The salty will lose its savor

The government, through the Food and Drug Administration, is planning to issue regulations with the force of law limiting how much salt products can contain.  The plan is to implement phased reductions of salt so as to gradually wean consumers off of sodium chloride.

The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The legal limits would be open to public comment, but administration officials do not think they need additional authority from Congress.

“This is a 10-year program,” one source said. “This is not rolling off a log. We’re talking about a comprehensive phase-down of a widely used ingredient. We’re talking about embedded tastes in a whole generation of people.”

The FDA, which regulates most processed foods, would be joined in the effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry.

Currently, manufacturers can use as much salt as they like in products because under federal standards, it falls into the category deemed “generally recognized as safe.” Foodmakers are merely required to report the amount on nutrition labels.

But for the past 30 years, health officials have grown increasingly alarmed as salt intake has increased with the explosion in processed foods and restaurant meals. Most adults consume about twice the government’s daily recommended limit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . . .

“We’re working on it voluntarily already,” said Melissa Musiker, senior manager of science policy, nutrition and health at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In recent months, Conagra, Pepsico, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Sara Lee and others have announced that they would reduce sodium in many of their products. Pepsico has developed a new shape for sodium chloride crystals that the company hopes will allow it to reduce salt by 25 percent in its Lay’s Classic potato chips.

via FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reasons.

Read the rest of it, including the protests from the salt industry, which argues that the more salt we eat, the more salt we excrete. The article also quotes food industry spokesmen who point out problems with cutting the salt out of many products and who observe that low-sodium products just don’t sell all that well. But the marketplace won’t matter. Especially now that the government is in charge of our health.

Doctor shortage

The complicated Rube-Goldberg chain of unintended consequences with our new health care system may be starting:

The new federal health-care law has raised the stakes for hospitals and schools already scrambling to train more doctors.

Experts warn there won’t be enough doctors to treat the millions of people newly insured under the law. At current graduation and training rates, the nation could face a shortage of as many as 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

That shortfall is predicted despite a push by teaching hospitals and medical schools to boost the number of U.S. doctors, which now totals about 954,000.

The greatest demand will be for primary-care physicians. These general practitioners, internists, family physicians and pediatricians will have a larger role under the new law, coordinating care for each patient.

The U.S. has 352,908 primary-care doctors now, and the college association estimates that 45,000 more will be needed by 2020. But the number of medical-school students entering family medicine fell more than a quarter between 2002 and 2007.

A shortage of primary-care and other physicians could mean more-limited access to health care and longer wait times for patients.

Proponents of the new health-care law say it does attempt to address the physician shortage. The law offers sweeteners to encourage more people to enter medical professions, and a 10% Medicare pay boost for primary-care doctors.

Meanwhile, a number of new medical schools have opened around the country recently. As of last October, four new medical schools enrolled a total of about 190 students, and 12 medical schools raised the enrollment of first-year students by a total of 150 slots, according to the AAMC. Some 18,000 students entered U.S. medical schools in the fall of 2009, the AAMC says.

But medical colleges and hospitals warn that these efforts will hit a big bottleneck: There is a shortage of medical resident positions. The residency is the minimum three-year period when medical-school graduates train in hospitals and clinics.

There are about 110,000 resident positions in the U.S., according to the AAMC. Teaching hospitals rely heavily on Medicare funding to pay for these slots. In 1997, Congress imposed a cap on funding for medical residencies, which hospitals say has increasingly hurt their ability to expand the number of positions.

Medicare pays $9.1 billion a year to teaching hospitals, which goes toward resident salaries and direct teaching costs, as well as the higher operating costs associated with teaching hospitals, which tend to see the sickest and most costly patients.

Doctors’ groups and medical schools had hoped that the new health-care law, passed in March, would increase the number of funded residency slots, but such a provision didn’t make it into the final bill.

“It will probably take 10 years to even make a dent into the number of doctors that we need out there,” said Atul Grover, the AAMC’s chief advocacy officer.

via U.S. Faces Shortage of Doctors – WSJ.com.

Is the health care law unconstitutional?

An editorial in the Washington Post, no less, which supported the health care reform bill, admits that the lawsuits seeking to strike down the new law may have a case:

Just minutes after Tuesday’s signing ceremony, the constitutionality of the health insurance reform law came under fire. A coalition of attorneys general from 13 states filed suit in a northern Florida federal court; Virginia lodged a separate complaint, and other states may follow.

These challenges are not frivolous. The states argue that the individual mandate — forcing individuals to purchase health insurance — stretches and distorts Congress's constitutional power “to regulate Commerce . . . among the several states.” A person who declines to buy insurance is not engaged in interstate commerce and should therefore lie beyond the reach of Congress, they say.

This contrasts, in two ways, with a consumer who is forced to buy car insurance. First, states have power to regulate activities within their borders that the Constitution does not grant the federal government. Second, a consumer must choose to enter the car market; only then does a state place a condition on that choice by requiring insurance. If the courts acknowledge the legitimacy of the individual mandate, the states argue, the federal government’s power to order purchases of other products or services — or any number of other directives — would be unlimited.

via States argue the feds can’t force purchase of health insurance – washingtonpost.com.

