Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Student Loan Hoopla

I'm so happy to see that President Obama enjoys using the world Hoopla. It's one of my favorites. I'm even more happy he used the word in context of a discussion about student loans. Many recent graduates find themselves crushed by the burden of their student loans--loans that allowed them to seek advanced education and training yet now prohibit them from enjoying life. Several years back, in fact, I read an analysis by an economist that suggested that if graduates weren't being crushed by their student loans the impact of their discretionary income would significantly drive the US economy through their purchase of homes, washing machines, cars, etc. 

Yesterday Obama said that lost in the hoopla of health insurance reform, significant changes to the student loan industry are not being noticed. 

Notable talking points of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act:
  • Double funding for Pell Grants since President Obama took office, to ensure that all eligible students receive an award, and that grants keep pace with the rising cost of college
  • Invest in community colleges to help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates over the next decade
  • Increase support for historically black colleges and universities and minority serving-institutions, which have been particularly hard hit by some of the challenges facing all universities, and account for nearly sixty percent of the 4.7 million minority undergraduates in our country.
  • Ease loan repayment by capping student loan payments at 10 percent of a graduate's discretionary income, with any remaining balance forgiven after 20 years. And those who go into public service after graduation can have their loans forgiven after 10 years.
  • End government subsidies given to financial institutions that make student loans, switching to direct loans. This saves nearly $68 billion for college affordability.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Whopper Face

There are some advertisements I would not want to see. This would be one of them. The idea of a Whopper wrapper with my face on it filling up a landfill somewhere is less than appealing. Of course, that might be one very effective way to increase recycling, or at least make it easier to locate people who litter and prosecute them.

Irreverent Psychologist in the News

Apparently, I have developed a rather large following in Sweden. The clip has a lengthy intro, so be sure to watch all of it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday News Roundup

When and How Health Care Reform Will Affect You?

The American Medial News provided a helpful time line listing when the various provisions of the new health care reform law will go into effect. Do dig deeper, following the link above. To dig even deeper, follow this link or this link. If you still want to know even more, check out this article in the Christian Science Monitor. They  have a nine part series of articles called Health care reform bill 101.

This is a complicated discussion and there is a lot to learn. The facts about this law don't lend themselves well to 140 twitter characters or a sound bite on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News.


  • Offers tax credits to small businesses that offer health coverage.
  • Starts to close the Medicare drug benefit's coverage gap to eliminate it by 2020.
  • Authorizes the creation of a 15-member Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board to extend Medicare's solvency, lower health care costs and improve health outcomes.
  • Extends the Medicare Physician Quality Reporting Initiative through 2014, establishing a physician appeals process and penalizing nonreporting doctors starting in 2015.
  • Authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to create a pathway for approval of biosimilar versions of biologic drugs.
  • Extends the Medicare work geographic practice cost index floor through 2010.
  • Provides funding for the practice expense geographic practice cost index floor for 2010 and 2011.

90 days after enactment (June 2010)

  • Creates a temporary high-risk pool for Americans who are uninsured due to a preexisting condition.

6 months after enactment (September 2010)

  • Prohibits health plans from canceling coverage for people who get sick and placing lifetime caps on benefits.
  • Tightens restrictions on annual coverage limits.
  • Extends health insurance eligibility for dependents to age 26.

By the end of 2010

  • Begins greater investments in primary care physician training and community health centers.
  • Prohibits physician-owned hospitals without a Medicare provider agreement from participating in the program.


  • Eliminates co-pays and deductibles for Medicare preventive care.
  • Requires individual and small group health plans to spend at least 80% of premiums on health care; increases the floor to 85% for large group plans.
  • Creates a long-term-care insurance program for adults with disabilities.
  • Provides a 10% Medicare pay bonus from 2011 to 2015 for certain primary care and major surgical procedures in health professional shortage areas.


  • Prohibits health plans from denying coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition.
  • Expands Medicaid eligibility nationwide to 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • Directs the Dept. of Health and Human Services to create health insurance exchanges in states that have none.
  • Establishes government subsidies for people earning between 133% and 400% of poverty to buy coverage through exchanges.
  • Requires individuals to have a minimum level of coverage or pay penalties.
  • Requires all but small employers whose workers enroll in exchange plans to help pay for the coverage.
  • Begins reducing federal funding to safety net hospitals for the care of low-income people.


