Archive for the ‘health’ Category

One convenient thing for limited government types is they get to avoid many of the tricky issues that develop when action is undertaken by the government on behalf of individuals. If you believe individuals should have the sole prerogative to their health decisions, for instance, you needn’t worry much whether they then choose to spend their money on silly things. Transfer that authority to the government on behalf of the polity, however, and wastefulness becomes less innocuous:

Prue Lewis listens as they explain their symptoms. Then Lewis — a thin, frail-looking woman from Columbia Heights — simply says, “I’ll go to work right away.” She hangs up, organizes her thoughts and begins treating her clients’ ailments the best way she knows how: She prays.

This is health care in the world of Christian Science, where the sick eschew conventional medicine and turn to God for healing. Christian Scientists call it “spiritual health care,” and it is a practice they are battling to insert into the health-care legislation being hammered out in Congress.

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist, are pushing a proposal that would help patients pay someone like Lewis for prayer by having insurers reimburse the $20 to $40 cost.

The provision was stripped from the bill the House passed this month, and church leaders are trying to get it inserted into the Senate version. And the church has powerful allies there, including Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who represents the state where the church is based, and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who said the provision would “ensure that health-care reform law does not discriminate against any religion.”

This story is usually packaged to fit into a debate about church and state, but let’s slide that to the side and instead inquire about efficiency: could paying for prayer be a less wasteful use of tax dollars than the alternatives?

The instinctive answer is no because prayer can at best have a placebo effect–better to spend the money on more effectual ends. This answer is incomplete, however, because we have to specify at what margin we’re thinking: Are we talking about the first dollar one spends to cure an ailment, or the ten thousandth?

Most knowledgeable people seem to think Americans overspend on healthcare. That is, the extra dollar we spend doesn’t bring extra benefit. To reduce waste, we could reduce our spending to a level where we’re still getting a bang for our taxpayer buck, but this is the government after all, so we can forget about that. Instead, seeing as the extra treatment brings us no extra benefit, we could just select cheaper treatments in order to hie away waste. At the end of this line of reasoning lies the sort of counter-intuitive conclusion economists hold so dear: paying 20 bucks a pop for prayer can be a more efficient use of healthcare spending than, say, paying for a $100 visit to the doctor.

It’s true that for the first dollars we spend we’re better off ignoring faith-based solutions, but at some margin, going to a witch doctor is just as worthwhile as going to the family doctor. And if we take a Hansonian view of heathcare, that margin is at a level lower than we think.

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I had never been much of an athlete growing up, so the fact that I now have two runner’s toes–a result of the jogging routine I started when I moved to Schwerin–has instilled me with an odd sense of pride. Never mind the fact that one of my toenails is crimson-colored and almost certainly dead, while the other can be lifted up like a trapdoor to reveal the soft fleshiness of my nail bed (which Wikipedia informs me is “often colloquially referred to as the ‘quick'”) underneath–for these doomed, discolored cuticles are visceral evidence of my newfound athleticism, and I will wear any open-toed shoes with the appropriate aplomb.

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Sweet & Sour

ARTIFICIAL sweeteners have long been touted as being good for the calorie-conscious. Unfortunately, a study just published in Behavioral Neuroscience by Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson of Purdue University in Indiana suggests that such compounds may actually end up making people fatter than they otherwise would be.

And how can this be, pray tell?

The cause, Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson think, is a disruption in the connection that the brain makes between sweetness and calories. Past research suggests that the brain thinks that sweetness is a sign of highly calorific food. Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson argue that artificial sweeteners confuse things. After repeated exposure to sweeteners, the brain forgets the connection and thus fails to stop the animal eating at an appropriate point…

It therefore looks possible that low-calorie artificial sweeteners are a contributory factor to the rising number of people who are obese. What an irony.

I like the results of this study because it serves as a nice reminder of how ignorant humanity can be, and how unintended consequences are endemic to the activity of tampering with complex systems. Most of all, I like it because it gives evidence that good ol’ fashioned Aristotelian moderation is probably the better strategy for good health rather than following the well-marketed guidelines of the latest celebrity doctor.

Alternatively, one might content oneself with a more Platonic philosophy, which maintains that “attention to health is life’s greatest hindrance.”

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From the Sunday Herald:

Muslim extremists famously believe that suicide bombers will be rewarded in paradise with 72 virgins, although Christoph Luxenberg’s contentious recent assertion that the original language of the Koran was Syriac, rather than Arabic, has given rise to an alternative translation – holy martyrs may in fact have been promised luscious “raisins”, rather than “virgins”.

Despite it being a gem, the above quotation belies the subject of the article it is contained in, which is actually concerned with modern attitudes towards virginity and not religious fanaticism. One of the central ideas it proffers forth is that while virginity is discussed a great deal, no one seems to know what it means. As for myself, I concluded long ago that virginity is far more of a psychological phenomenon than a physical one.

I was busy pondering this, of course, while everyone else was presumably committing wanton carnality with their own luscious raisins.

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