To use an example I’ve heard, if the federal government can compel people to purchase health insurance, it should also be able to decide that it would be beneficial to the national economy to require everyone to buy a GM automobile.

Abstinence funding

The health care reform bill consisted of 1,990 pages.  Congressmen could hardly have read what they were voting for.  Who knows what all is in there?  There may be all kinds of surprises.  For example, to the dismay of many liberals, funding for abstinence education–which Democrats thought they had killed–was stuck into the bill, to the tune of $250 million:

A little-noticed provision of the health legislation has rescued federal support for a controversial form of sex education: teaching youths to remain virgins until marriage.

The bill restores $250 million over five years for states to sponsor programs aimed at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by focusing exclusively on encouraging children and adolescents to avoid sex. The funding provides at least a partial reprieve for the approach, which faced losing all federal support under President Obama’s first two budgets.

via Health bill restores $250 million in abstinence-education funds – washingtonpost.com.

Isn’t it something that teaching children to wait until they get married to have sex is now “controversial”?

Why such a visceral reaction to the health care law?

Why do so many Americans have such a visceral reaction against the new health care law?   It seems to me like a bad law, poorly thought through and terrifyingly expensive, especially given our present deficits.  But I’m thinking that even if it were not so expensive and were not such a Rube Goldberg chain of complexities, that many of us would still be angry about the thing.

Is it that a  government-designed health care system makes us feel like wards of the state, dependent on the government for our health and thus our very lives?  Many of us don’t begrudge welfare to the truly needy, but recoil at the thought of being on welfare ourselves.  Does this new system put us, on some level, all on welfare?

Or is it that we don’t trust the government’s ability to run things effectively, and so are panicked at the thought that the government is now going to be in charge of our health?

Or is it that the health care law, perhaps coupled with the financial bailouts,  represents a repudiation of all that free market, new morning in America policy associated with the Reagan Revolution?  Are we perceiving this as a counter-revolution back to the welfare state ideology of LBJ and other Democratic social engineers?

Or what?  I know you can say something like “all of the above,” but I would find it helpful to know not just what you are thinking but what you are feeling, down in your gut.  I’m not looking for policy analysis but psychoanalysis.  (Not that you are psychos. . . You know what I mean!)  I would welcome hearing from tea partiers and also those of you who are all for the bill, whether this makes you feel better about America, or better about reversing the culture of conservatism that has reigned since Reagan, or whatever.

To stupak

Bart Stupak, the pro-life Democratic congressman from Michigan, went from a hero to a goat in a single moment.  With his blocking of the health care reform bill unless it included anti-abortion provisions, pro-lifers were thinking they too might be able to become Democrats after all.  But then came his press conference in which he agreed to accept the bill on the basis of a presidential executive order saying tax money will not be used to pay for abortions, something that can’t be enforced in the courts, can be changed at will, and doesn’t matter anyway since segregating money means as little as  putting it in your right pocket rather than your left.  So now BOTH pro-lifers AND pro-abortioners are mad at him.  The whole performance inspired Kathleen Parker, who is no right-winger, to coin a new word:

Stupak.

Etymology: Eponym for Rep. Bart Stupak.

Function: verb

1: In a legislative process, to obstruct passage of a proposed law on the basis of a moral principle (i.e., protecting the unborn), accumulating power in the process, then at a key moment surrendering in exchange for a fig leaf, the size of which varies according to the degree of emasculation of said legislator and/or as a reflection of just how stupid people are presumed to be. (Slang: backstabber.)

Poor Bart Stupak. The man tried to be a hero for the unborn, and then, when all the power of the moment was in his frail human hands, he dropped the baby. He genuflected when he should have dug in his heels and gave it up for a meaningless executive order.

Now, in the wake of his decision to vote for a health-care bill that expands public funding for abortion, he is vilified and will forever be remembered as the guy who Stupaked health-care reform and the pro-life movement. . . .

Stupak’s clumsy fall from grace is a lesson in human frailty. In a matter of hours, he went from representing the majority of Americans who don’t want public money spent on abortion to leading the army on the other side.

Something must have gone bump in the night.

Whatever it was, demonizing Stupak seems excessive and redundant given punishments to come. Already he has lost a speaking invitation to the Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast next month. His political future, otherwise, may have been foretold by a late-night anecdote.

After the Sunday vote, a group of Democrats, including Stupak, gathered in a pub to celebrate. In a biblical moment, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner was spotted planting a big kiss on Stupak’s cheek.

To a Catholic man well versed in the Gospel, this is not a comforting gesture.

via Kathleen Parker – Stupak’s fall from pro-life grace – washingtonpost.com.

Use the verb “stupak” in a sentence to bring up other examples of people standing up for principle only to cave when it mattered most.