Your Health

Morning Rounds: Senate Health Talks, Back Pain & Fat Paint

Despite the public rancor over a potential health overhaul, a bipartisan agreement on how to remake the system may not be dead yet. The Washington Post reports that Senate negotiators are making progress on a compromise that would cut about $100 billion from the price tag for expanding health coverage while still getting 94 percent of Americans on insurance rolls.

The Post, citing "participants in the talks," says the latest and still fragile proposal would ditch the public insurance option that the administration has made a top priority and, in a first, "tax health-care benefits under the most generous plans."

Six senators, three Dems and three from the GOP, are supposed to brief President Obama on the state of talks later today, the Post reports.

Everybody seems to agree that there's lots of money wasted on health care. The problem is sorting out the specifics. NPR's Joanne Silberner reports on research showing that a popular treatment for back pain proved no better than a shot of Novocain in a comparison test.

It's a classic case of the treatment horse leaving the barn before the evidence door is closed. The procedure, called vertebroplasty, relies on glue injections to patch cracked backbones and has been widely used for more than a decade. At this point, some 75,000 people a year are treated this way—at a cost of about $2,000 to $3,000 a pop.

James Weinstein, an orthopedic surgeon at Dartmouth, tells Silberner these sorts of comparison studies are critical in figuring out what's worth doing and what's not. And when the data are lacking, he adds, it might be wise to "think twice" about introducing new medical treatments.

The study results and a Weinstein editorial about them appear in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

We'll skip the jibes about the purported side effects of Olestra, a fat substitute made by Procter & Gamble's, because you probably won't care about them when it comes to home decorating.

That's right. A descendant of the low-cal fat may serve as an environmentally friendly ingredient in paint, Forbes reports. A P&G research says the switch could do for paint "what the hybrid car did for automobiles."

A few months back Scientific American's blog 60-Second Science wrote about the company's plans, which include selling the compound, brand-name Sefose, as a lubricant, too.

Center for Science in the Public Interest's Michael Jacobson, perhaps the biggest critic of the chemical as a food additive, has no problem with its use as an industrial ingredient. "As long as you're not lubricating your gastrointestinal tract, it's fine," he told SciAm.

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