Longer looks: Stem cells, vaccinating against addictive drugs, the GOP's budget hatchet man

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

The New York Times Magazine: Could Conjoined Twins Share A Mind?
Krista and Tatiana are not like most other sets of twins. They are connected at their heads, where their skulls merge under a mass of shaggy brown bangs. The girls run and play and go down their backyard slide, but whatever they do, they do together, their heads forever inclined toward each other's, their neck muscles strong and sinuous from a never-ending workout. Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are extremely rare. The way the girls' brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature (Susan Dominus, 5/25).

TIME: U.S. Abortion Rate Drops, Except Among Poorest Women
The rate of abortion among American women has dropped overall, but not among the poorest women, according to study by the Guttmacher Institute published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology . Between 2000 and 2008, abortions among American women aged 15 to 44 fell 8 percent, reaching a low of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women. The decline applied to most groups: notably, the abortion rate declined 18 percent among African American women over that time period and 22 percent among teens aged 15 to 17. However, women living in profound poverty were the one exception. Women whose incomes fell below the federal poverty level ($10,830 for a single woman with no children) accounted for 42 percent of all abortions in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, the abortion rate among the lowest-income women climbed from 44 to 53 abortions per 1,000 women — an increase of 18 percent overall (Meredith Melnick, 5/25).

Newsweek: Saving Sight, Testing Faith
Stem cells, it seems, have become almost as ubiquitous in medicine as stethoscopes. It's enough to suggest that the bitter religious, ethical, and political battles over stem cells that began in 1998 were pointless. If cells harvested from patients themselves can treat disease, perhaps there's no need to use ones obtained from human embryos — with all the questions that raises. To Robert Lanza, this argument is just another in a long line of attacks that have come at him nonstop for 10 years. As chief medical officer of Advanced Cell Technology, a leading stem-cell company, he has no doubt that adult stem cells will fall woefully short of the promise of embryonic ones. But vindication may be near. Lanza's dream of turning human embryonic stem cells into therapies for the sick and the suffering is taking a huge step closer to reality (Sharon Begley, 5/15).

Economist: It May Be Possible To Vaccinate People Against Addictive Drugs
The idea of vaccinating drug addicts against their affliction is an intriguing one. In principle, it should not be too hard. The immune system works, in part, by making antibodies that are specific to particular sorts of hostile molecule. Such antibodies recognize and attach themselves to these molecules, rendering them harmless. Vaccines work by presenting the immune system with novel targets, so that it can learn to react to them if it comes across them again (5/19).

The Atlantic: Developing-World Lung Cancer: Made in the USA
We want to stop American kids from smoking — so why don't we seem to care as much about Asian or African kids? It was 1997 when Sen. John McCain asked that question on the floor of the Senate about U.S. trade policy on tobacco. Nearly 15 years later, that question is still being asked. Thankfully, new trade talks on tobacco — the first launched by the Obama administration—may provide an answer, finally bridging the gap between our domestic and international policies. For most of the eighties and nineties, domestic and international policies on tobacco diverged. At home, innovative anti-smoking campaigns, higher excise taxes, and civil and criminal lawsuits cut 1965 smoking rates in half for American adults. Abroad, U.S. trade officials pressured emerging Asian economies to open their markets to imported cigarettes. The entry of multinational tobacco companies sharply increased tobacco use in these countries, which were unprepared for intensive marketing, particularly to women and youth (Thomas Bollyky, 5/24).

National Review: Will Kathy Hochul Vote To Repeal Obamacare?
The surprise victory of the Democratic candidate in NY-26's special election yesterday teaches a curious lesson: Seniors who rose up against Obamacare's Medicare cuts at town-hall meetings in the summer of 2009 appear to have risen up against Paul Ryan's Medicare plan in the spring of 2011. Or maybe they didn't. Certainly the faux Tea Party candidate who won 9 percent of the vote confused the outcome, as did the Democratic candidate's "conservative" attacks on the Republican candidate, Jane Corwin. Kathy Hochul's ads criticized Corwin for voting against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget cuts in the state legislature; and one of Hochul's deficit-cutting promises is slashing foreign aid to Pakistan (John R. Graham, 5/25).

Mother Jones: The GOP's Real Budget Hatchet Man
In the escalating fight over the budget and deficit in Washington, all eyes have been trained on GOP golden boy Rep. Paul Ryan. But though the Wisconsin Republican's controversial plan to gut Medicare has dominated the headlines, another House GOPer has been quietly doing the dirty work of making the budget cuts that actually have some chance of passing. Two weeks ago, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made the GOP's next big move to slash spending for social programs. In a little-noticed proposal, Rogers detailed how the GOP wants to inflict the pain of more than $1 trillion in unspecified discretionary spending cuts contained in Ryan's 2012 budget, which passed the House in April. Rogers has now divided up the cuts into 12 different areas, each of which will be considered as its own spending bill. Under his proposal, the poor and the working class will be hardest-hit (Suzy Khimm, 5/25).

American Medical News: Medicaid Physician Pay Swept Up In Battle Over Funding And Access
Even as House Republicans started moving a bill that would give cash-strapped states more flexibility to roll back Medicaid eligibility standards, Obama administration officials were proposing new standards for states to maintain access to care for enrollees. The rule could create an obstacle to states that want to reduce Medicaid physician pay. The two proposals highlight the fight between congressional Republicans, who want to ease federal Medicaid requirements on states, and the administration, which is trying to preserve Medicaid coverage in advance of a major program expansion under the health system reform law (Doug Trapp, 5/23).

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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