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Showing posts from May, 2010

How Does Cuba Do It?

Cuba has achieved a life expectancy approximately equivalent to the US, despite a long standing embargo on food and medical supplies and despite spending a small fraction of the amount of money per person on health care than we do.

A Stanford social sciences researcher, Paul Drain, has studied Cuba's medical system and has identified a few factors that may be responsible for their success.  Cuba completely subsidizes medical training.  After high school, students who are interested in medical school and qualify for it attend 6 years of combined college and medical training, complete with a stipend for living expenses and then 3 years of postrgraduate training in primary care medicine.  Many do rural health residencies either before or after the postgraduate training. After becoming family practitioners, 35% of them do further specialty training and the rest remain primary care doctors.  There are many multi-specialty clinics which provide care in cities, and small pr…

vitamin D--the controversy

In the last year vitamin D has been making headlines. It is not a new vitamin. It was first synthesized in the 1920s and deficiency of the vitamin was known to be a cause of rickets, a bone deforming disease, associated with reduction of sun exposure with the movement to crowded living conditions with inadequate sun exposure during the industrial revolution. It is important in regulating absorption of calcium in the gut and deposition of calcium in bone as well as having a role in  supporting the immune system.  Vitamin D2 can be made by plants and was added to milk and cereals in order to prevent rickets in children starting in the late 1920s.

Vitamin D is available in relatively small amounts in various foods, especially fatty fish and beef liver. Normally these food supplement the vitamin D made in the skin when we are exposed to certain wavelengths of sunlight.  Dark skinned people are less efficient at producing vitamin D from a given amount of sun exposure, which pa…

Why does Congress try to cut Medicare spending every year and then not do it at the last minute?

Pending huge cuts in Medicare make headlines yearly.  “Doctors sweating bullets: Medicare spending due to be cut by 21%!”  In the medical rags we hear that “this year the cuts will really occur and then no doctor will provide care to patients on Medicare.” But then, sure as spring follows winter, the cuts are forestalled. Does this seem silly to anybody else?

This week’s New England Journal has an article that addresses this problem clearly.  I read the article, written by Dr. Bruce Vladeck, as saying that we are stuck in a legislative bind with regard to medicare spending, both because we spend too much on medicare, mainly due to the fact that we overspend in general without adequately supporting primary care, and also due to rules we established years ago regulating overall expenditures for the Medicare program.  The rules were good, if a bit optimistic, and required that we curb overall outlay for Medicare year by year.  Each year that we fail to live by the formula th…