If Obamacare works as well as Romneycare does in Massachusetts our death rate will fall


Ezekial Emanuel, one of the architects of both health plans

The death rate in Massachusetts dropped significantly after it adopted mandatory health care coverage in 2006, a study released Monday found, offering evidence that the country’s first experiment with universal coverage — and the model for crucial parts of President Obama’s health care law — has saved lives, health economists say.

The study tallied deaths in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2010 and found that the mortality rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — fell by about 3 percent in the four years after the law went into effect. The decline was steepest in counties with the highest proportions of poor and previously uninsured people. In contrast, the mortality rate in a control group of counties similar to Massachusetts in other states was largely unchanged.

A national 3 percent decline in mortality among adults under 65 would mean about 17,000 fewer deaths a year…

Massachusetts is whiter and more affluent than most states, and has more doctors per capita and fewer uninsured people. But researchers said that the state’s health insurance law nevertheless amounted to the best natural experiment the country has had for testing the effects of a major insurance expansion on a large population.

In Suffolk County, which includes Boston, the death rate for adults under 65 dropped by about 7 percent from 2005 to 2010, the study’s authors said.

There have been patchy efforts to boost coverage for the poor in states like Arizona, Maine and New York, but Massachusetts is the only state to fully overhaul its health system to cover almost everybody…

David O. Meltzer, a health economist from the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study, said one of the study’s strengths was its size. It looked at four million people in Massachusetts — the entire population age 20 to 64 — and compared them with more than 44 million people in control counties…

The biggest declines happened for conditions that are more likely to be deadly if not caught early — for example, infections from complications of diabetes, heart attacks and cancer.

Americans continue to amaze the rest of the industrialized world. The rate at which we catch on to real social and economic benefits truly lags any sort of common sense. Here we are adopting a half-Republican version of the National Health Service folks in the UK have had for over 60 years. My kin in the Great White North have had the more advanced Canadian version for 30 years.

About the only thing we manage to achieve is higher salaries for doctors and hospital administrators. And insurance company executives.

Of course, we have a surplus of priests, politicians and pundits who tell us we are committing an unholy act by improving health care for all. OTOH, when we have the same number of years to evaluate the single payer system starting up in Vermont, I’ll wager we will find the benefits even more cost effective and achieving similar or better results. The rest of us will continue to ignore the naysayers.

Increased drought from climate change forecasts lower Midwestern crop yields


Increasingly harsh drought conditions in the U.S. Midwest’s Corn Belt may take a serious toll on corn and soybean yields over the next half-century, according to research published…in the journal Science.

Corn yields could drop by 15 to 30 percent, according to the paper’s estimates; soybean yield losses would be less severe.

North Carolina State University’s Roderick Rejesus, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics and a co-author of the Science paper, says that corn and soybean yields show increasing sensitivity to drought, with yields struggling in dry conditions in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana during the 1995 to 2012 study period…

U.S. corn and soybeans account for approximately 40 and 35 percent of global production, respectively, making the results important to the world’s food supply.

Using field data over an 18-year period, the researchers point to the effects of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) on corn and soybean yields. VPD includes temperature and humidity measures; extremes at either end of this variable signify drought or too much water for crops. Akin to the sweet spot on a baseball bat, the best VPD condition is a value in its middle range.

Some 29 climate estimates modeled in the paper suggest that VPD will rise significantly over the next 40 years, bringing on more severe drought conditions.

The researchers ran the same tests using the Palmer Drought Severity Index, another widely used measure capturing nationwide temperature and humidity, and reported similar results. They also ran the same tests for a broader group of Corn Belt states to include South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Those tests confirmed the results found in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana…

Rejesus says that research into more drought-resistant seeds or other ways of combating sensitivity to drought is necessary because the findings have strong implications throughout the food chain.

While I’m not being critical of ethics or motivation, the single factor that will govern decisions made by agribusiness and individual farmers will remain profits and income. That in turn will affect some potential solutions – like thinning out crop density – regardless of effectiveness at fighting drought conditions.

Thanks, Mike

Fearing for his store, defying death threats, embattled gun dealer sleeps there


Brutus – and Andy Raymond

After word spread that his Rockville store would sell the nation’s first smart gun — infuriating gun rights activists who fear more regulation — Andy Raymond’s phone and e-mail inbox went absolutely berserk…

That’s because gun rights advocates think the guns will be mandated. Electronic chips in the Armatix iP1 can communicate with a watch that can be bought separately. Then the gun cannot be fired without the watch.

Somebody told one of Raymond’s workers that the store, Engage Armament, wouldn’t be selling the gun because there wouldn’t be a store — it will burn down.

Followed by death threats.

Even the store’s dog Brutus did not escape the vitriol.

Raymond was clearly shaken, and late Thursday night, he released a video saying he wouldn’t sell the gun and apologized for messing up. He also wrote a message on his Facebook page: “You call me and email me and threaten my life? You come at me, my girlfriend, or my god damned DOG I will put one in your dome. I promise you.”

And then he decided to sleep at the store. He stayed til 3 a.m., then went home, and then came back at 6 a.m. to stand guard….

…“I can’t have my shop burned down. I don’t think somebody is gonna come shoot me, but somebody could burn down my shop while I’m not here.”

The dementia of gun nuts vs ordinary lifelong gun owners, hunters, hobbyists, etc. is now out in the open.

I come from a family where three generations worked in the firearms industry – from managing one of the largest firearms factories in the United States to lead prototype gunsmithing for both civilian and military design for decades. No one in my family would advocate the violence of these nutballs threatening Mr. Raymond.

I’ve owned handguns, rifles and shotguns for over sixty years – and I’m embarrassed because someone might count me in alongside these paranoid fools.

They deserve nothing less than contempt – and maybe institutional care.

Stem cells used to repair damaged hearts


In what could mark a significant breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease, researchers at the University of Washington have successfully repaired damaged tissue in monkey hearts using cells created from human embryonic stem cells. The findings demonstrate an ability to produce these cells on an unprecedented scale and hold great potential for restoring functionally of damaged human hearts.

The researchers were exploring ways of restoring human hearts damaged by myocardial infarctions, a common type of heart attack that blocks major arteries and prevents oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. This lack of oxygen in turn causes damage to the muscle tissue and impacts the ability of the heart to pump blood. The researchers are aiming to restore these hearts to full functionality using cells grown from human embryonic stem cells…

Over the following weeks, the injected cells infiltrated the damaged tissue, maturing to form new muscle fibers and beat in synchrony with the heart. Three months after the injections, the cells appeared fully integrated with the original tissue.

The researchers say that the injected stem cells regenerated 40 percent of the damaged heart tissue, though some side effects were observed. In the first weeks after the injections, the team reported occurrences of irregular heartbeats, also known as arrhythmias. However, the problem subsided after two to three weeks once the cells had matured and become stable.

From here, the researchers will work to reduce the risk of arrhythmias and also to clearly demonstrate that the cells are capable of substantially improving the functionality of a damaged heart. They are hopeful the approach will be ready for clinical trials in humans within four years.

Please, please, let us hope that in the interim – the American electorate in their infinite wisdom doesn’t accidentally put a government in place once again that thinks modern biological advances like this are the work of Satan.