Pieces Together

“Dr. Hershel Samuels, an orthopedic surgeon, put his hand on the worker’s back. “Mild spasm bilaterally,” he said softly. He pressed his fingers gingerly against the side of the man’s neck. “The left cervical is tender,” he said, “even to light palpation.” The worker, a driver for a plumbing company, told the doctor he had fallen, banging up his back, shoulder and ribs. He was seeking expanded workers’ compensation benefits because he no longer felt he could do his job. Dr. Samuels, an independent medical examiner in the state workers’ compensation system, seemed to agree. As he moved about a scuffed Brooklyn office last April, he called out test results indicative of an injured man. His words were captured on videotape. Yet the report Dr. Samuels later submitted to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board cleared the driver for work and told a far different story: no back spasms, no tender neck. In fact, no recent injury at all. “If you did a truly pure report,” he said later in an interview, “you’d be out on your ears and the insurers wouldn’t pay for it. You have to give them what they want, or you’re in Florida. That’s the game, baby.” (New York Times, 31 March)

“A pill which could prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from heart disease, the biggest killer across the Western world, has been shown to be safe and effective in its first trials on humans. The magic bullet, containing five medicines in a single capsule, sharply reduced cholesterol and blood pressure levels and has the potential to “halve cardiovascular events in average middle-aged individuals”, the researchers say. The finding is a major boost for a medication with huge potential against the worldwide epidemic of heart disease and stroke. Doctors say that, if further trials prove successful, all men aged over 50 and women aged over 60 should be offered the pill in what would be the first example of mass medication for the middle-aged in Britain. Yet no Western pharmaceutical company has shown interest in developing the so-called polypill because it does not promise big profits. It would sell for pennies because its five constituent medicines are cheap, have been around for decades and their patents have expired.” (Independent, 31 March)

“Oxfam is warning that the economic downturn is creating more poverty in the UK, making life tougher for the fifth of the population already struggling to get by. Kathleen Carter lives in poverty. At her home in Stockton-on-Tees, she cares full-time for her disabled son and husband. Her life is a constant round of cleaning, cooking, preparing medication and shopping on a very tight budget. The only income is from her pension and a small amount of benefits. She says: “It can be very soul-destroying. I’ve got to think of everything I buy, life is a real struggle because all the time you are thinking about what you are spending.” Mrs Carter is one of the so-called Freds. It is a term Oxfam has created standing for Forgotten, Ripped-off, Excluded and Debt-ridden.” (BBC News, 8 April)

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