Swine Flu Anxiety

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If the economy isn’t enough to give you agita (see my earlier post), then all the press about swine flu might do the trick.

Let’s recall the basics of anxiety: something bad, we’re not sure just what but it’s bad, may happen in the future and there’s nothing we can do about it. I discussed this in the third post in this series, last October. More formally stated, Wikipedia has it that “Anxiety is a generalized mood state that occurs without an identifiable triggering stimulus. As such, it is distinguished from fear, which occurs in the presence of an external threat.”

If you’ve been following along, those two sentences give a key to one of the ways to deal with anxiety. That is, turn anxiety into fear. We should get as specific as we can about the nature of the threat and then do what we can to prepare for it. After that, get on with your daily life, stop ruminating about the potential threat, enjoy the Spring.
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In that vein, here are links to the most recent and reliable information I could find about swine flu.

In addition to the tips on what to do in those articles, here are some recommendations for general emergency preparedness.

Now, turn off the TV and do a bit of light exercise. Then make plans to go out and have some fun. And remember to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night and eat a sensible diet. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs.

Long term stress suppresses the immune system. So by following these steps, you can reduce your stress levels and maintain a healthy immune system just in case you need it later.

More From the News

Two new articles of note:

First, Charles M. Blow, in the New York Times, writes about two 11 year old boys who recently suicided.  It is thought that being bullied at school played a major role in their separate decisions to end their lives.  A very moving and thought provoking article.  You can read it hear: “Two Little Boys”

Second, a short post in the Research of Culture blog discusses the results of a study on the effects of the California High School Exit Exam.  One of the findings is that minority and female students do worse on the exam-even when compared to other students with the same skills and previous levels of success in schools.  A possible explanation:
“Stereotype threat is the phenomenon whereby the fear that if one performs poorly on a high-stakes test it will confirm a negative societal stereotype about one’s group (leading) to increased test anxiety among negatively stereotyped student groups…”

It’s an interesting article and you can read it here: “The anxiety of test taking.”

Updates on Anxiety in the News

First, under the category of ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me,’ the Chicago Tribune reports that “The conclusion in recently released Justice Department memos that CIA interrogation techniques would not cause prolonged mental harm…”  Torture does not cause prolonged mental harm.  This definitely is one of the things that makes me go hmmm….

For the whole story, see the story “Justice department memos”.

Next, two stories on anxiety levels in Britain in the context of economic strife and unemployment.  At first I thought it sucked to live in Britain, then I realized it was just as bad here.

The first is CBC News: “Anxiety, fear on the rise in Britain.”

The second is from the Telegraph: “Britons ‘living in fear.'”

Now for some helpful news for those job seekers.

From China comes this advice on how to manage anxiety about going on job interviews: “Teach you how to deal with the English interview.”

Now from Everett, Washington, “How to deal with anxiety and ace the interview.”

Finally, remember when teachers wouldn’t let you chew gum in class?  They were wrong not to let us.  It appears that chewing gum improves academic performance and lowers anxiety.  See:  Math + Chewing Gum = Better Grades.

Health Insurance: Part 1

At some point this year, we are likely to see meaningful efforts by Congress and the President to reform healthcare.

The discussions so far, though, focus on cost. But that is not “a change we can believe in.” I don’t think so anyway.

The radical question would be: what is the best way to structure and fund health care in America, for all Americans? The chief focus now shifts to best medicine and best practices and best utilization.

Unfortunately, as the discussions now focus on prices, some of the chief causes of inflated health care have the loudest voices. These are the insurance companies and the bureaucracy around heath care.

In recent discussions, the health insurance lobby has made some concessions and bargaining points. According to the NY Times, “The health insurance industry said…it was willing to end the practice of charging higher premiums to sick people if Congress adopted a comprehensive plan requiring all Americans to carry insurance.” But, “insurers wanted to retain the right to charge different premiums based on the age, place of residence and family size of subscribers.”

Further, “Insurers remain staunchly opposed to creation of a government-run health insurance plan.”

They propose, instead, “more aggressive regulation not just of their premiums, but also of their benefits, underwriting practices and other activities. Such strict regulation, they said, would make it unnecessary to create a new public insurance program offered through the federal government.”

Very nice of them to make such generous offers. Look closely though and it is clear that they are making no concessions and that the overall price to the nation would be the same if not higher than at present. The winner, not surprisingly, is the insurance industry.

First, if the insurance companies are billing all Americans, then their gross income is all the larger. They can spread the cost of insuring significantly ill persons among all of the people being insured. Since the number of insured persons is so great, the added expense per insured person of treating the severely ill is barely noticeable. What the insurance companies aren’t saying is that this formula allows them to maintain their profit margins. The insurers give up nothing.

Moreover, the insurance companies still want to be able to fudge the numbers by charging higher costs based now on age, place of residence, etcetera, instead of history of prior illness. Need more profit? Just increase the premium on single females living in urban areas who are over 45 years of age. Or what ever other demographic they can devise where they think the rate can be increased without too much outrage.

Finally, the insurance companies do not want the federal government to offer an insurance plan to the citizens. Instead, they say “regulate us more.” Well, who is going to pay for the added layers of bureaucracy that will oversee all the various insurance companies in America and the lawsuits to get the insurance companies to comply? That would have to be the taxpayer. How does that save us any money?

Have you ever tried to question an insurance company about a denied payment or procedure? An onion has fewer layers and its center is easier to reach than getting through the insurance company’s decision-making hierarchy. They are designed this way to make it cost more for the provider or the insured to pursue the claim or the procedure than to just write it off.

Remember the lawsuit in California against the insurance companies who dropped people after they got ill? It took from January of 2004 to January of 2009 to address the matter. Along the way, lots of state money was spent pursuing the charges. The insurance companies also spent large sums of money defending their position. Money that was supposed to be providing coverage of medical expenses. Let’s not forget, that if you are critically ill, waiting five years for a final decision is no help at all. You are likely to be dead at that point.

A final note for this post. According to the Physicians for A National Health Program, “because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year…” And this bureaucracy diverts caregivers’ attention away from the patient and into the morass of insurance companies. Before managed care, social workers in hospitals had time for individual, group, family therapy and arranging quality aftercare for patients. Now, social workers spend the bulk of their time dealing with managed care personnel at your insurance company.

How the issue gets phrased, then, is almost as important as raising the issue at all. If you want cheap health insurance, the insurance companies will be happy to arrange that for you. Now, if you want the best system of healthcare, they are not so quick with a response, as we will see in later posts.