Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So much drama on C-SPAN!

On a bill to give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco, especially to ban flavored cigarettes (kids' favorites).

Rep. Boehner (R-OH): This is a boneheaded piece of legislation. *handwaving and rant about big government*
Rep. Dingell (D-MI): I yield myself 15 seconds of time to respond to my beloved friend. Mr. Boehner, tobacco kills. And you will be the next to die.
Entire AAP Office: Whoaaaaaa!

(I wish I were making this up.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Textbook time!

Late last week, one of my class reps sent out a survey from the class of 2010 (well, a third of the class of 2010) about second-year textbooks. Exciting! I definitely bought way too many books for first year, though, so I'm trying to hold off this time. The top-rated books for pathophysiology are subject-specific (Lilly's Pathophysiology of Heart Disease, Despommier's Parasitic Diseases), but I'm debating about supplementing with a general pathology book. Robbins, perhaps? Or BRS?)

Truly, though, I'm nerd enough to be looking forward to the start of second year. I went ice skating this weekend with some high school friends, one of whom is now a pharm tech. He was lecturing pharm to everyone who would listen -- basically, me. So exciting to think that in a year, I'll know everything he was talking about! :)

I mean, second year will probably be scary. More volume, more detail. That pesky little board exam in June. Building on previously learned material. Which I have pretty much completely forgotten. (Bones of the wrist? What? I only vaguely remember our rotund little professor with the sweat issues, standing in front of a slide of a giant hand and telling us a dirty mnemonic about Tillie's pants.) But also really cool! I mean, parasites! What could possibly be more interesting than that!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I've spent most of the last few weeks at work on the phone, trying to scheduling meetings on Capitol Hill but mostly getting transferred from voicemail to voicemail. An awful lot of Congressional staffers are away from their desks, all the time. I have this vision of them wandering the Halls of Power, like zombies in a a 1950s scifi flick, searching for the Mother Ship.

Big news today: the leaked HHS proposal that seeks to redefine "abortion" to include contraception. (Ummm... Griswold v. Connecticut, anyone?) The so-called "conscience" clauses grant financial (and possibly legal) immunity to those who deny services based on religious beliefs. What I can't seem to find is the HHS definition of contraception. Is this just Plan B, which prevents implantation of a fertilized embryo? Or shall we include barrier contraception, which prevents fertilization? What about hormonal contraception, which prevents ovulation itself? (Apologies if I got any of this wrong. I went to a school district that had abstinence-only sex ed, and despite passing both Human Development and Endocrinology/Reproduction in med school, never had a lecture about pregnancy.) If women and men don't have access to basic contraception, and education about its use, abortion rates ("real" abortion, that is) will just climb.

What I find especially interesting (disturbing?) is that the proposal cites a NEJM study that found that 86% of physicians feel they should present all available options to a patient (and 71% would refer the patient to another physician in the case of religious/moral conflict), yet promptly rejects that overwhelming professional opinion in favor of a 2001 Zogby poll that found that 49% of respondents believed "abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter." Dunno how the Zogby people feel about contraception, but given that 40% of American women use hormonal birth control, I think I can guess.

As a future physician, I'm aware that my personal beliefs may, at times, conflict with those of my hypothetical patients. But, like 86% of physicians, I think that patient need is superior to provider religion. Hey, HHS? What's your definition of paternalism?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The objections of the President of the United States to the contrary notwithstanding

Raise your hand if you thought "Congressional action" was an oxymoron.

Yeah, me too. The system was, of course, designed to move as sloooooowly as possible. Between committee referrals and hearings and filibusters, it's a procrastinator's dream come true up there on Capitol Hill.

Which makes today's events all the more surprising. After just 4 of his allotted 10 days of consideration, Bush vetoed the Medicare bill this morning. After lunch, the AARP held a rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol. Two hours later, the House voted to override the veto; the Senate vote took place about two hours after that. This is the equivalent of hyperspeed for Congress! Good for them! (Even more surprising: more people voted to override the veto than voted in favor of the bill in the first place. Buh?)

My other task today was attending a Global Health and Poverty luncheon. Irony is eating ham and havarti on rye and drinking raspberry white tea while copying down statistics on how many sub-Saharan African children suffer from malnutrition.

Friday, July 11, 2008

High drama on the Senate floor!

While I was in New York, stressing over where I'm going to live next year, the Senate was tackling a sliiiiightly more important issue: the Medicare vote.

Act I: The Exposition, or Let's Screw Doctors
For those of you who didn't hear, Medicare was set to have a 10.6% reimbursement cut, effective July 1. CMS, which handles claims, said they'd put a hold on processing claims for two weeks until Congress decided whether to delay the cuts, as they have done every year since Time Immemorial. (I learned today that CMS doesn't process claims for 14 days anyway, so the hold was more semantic than real.)

Act II: The Rising Action, or Let's Put on a Band-Aid (TM)
The House rushed through a bill on June 24 to delay the cuts. (355-59; definitely veto-proof; See how your guy/gal voted.) Following the procedures outlined in Schoolhouse Rock (and, you know, the Constitution), the bill went to the Senate. Given the time crunch, Sen. Reid of Nevada moved to invoke cloture, which meant that the Senate would skip committee, debate, amendment, and the inevitable compromise-with-the-House quagmire and pass or reject the bill in its House form. That motion fell 2 votes short of passage. Not voting were Sens. Kennedy of Massachussetts (understandably) and McCain of Arizona (not so understandably). Here's the roll call.

Then Congress went on a ten-day picnic and the American Medical Association went beserk.

Act III: The Climax, or Let's Applaud for Two Minutes
On Wednesday, more than a week after the cuts were scheduled to go into effect, the Senate reconsidered cloture. In possibly the most dramatic moment in Senate history since Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner, Sen. Kennedy arrived, specifically to vote in favor of cloture. He flew back to MA for more chemo directly afterwards. But thanks to his appearance, the hard work of the AMA and AARP, and plenty of grassroots pushing, the motion passed, 69-30. Again, a veto-proof majority. Again, Sen. McCain did not vote.

Act IV: ?, or What You Will
Bush has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill. Schoolhouse Rock (I mean, the Constitution!) says the president can sit on the bill for 10 business days before deciding what to do. Probably he will veto it after all, so the veto-proof majority in both houses is an important fact. So important that I spent most of the day today writing to my senators to thank them for their votes in favor of cloture and urging them to continue to support access to care. You should too! There's a cool new online system accessible at [lastname], so you don't even have to spend on stamps! And you get automated replies:

Senator Warner is snuggly
Thank you for your email. It is my goal to reply in a timely fashion to every email that I directly receive from a fellow Virginian. I appreciate your views and look forward to responding to you.

Senator Webb is not
Your comments have been submitted.

In any case, it's all very restorative in the Power of Democracy: Congress CAN do things, grassroots letter-writing and phone calls DO make a difference, legislation DOES affect you, me, and that old guy who sits outside the Metro station and plays the pan pipes.

I think I'll go home now and watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Sappy enough for you?