Friday News Dump: Wonkbites

by Karan Chhabra

The weather’s getting nice—read these outdoors!

  1. Right moves, wrong reasonsIf you’ve gotten caught up in the news that our health spending has slowed—which some have attributed to the Affordable Care Act—you might want to take back some enthusiasm. Researchers have spent the last few months analyzing the slowdown, and attribute a fair amount of it to our slower economy. They note, importantly, that “our nation has made no fundamental change in how health care is paid for or delivered.” That said, if the payment reforms do take hold, that could  translate to lower growth; we just don’t have evidence that those have kicked in sufficiently yet.
  2. “Skin in the game” gets burned: Fans of consumer-directed health plans (like high deductibles and tax-free health savings accounts) have long argued that, by encouraging people to comparison shop for healthcare, such plans are crucial to attacking our healthcare cost burden. But new research says the contrary, in part because enough information isn’t out there for patients to make informed decisions. Perhaps this will change with the health insurance exchanges to be implemented this fall, but even that won’t change the inscrutable nature of doctor and hospital fees.
  3. Beating diabetes? Scientists discovered a hormone that, in mice, attacks diabetes at its very root cause—the death of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Humans have the hormone too, and in mice, administering the hormone caused those crucial cells (called beta cells) to multiply rapidly without causing side effects or cancer. It seems like a huge development for one of our most prevalent and insidious diseases, though a human application is still some time away.
  4. Inside Man: The Senate confirmation of Marilyn Tavenner, who’s been running the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), looked like it was going without a hitch. Until Wednesday, that is, when Sen. Tom Harkin—a Democrat—promised to block her confirmation until the Obama administration says it’s ready to negotiate with him. How could he disagree with a Democratic president? In short, he’s peeved with the administration’s plan to use cash from the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to implement health insurance exchanges later this year.
  5. Blame it on the magnet? Booze on an empty stomach hits harder, or so I’m told. But did you know that the shape of your glass matters too? A fascinating and somewhat perplexing area of research explores the “situational specificity” of alcohol tolerance: that is, the strange psychological cues that alter the effects of a drink or two.

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Karan is a first-year student at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Duke graduate who previously worked in strategic research for hospital executives.

Follow him on Twitter @KRChhabra or subscribe to the blog.

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