  • Allows recommendations of the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board to start taking effect unless overridden by supermajorities in both houses of Congress.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

"If you persevere, stick with it, work at it, you have a real opportunity to achieve something. Sure, there will be storms along the way. And you might not reach your goal right away. But if you do your best and keep a true compass, you'll get there." -- Ted Kennedy

What Health Care Reform Means to You

Over the coming hours, days, weeks, and months there will no doubt be a great deal of discussion about the heath care reform legislation that was passed the the U.S. House of Representatives late last night. Here are the important points: (source)

If You Are Uninsured:
  • This shouldn't affect those of us here in Massachusetts as by law, we are all already required to have health insurance. 
  • Starting in 2014, those without insurance will face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. That penalty will rise over time, reaching $695 or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater. If you earn less that the income-tax filing threshold, you will not owe anything. If you cannot purchase a policy that is less than 8 percent of your income, you also will not owe anything. 
  • More lower-income individuals under the age of 65 will be covered by Medicaid. A family of four that makes under $29, 327 would be covered.
  • There will be state-run insurance exchanges. If your income is more than 133 percent of the poverty level but less than 400 percent (e.g., $29, 32 to $88,200 for a family of four) you will be eligible for health insurance subsidies through this program.
  • Your premium for thee exchanges would be capped at a percentage of your income ranging from 3 percent to as much as 9.5 percent.
  • If you lose lose your job, quit your job, or decide to start your own business you will be able to move between employer-related insurance to insurance from the exchange.
Those with Insurance:
  • Your coverage is unlikely to change, though there will be benefits for you.
  • No one will be able to be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions on all policies after 2014.
  • If you have Medicare, the "donut hole" will be eliminated by 2020. Starting immediately, those who hit the "donut hole" will get a $250 rebate. Starting in 2011, they will receive a 50% discount on brand named drugs.
  • Dependent children can be covered by their parent's insurance until they reach 26 years old, regardless of their school status.
  • Insurance plans that have total premiums of more than $10,200 for singles and $27,500 for families would be subject to a 40 percent tax on the excess premium. The taxes would be levied on the insurer, though that price is likely to be passed on to the consumer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday News Roundup

This edition of the Friday news roundup is brought to you on Saturday mourning courtesy of the nice weather yesterday. The sunshine was very appealing.

Quieting the Mind for Sleep 

In her new book Quiet your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia for Those With Depression, Anxiety, or Chronic Pain, Colleen Carney offers several solutions for insomnia from a Cognitive Behavioral Perspective.  Some of these suggestions include: never get into bed earlier than your usual bedtime; when you find yourself "trying" to sleep, remind yourself that this is counterproductive; educate yourself about sleep myths; challenge unhelpful beliefs that worsen your insomnia; leave your bed and bedroom if you can't fall asleep.

CBT Based Self Help Books Can Do More Harm Than Good

Well on second thought, perhaps one might be more prudent to not rush out and by a CBT based self-help book about depression. At least if you are someone who is a high ruminator. Are you someone who spends a lot of time ruminating about your negative mood and the causes that lead to it? If you are, you might actually be harming yourself by reading self-help books without working with a psychologist at the same time.

False Prophets of Autism

Please take the time to look closely at the debates about the links between autism and vaccinations. This is a silly controversy and needless children are suffering because the use of bad science. There is no reputable information linking vaccinations to autism. None. In fact, the physician who started this trend was found by a medical board to be "dishonest" and "irresponsible." You can read this link for even more analysis.

How Things Have Changed

Through the context of an every day conversation last week, I was reminded again at how quickly things have changed while I've been busy living my life. New technology rapidly becomes part of my life and I don't often even recognize that it hadn't been there before.

I thought I was pretty high-tech when I graduated from college: I had an e-mail address from a dial-up service offered for free by a local university. My own college didn't even begin to offer students internet until the year after I graduated. The computer on which I wrote all my college papers ran at a whopping speed for 4.77 mHz. My mobile phone that I carry in my pocket has a processor that runs at 550 mHz.

Wonder what is next?

This commercial was apparently on the Super Bowl this past year. While no actual people appear, it integrates technology into that which is human in such a powerful way. How things have changed!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Photo of the Day: Guest Edition

I received a link to this photo in an e-mail. Loved how the color of the fall leaves drew me into the photograph along the trail. Where does the trail take you?

Like this photo? Head over to flicker and see more of Lee McCain's work.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday News Roundup

Hypnosis Relieves Pain in Breast Cancer

In a recent article in the journal Health Psychology, a study was published that looked at 124 women with metastatic breast cancer. Pain and suffering was measured as well as frequency of pain and and the degree of constant pain. Participants levels of pain were measured at four-month intervals for one year. Patients were assigned to either a group that received educational sessions or hypnosis with group psychotherapy and education.

