Swine Flu

This was almost an if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it story, but it appears to be growing quickly. Being a political junkie like I am, torture revelations since the April 16th release of the Office of Legal Counsel memos by the Obama administration have heavily dominated the news. But that is most definitely not the only news out there. My previous post was about the increased possibility for health care reform this year due to choices made about how to conduct the legislative process. This story hasn’t been percolating in the background like health reform, but there have been precursors (SARS and bird flu). I might have skipped over the story entirely but for an off-hand posting by a friend suggesting a Mexico trip was no longer going to happen.

The New York Times and Washington Post reported stories Friday of a few cases of flu outbreak along the U.S.-Mexico border region that were novel because they contained strains of human, avian, and swine flu viruses. The cases in the U.S. have been mild, with all patients so far tracked in the U.S.  having recovered. In Mexico, the virus has not been as benign, with at least 81 dead so far and over 1000 sickened.

At this point, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has taken steps to isolate flu victims, cancel public events, have health officials and soldiers pass out masks, and check travelers for symptoms before they leave the country. President Obama has been briefed and the administration is actively watching the situation. Australia, New Zealand, and Isreal are also monitoring. In the initial stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases was quoted saying that they didn’t think it was time for major concern. But I’ll tell you what, they”ve certainly got my attention now.

In this case, I’m actually looking to sources in addition to traditional media to keep up with developments. DemFromCT on Daily Kos is excellelent; Hilzoy on Political Animal has a good post with links to additional resources; and there’s also the Flu Wiki forum which DemFromCT contributes to.

Many more links with excerpts below the fold. Continue reading “Swine Flu”

Health Care Reform by Reconciliation if Necessary

On Friday, there was news that health care reform is going to be subject to a process called budget reconciliation to get through congress. What this means is that if a health reform package is not agreed to by October 15th, only a simple majority will be required to pass one. Therefore, reform will not be subject obstruction by filibuster. This greatly increases the chances that major health care reform can happen this year.

Obama Tactic Shields Health Care Bill From a Filibuster

Published: April 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — At the prodding of the White House, Democratic Congressional leaders have agreed to pursue a plan that would protect major health care legislation from Republican opposition by shielding it from last-minute Senate filibusters.

The aggressive approach reflects the big political claim that President Obama is staking on health care, and with it his willingness to face Republican wrath in order to guarantee that the Democrats, with their substantial majority in the Senate, could not be thwarted by minority tactics.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times briefly expresses his support for this process on his blog. Steve Benen takes note of it in the Washington Monthly blog Political Animal.

Also this week, the nation’s largest health insurer, WellPoint, began making automated calls to customers on the health care debate. While I hesitate to say this is definitively a good thing or a bad thing, you can certainly color me very skeptical. After all, the influence of business in the financial services industry certainly created a wonderful mess there.

Big health insurer’s calls to members draws criticism | Sacramento Bee.

Published: Friday, Apr. 24, 2009

WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurer, has launched what could be the start of a campaign for the hearts and minds of the American public as the country prepares for debates over reshaping its much-maligned health care system.

The company, which operates in California as Anthem Blue Cross, made 3 million computer-generated phone calls last week to gauge the public’s appetite for overhauling health care – and to enlist, critics say, a grass-roots army to voice concerns about the sweeping proposals developing on Capitol Hill.

“This was our first step,” said WellPoint spokeswoman Cheryl Leamon. “Obviously, the debate over health care reform is heating up.”

A nice intro to Chinese medicine

From the Los Angeles Times Travel section

Chinese medicine classes teach ancient remedies

In Hong Kong, foreigners can learn what herbs and other unusual ingredients may cure an illness.

By Judith Fein
10:51 AM PDT, April 09, 2009

The world is divided into two categories: those who get the flu, and those who don’t. Not only did I fall into the former, but it happened a week before my scheduled departure for Taiwan and Hong Kong. “Nobody goes to Hong Kong with the flu,” my husband, Paul, said.

Achy and exhausted, I had feverish nightmares of the “C” word (cancel); I had never backed out of a trip in my life. It was touch-and-go until the last minute . . . and then it became go.


I decided to see a Chinese doctor. I am no stranger to Chinese medicine, but I was a stranger to how they prescribe and take Asian medicine in Taiwan.

Judith Fein discusses both an experience that sent her to Chinese medicine for treatment as well as a class about Chinese Medicine that she took while traveling in Hong Kong. One thing of note is one example of the way Chinese herbs are used. In my training, I have experience with hundreds of decoctions which I fondly refer to as essence of forest floor. Whether ingesting Malibu sand or essence of forest floor, Chinese herbal medicine is fantastic when properly employed.

Half Moon Bay clinic abruptly shuts its doors

Half Moon Bay clinic abruptly shuts its doors. From SFGate, The San Francisco Chronicle Online

Because Coastside cared for the insured and uninsured, it did not qualify for a federal program that offers significant reimbursements to clinics serving the poor. Of Coastside’s 8,000 patients, 6,000 had private insurance, with the remainder uninsured or receiving Medicare or Medi-Cal. Rising costs of health care, coupled with a drop in donations and grants, finally did the center in.

“This was the largest provider of care in Half Moon Bay,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon. “They were a nonprofit clinic that kept closing the gap with grants and contributions.”

Gordon said that in an attempt to keep the clinic open, the county had taken over Coastside’s lease in August, not charging any rent.

“In the end, there was a critical gap between income and expenses,” Gordon said. “I’m saddened that this happened and I know there’s a huge emotional toll.”

One more reminder of the urgency of reforming our health care system.