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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Deamonte, Barack, and Valentine's Day

The first month of the Obama Administration is nearly complete, and it has been a great month for public health, with four big accomplishments.

1.Four million (or 11 million, depending on how you count it) more poor children will have health insurance, thanks to the expansion of the SCHIP program. That will save many children’s lives, ending disgraces like the death of Deamonte Driver, who died from the lack of dental and medical care.

2.More doctors will use electronic medical records (EMRs). As of now, the stimulus bill will provide $16 billion (in the Senate bill) to $17 billion (in the House bill) in incentives for Medicaid and Medicare providers to adopt health information technology, according to a comparison appearing in the online Wall St. Journal on Feb. 10. There are many likely benefits, depending on the technology. One likely result is to make test results more immediately accessible to doctors, speeding their diagnoses and shortening patients' suffering, among many other benefits. In my own case, the electronic availability of an MRI enabled my ENT doctor to promptly provide me a diagnosis and a prescription. That saved me weeks of misery until another MRI could be done (and a saving to my insurer, since the test only needed to be done once).

3.The extension of unemployment benefits will add some peace of mind for many newly laid-off workers. Reducing that stress should improve mental and physical health for many people.

4. Single working mothers, many living in or near poverty with their children, will get higher wages because of the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Act to reduce wage discrimination. Poverty is the biggest risk factor for poor health, so higher wages will improve health for poor and near-poor families.

Advice: Be glad that our President is putting our money where his heart is.

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