Women in the hypnosis treatment group reported "significantly less increase in the intensity of pain and suffering over time" when compared with women in the control group. Hypnosis however did not reduce the frequency or constancy of the women's episodes of pain.

It's not clear if hypnosis, the group psychotherapy, or a combination of both is the cause of the change. More research with a clearer design would help clear up this question. It's a good start though!

Checklists Save Lives

I heard an interview with Atul Gawande on NPR talking about the importance of checklists in a surgical practice. It seems that surgery has become so complex that it's nearly impossible for a medical team to complete all the complex tasks without error. Instituting a check list makes the complex procedures easier to perform and helps avert medical catastrophes. The checklist is seen by some as the biggest medical innovation of the last 30 years and will probably save more lives than any pice of research can.

Have any complex tasks in your life that would benefit from a checklist?

Monday, March 8, 2010

East Boston Camps

Apparently I'm developing a thing for abandoned and/or repurposed places. First I spend the better part of a morning researching the Varnum School. Now, after a long walk with Maggie, I'm interested in the old East Boston Camps in Westford Massachusetts.

The camps reside on 286 acres of land. The western portion of the camps is the Stony Brook River and the eastern portion is bordered by Keyes Brook. The middle of the camps is Burge's Pond. There is a lot of different wildlife and plants: birds and mammals, wildflowers and towering pine trees. I was there once last summer: the mosquitos are something fierce.

The camps were founded in 1937, funded by Isabel and Sarah Hyams. Their brother, Godfrey Hyams, grew up in Boston and attended Harvard. He was a metallurgist, engineer and financier. His career included the development of the Anaconda Mining Company and the Virginia Railway. Active in social work in Boston, the sisters used money that they had from a charitable trust their brother had set up.

The sisters founded the camp to provider inner-city children a "Fresh Air Camp" which was something popular in the 1930s when tuberculosis was particularly deadly. Interested a a more complete history? Check out this PDF file.

The camps are now a public area to be enjoyed by residents of Westford as well as those from surrounding communities.  The East Boston Social Centers are still in existence, though no longer offering "Fresh Air Camps." You can check them out on the web here.

What a great re-use of land.

Gone adventuring yourself? Find anything interesting? It's a great way to engage in some distress tolerance skills. A long walk spent thinking about the place + time spent at home researching your discovery = time well spent engaged in a productive, healthy activity. Try it, especially when you are focused on something negative, stressful, or painful.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

30 Second Stress Buster

Preparing your taxes and stressed out? Having trouble concentrating on the paper you are writing? Just need a break?

Check yourself into the online water meditation room. Open the link and then settle back and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a moment, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat several times, as necessary.

Now go get back to work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Photo of the Day: Educational Decay

Maggie and I were out on a walking adventure this morning and passed by an old school. It's confusing to look at. The windows are dotted with various construction paper cut-outs. Flowers of different colors adorn one bank of windows, various umbrellas decorate another. The swings on the playground catch the wind and move back and forth. At second glance things seem a little out of place. A fence surrounds the school, windows are broken, and trash is strewn about the silent playground.

I was curious about the silent school.

A quick search online and I got some of the facts. The Varnum School was built in the Greek Revival style. First constructed in 1857, a minor addition added in 1886, and a major addition in 1896 that was in the Classical Revival. The school was named for Major General Joseph Varnum of Draut who fought in the American Revolution and later served in both the Massachusetts and the U.S Legislature. Congress where he served as Speaker of the House. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. It was abandoned by the city of Lowell in 2008 because of budget cuts.

It's sad to see the school sit empty. I'm not particularly sad that the building no longer serves as a school (though it would be nice to see the building providing some sort of purpose for the community that surrounds it). Budgets sometimes need to be cut and school districts need to make difficult decisions. I'm sad that this little piece of history got silenced when the last school bell rang, and the last child walked out the door for their long anticipated summer vacation.

The building is slowing becoming a forgotten place that blends in with the background of urban blight. It reminded me this morning of one of the reasons why I am so interested in stories. Our histories are important: they connect us together to a common shared community. Every time part of the story is lost, we lose a little bit of that shared connection.

While finding what little I could about the school I had to smile: the new ways we are building community are slowly finding ways to collect and maintain this history of places such as the Varnum School. The school has it's own
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