Viewpoints: Shinseki's Efforts Haven't Yet Solved VA's Problems; Treating Children With Mental Illness Is Complicated; Abuse Of Painkillers

Los Angeles Times: No Longer The Greatest Generation's VA
Just in time for Veterans Day, the embattled secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, announced last week that his department had reduced its backlog of overdue disability claims from more than 600,000 in March to about 400,000. "The trend line is in the right direction," Shinseki told reporters, noting that the VA had cut the number of claims older than a year by 93%. With hundreds of thousands of cases still unresolved, Shinseki hasn't gotten much credit so far — but to the surprise of his critics, he's on track to achieve his goal of eliminating the backlog by 2015. Still, that won't solve all the VA's problems; far from it (Doyle McManus, 11/10). 

The New York Times: Equal Coverage For The Mentally Ill
A struggle over decades to force insurers to cover mental health and addiction services on the same basis as medical and surgical costs is headed for success under new rules issued on Friday by the Obama administration. The rules will cover most Americans with health insurance, including those in many employer-sponsored plans, in other group plans, in some but not all Medicaid plans, and in policies bought on the individual markets (11/8).

The New York Times: After Mental Illness, An Up And Down Life
Two decades later, we are now able to see inside the brain with startling precision, thanks to sophisticated imaging techniques. And we know a lot more about brain biology. But we have been unable to transform much of that knowledge into definitive treatments. Caring for the mentally ill adult is challenging. Children are considerably more complicated, because they are constantly changing and developing (Lee Gutkind, 11/9).

USA Today: FDA Cracks Down, Finally, On Painkillers: Our View
The deadliest drug problem in America is not heroin or cocaine or even crack cocaine. It's the abuse of perfectly legal prescription pain medications — familiar names such as Vicodin and Lortab and generic hydrocodone. Last month, federal regulators finally got around to recommending stronger restrictions on access to these medications by limiting refills and mandating more frequent visits to doctors to obtain prescriptions. Now doctors, who helped create the problem, need to do their share to control it (11/10).

USA Today: New Drug Rules Could Harm Patients: Opposing View
Prescription drug diversion and abuse is a serious public health problem that has reached crisis levels across the U.S. At the same time, patients suffering from pain too often must go without adequate access to effective pain medications, resulting in needless suffering (Ardis Dee Hoven and Chris Hansen, 11/10).

The New York Times: Dear Governor Christie
In New Jersey, for instance, you’ve been able to successfully isolate public-sector unions, portraying them as drains on middle-class tax dollars and enemies of the common good. But in national budget debates, the biggest issues are popular entitlement programs, not teacher salaries or bureaucrats’ health benefits. And you probably aren’t going to win the presidency wagging your finger at Social Security recipients, or painting the poor and elderly as dangerous special-interest groups. You need a different way to convince voters that you’re on the middle class’s side (Ross Douthat, 11/9). 

The Wall Street Journal: Dr. Francis Collins: Politics On The Frontier Of Science
If the early years of the 21st century often feel like a retread of the 1970s—economic anxiety, turmoil overseas, American leaders who don't seem to understand what the problems are much less how to fix them—the geneticist Francis Collins suggests less dispiriting resemblances. The "arrow of progress that we're riding in biomedicine" took flight 40 or so years ago but is traveling faster and further now (Joseph Rago, 11/8).

The Wall Street Journal: You Can't Predict Destiny By Designing Your Baby's Genome
It may seem like creating the perfect child will eventually be a matter of who can pay for it. But predicting whether a couple's offspring will be the next Mozart or Einstein is about as easy as predicting the precise location and airspeed of a hurricane nine months in advance. Even if we know that a combination of genes might result in a 12% increase in musicality, parents have better odds just by signing a child up for piano lessons. That's because our genes are too complex to predict (Megan Allyse and Marsha Michie, 11/8).

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