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A Health Care Arms Race Video; The HPV Debate

Every week, reporter Jessica Marcy selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The Atlantic: Resistance Is Futile
We won’t stop the rising tide of infections until we develop a new business model to fight them. We are not quite on the brink of some dystopian Victorian future. But every year, the prognosis for infectious-disease patients gets a bit grimmer. … And more-powerful drugs tend to cost more than the old drugs. … Even in the rich world, death from infection still looms; MRSA alone kills thousands every year. And firms are not developing antibiotics as fast as they used to. According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), between 1983 and 1987, the FDA approved 16 new antibacterial drugs for use in humans; from 2003 to 2007, it approved six. Whom to blame for all of this depends on whom you ask. Patients, physicians, hospitals, drug companies, and even regulators have all taken their turn in the dock. But to an economist, when it’s everyone’s fault, it’s really no one’s fault: what we’re witnessing is not a personal failure, but a market failure (Megan McArdle, October 2011 edition).

Marketplace: The Amazing Health Care Arms Race
At the crossroads of our national debate about jobs and our national debate about health care debt …is the (fictional) city of Hobbs. Its mayor has a big problem: How will he implement his scheme to bring in good clean health care jobs when every other American city is trying to do the same? How far will he go to nab those fabled ‘medical tourists’? And what will the ensuing medical arms race mean for insurance premiums and taxes? In this animated short illustrated by Adam Cole and rhymed by me, you’ll hear the story of this amazing health care arms race that’s unfolding in cities across America (Gregory Warner, 9/13).

The Economist: One Step Closer To Nowhere
A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 49% of respondents did not know the legal status of Obamacare. They would be forgiven for being confused. The administration got a small boost today, when an appeals court in Virginia threw out two suits brought against the new health law. It was the latest chapter in the continuing legal saga, and not exactly a nail-biter. All three of the appellate judges were appointed by Democrats and two were appointed by Barack Obama himself. …Eventually the battle will be settled by the Supreme Court, though it is unclear when. … Today’s ruling was less a step forward than a reminder of how long it will be before the fight over health insurance is settled—if it ever is (9/8).

The Atlantic: The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills
They died in their sleep one by one, thousands of miles from home. Their median age was 33. All but one — 116 of the 117 — were healthy men. … Something was killing Hmong men in their sleep, and no one could figure out what it was. There was no obvious cause of death. None of them had been sick, physically. The men weren’t clustered all that tightly, geographically speaking. They were united by dislocation from Laos and a shared culture, but little else. Even (TV’s fictional Dr.) House would have been stumped. Doctors gave the problem a name, the kind that reeks of defeat, a dragon label on the edge of the known medical world: Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome. SUNDS. … Twenty-five years later, Shelley Adler’s new book pieces together what happened, drawing on interviews with the Hmong population and analyzing the extant scientific literature. Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind Body Connection is a mind-bending exploration of how what you believe interacts with how your body works. Adler, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, comes to a stunning conclusion: In a sense, the Hmong were killed by their beliefs in the spirit world, even if the mechanism of their deaths was likely an obscure genetic cardiac arrhythmia that is prevalent in southeast Asia (Alexis Madrigal, 9/14).

The Nation: Untangling The HPV Vaccine Debate
Should schoolchildren be required to receive the three-course vaccination against HPV, the sexually-transmitted infection that causes 12,000 cases of cervical cancer each year? Michele Bachmann has made the issue a major line of attack against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed a 2007 executive order requiring female public school students to receive the vaccine before they enter the sixth grade. … In the wake of the debate, Bachmann has given several TV interviews in which she makes the claim–totally contrary to medical evidence–that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. This type of misinformation is dangerous. … So Rick Perry was absolutely right on Monday when he said, “What was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives. Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die.” It’s important to point out, however, that as uninformed as Bachmann’s critique of Perry has been, there is no broad consensus on whether HPV vaccination should be mandatory (Dana Goldstein, 9/14).

Modern Healthcare: Fee For All
“It’s the prices, stupid,” might be how political strategist James Carville would characterize the findings of a new study on healthcare costs. The researchers concluded that the higher fees—rather than higher practice costs, volume of services or tuition expenses—were the “main drivers” of higher spending in the U.S., especially in orthopedics. Published in the September issue of the journal Health Affairs, the study by Columbia University professors Miriam Laugesen and Sherry Glied compared physicians’ fees paid by public and private payers for primary-care office visits and hip replacements in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S. The study also examined physicians’ incomes (net of practice expenses), differences in paying for the costs of medical education, and the relative contribution of payments per physician and of physician supply in the countries’ national spending on physician services (Jessica Zigmond, 9/12).