hang on for one more week, I'll make sure to never again go over 3000 miles before changing your oil." And finally... well, back to denial. "Hey, the light went off- I knew nothing was wrong."

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Two dozen roses met my bride as she walked in the house one afternoon last week. "What are these for?" she asked.
"From now on," I announced, "every time you do what you just did, it's an automatic two dozen roses."
She had just returned from her annual checkup, and it was time again for that test that every woman dreads- the Pap smear.
"Do I really have to keep going through that?" she asked.
"I've watched women die of cervical cancer, honey. Please keep getting tested- I want you to stick around for a while."

It was then that I realized I was behind on my own preventive screening. It was time for my cholesterol test. Why does it seem so much easier to tell others what to do than to do it yourself? It's particularly easy to put off something like an uncomfortable test or procedure, especially when the benefit of going through the hassle is not always clear.

Thankfully, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has put tremendous effort into identifying which screening tests are the most important. Their recommendations are based on decades of research, and the only tests that make the cut are the ones with strong evidence that they save lives.

The USPSTF has published a checklist that summarizes their recommendations.
Your Checklist for Health (Men)
Your Checklist for Health (Women)

So, I'll take the timeless words of Sting and alter them a bit: "If you love someone . . . check their list." Make sure the person or people you love are keeping up. When they do, let them know how much you appreciate it. And while you're at it, make sure you are up to date, too.

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