Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Rising Medical Debt Crisis by Thomas Riggins

This past month has seen nation wide demonstrations and protests about the impossible to pay off trillion dollar student debt that has been foisted upon the youth of this country by banks and lending institutions and other manifestations of the corporate institutions controlled by the 99%. But education is not the only sphere in which monopoly capitalism puts its profits before the welfare of the American people. Another area in which the people are mercilessly plundered for corporate profit is medical care. Recently ScienceDaily published an article discussing the rising medical debt in the state of California, which can be taken as typical for other states as well ("Medical Debt Keeps Rising, New Report Shows" SD Feb. 6, 2012).

The report, from UCLA, reveals that hundreds of thousands of laid off and discharged workers have lost their health insurance as a result of the current depression (AKA "The Great Recession") and as a result the amount of medical debt in California made an alarming jump. The report reveals 18.4% of workers uninsured for a year were in debt, 23.2% uninsured for part of the year were in debt and 9.1% of those who had insurance due to employment were also in debt.

Obviously, even having insurance through your job doesn't mean you will be taken care of. Shana Alex Lavarreda, the lead author of this study, was quoted as saying, "No Californian should have to take on debt to pay medical bills or go without access to health care just because they lost their job. As this recession has so clearly shown us, linking health care to a volatile job market puts us all at risk." Of course it's more than Californians that are at risk-- it's everyone in the US and around the world who should have debt free access to medical care-- one of the major demands of the socialist and worker's movements and of all progressive democratic people.

This brings us to the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Robert K. Ross the president (and CEO) of the California Endowment, one of the foundations funding the study, said, This data clearly indicates the need for successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The rate of uninsured Americans increases annually, and the burden that presents to our care system is economically unsustainable. Health care reform will ensure that many millions of Californians [et al-- tr] need not fear a potential health catastrophe just because of an economic downturn."

This is, as we all know, an election year and medical care for the American people and an extension of insurance to millions of the uninsured, should be of prime concern. Yet the Republican Party, in the face of scientific evidence of the necessity of implementing (and indeed enlarging the scope of) the Affordable Care Act, disparagingly attacks it as "Obama Care" (it is definitely an honor to Obama to have his name linked to an attempt to help millions of Americans get medical care) and want to see this act overthrown or repealed. This is an incredible position for the Republican Party to take and can only be explained by its complete subservience to the corporate interests of the 1%. The Republicans should be rebuked decisively at the polls for this sell out of the American people.

The report reveals startling figures to back up this assessment. The number of those without insurance living in families considered poor (having incomes under 100% of the federal poverty level) grew to 33.1% in 2009 (from 29% in 2007) and 44.8% of uninsured children and 49.9 % of uninsured adults reported not seeing a medical person in the past year (for those with insurance the figures were 8.3% and 13.4 % respectively). The means, as SD puts it, "Lack of insurance equals lack of care."

Looking at these figures led Diana M. Bontá, president (and CEO) of The California Wellness Foundation (another funder of the study) to comment that, "This report provides yet more evidence of the need for change of our current system of health care and also of the devastating effect California's budget crisis has had on the programs that support our state's most vulnerable residents." There are many other states besides California facing this crisis. The crisis could be even worse than described here (with figures from 2009) since COBRA has expired (the federal program that helped workers who lost their jobs keep the insurance from their employment).

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Fast Food Blues

Thomas Riggins

Not only is fast food bad for your physical health but there is mounting scientific evidence that your mental health also suffers from all those hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza slices-- as well as eating baked goods you buy (doughnuts and croissants, etc.) In fact regular consumers of such fast foods are at 51% higher risk for depression than people who avoid them or only eat them occasionally according to a recent article in ScienceDaily ["Link Between Fast Food and Depression Confirmed"- SD March 30, 2012].

This information comes from the journal of Public Health Nutrition in a study carried out by Spanish scientists from the universities of Granada and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The lead author, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, said there was a direct relationship between fast food and depression "the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression."

There was a profile revealed regarding the kinds of people who eat a lot of fast food. The fast foodie is mostly a sedentary single person with poor eating habits mostly skipping their veggies and not eating much fish,a lot of nuts, fruit or olive oil. They also tend to smoke and work more than 45 hours a week.

Commercially baked goods are also implicated as the study states that "Even eating small quantities is linked to a significantly higher chance of developing depression."

The study followed 8,684 people for six months (they were not taking anti-depressants and had no diagnosis of depression) but after eating the above described junk food 493 of the people ended up depressed and medicated. This study backs up an earlier one that uncovered 657 newly depressed people out of 12,059 who had been followed for six months (a 42% risk as opposed to the 51% found in the new study.)

Sánchez-Villegas says "although more studies are necessary, the intake of this type of food should be controlled because of its implications on both health (obesity, cardiovascular diseases) and mental well-being."

With 121 million in the world suffering from depression that condition becomes one of the major causes of human disability (and in countries with low and medium incomes it the major cause says SD). The now famous Mediterranean diet as well as taking your B vitamins and getting a lot of omega-3 fatty acids as well as olive oil seems to make it less risky that depression will occur.

What should be done? Definitely, if the above results are sound, at a minimum junk foods should come with warning labels and they should not be served in school lunch programs, programs for seniors, or any government sponsored food programs. Adverts aimed at children should be banned and public awareness programs should be increased including public service announcements in the mass media as is being done with respect to smoking.

There is, however, one qualm I have with this SD report. That is the inclusion of smokers in the profile. Smoking in and of itself is an independent risk factor for developing depression. The case against junk food would be on firmer ground if future studies excluded smokers from the study groups.