Category Archives: Healthcare

Lifeboat ethics #2 – Ventilators and PPE

Pittsburgh Triage

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only near the beginning of March that I wrote a post about the literal application of lifeboat ethics that was being forced onto passengers on two cruise ships denied docking privileges to offload passengers still uninfected by the Coronavirus. At that point, only nineteen people had died of COVID-19 in the… Read more »

Why I won’t be in church on Easter morning

Nautilus shell

Politics meets religion meets mathematics. The political talk is that churches should open on Easter Sunday, April 12, and go back to “life as usual.” But the hard math says, “Please, do not do this!” One common talking point compares Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. so far (900+) to auto accident deaths (about 37,000 annually) and mocks the “big deal”… Read more »

Kids, can you say Fecundity?

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Nautilus shell

Note: this post has been updated to bring the data up to March 19, 2020. A little family secret: my maternal grandparents were very fecund. This word is not used much in normal conversation these days, and indeed it sounds a bit nasty. However, it simply means that they “went forth and multiplied,” which indeed they did fifteen times, with… Read more »

COVID-19 and real-life lifeboat ethics

Before there was the “Trolley Problem,” ethics classes would commonly haul out “Lifeboat Ethics” scenarios to stimulate class discussion. In my years of teaching ethics, I never used either because I dislike them both. They both ask the wrong questions, and they lead the Stephen Millers of the world to invoke horrendous “Lord of the Flies” government policies like caging… Read more »

The roll of the COVID-19 dice

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Bayes Theorem

“It doesn’t want to kill you before you transmit it.” – biologist Michael Farzan of Scripps Research That quote is not so scary as it sounds; it is basic probability math. The probability math of the COVID-19 Coronavirus variant has hit the news, and not in a good way. We have already seen the first reported cases in my county… Read more »

Am I my brother’s heathcare keeper?

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He Ain't Heavy

A drug treating seizures in small children formerly sold for $40 per vial. Mallinckrodt, the manufacturer, has raised the price to $39,000 per vial, causing one city in Georgia to expend over $2 million for just one employee’s child. [1] Yes, the manufacturer has “reasons” and the story is more complicated than the headline. Regardless of this complexity, does this… Read more »

Grease, friction, and Amway markups in healthcare

UnityPoint Hospital

With a few exceptions, U.S. consumers spend at least twice as much per capita on healthcare than they do in a dozen other countries with true universal coverage and equal, if not better, outcomes. Bad, right? Here is the sticky part: most of that extra cash that you and your employer fork out pays the salaries of hundreds of thousands… Read more »

Your Medicare Part D prescription drug plan bets

Pill bottle

In recent posts, I have discussed viewing the selection of Medicare Part B Medigap and Part C Advantage plans as a set of probabilistic “bets” that you are making with your money against your health. This post extends that idea to Medicare Part D prescription coverage plans that were first instituted in the early 2000s during the George W. Bush… Read more »

The human costs of innumeracy

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Samoa

“I don’t do math!” How often have you heard this expression, sometimes more as a brag than an excuse for some consequential mistake? As of December 19, 2019, seventy-seven people, many of them small children, had died in the small South Pacific island nation of Samoa. The cause of the epidemic was a confluence of several factors, but a significant… Read more »