TIME Healthcare

Nonprofit Hospitals Seize Low-Income Patients’ Wages

An investigation reveals the ongoing struggles of people too poor to afford health insurance but no poor enough to qualify for Medicaid

Many hospitals in the U.S. receive tax breaks in exchange for the community service of providing care to those who cannot afford to pay. But hospitals in at least five states employ aggressive debt collectors to garnish the wages of low-income patients with unpaid debts, a ProPublica/NPR investigation revealed Friday.

Hospitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Missouri pass debts along to for-profit collection agencies. People affected tend to be those who earn too much to qualify for assistance in states that rejected the Medicaid expansion in President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to purchase health care on their own. The cost of health care services for the uninsured tend to be significantly higher than for people with health insurance.

Read more at ProPublica

TIME ebola

How Your Tablet Can Help Find an Ebola Cure

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Anyone with a computer or Android smartphone can perform cutting edge research on the formidable virus

Mark McCaskill’s daughter is only 11 years old and so far knows only the most basic things about viruses and how they work. But she’s conducting pioneering biological experiments to find a treatment for Ebola. Or at least her Kindle is. When she’s not using it to listen to her favorite singers or watch the latest TV shows, her tablet is scanning thousands of chemical compounds, any one of which could turn out to neutralize, or even destroy Ebola and save thousands of lives.

That’s because her father, Mark, a transportation planning expert for Roanoke Valley in Virginia, signed up her Kindle, two of his own PCs and his mother’s computer to IBM’s World Community Grid (WCG), an innovative mass computing network that allows anyone to contribute in the fight against everything from brain cancer to polluted water and now, Ebola, by essentially offering to WCG their computer’s processing power when it’s not otherwise being used. Nearly 700,000 people have registered their Android phones or PCs on the WCG (the grid isn’t compatible with iOS yet, but IBM says it’s working on it).

“Some people volunteer in a traditional sense with Meals on Wheels. I think of this as my own personal form of volunteering, a new high tech way of volunteering,” says McCaskill.

There’s massive amounts of data out there that could prove revolutionary, but sifting through thousands—or millions—of compounds takes a whole lot of computing power. So every time McCaskill and his family members aren’t on their computers or tablet, their processing power is shunted to combing through the millions of compounds that exist in drug libraries that could be the answer to stopping Ebola in its tracks. Computational engineers call it “distributed computing,” but for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to make like a world class biologist or immunologist or environmental scientist and indulge our inner science geek. In 1999, the team behind SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, began using a similar strategy to analyze reams of radio signals from telescopes for possible extraterrestrial communications.

WCG essentially turns each device into a circuit in a massive virtual supercomputer. Each supercomputing task, such as vetting millions of chemical compounds for any potential activity against Ebola, is broken down into more manageable chunks and shunted to individual devices. The data, which is downloaded to the WCG in real time, is then collected, digitally ‘cleaned’ and delivered to the researcher like a birthday gift, neatly packaged and containing valuable and eagerly awaited information.

The idea for the WCG was born at IBM Foundation, when Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, began getting numerous requests from desperate scientists for IBM to donate supercomputers for their work. Declines in federal science grants meant that few institutes could afford the cost of a supercomputer at the same time that many of the most critical scientific projects—such as querying enormous databases of chemical compounds for potential cancer treatments and compounds that can fight emerging diseases like Ebola—required massive computing power. “We came to the conclusion that it would be possible to try to solve this problem with a virtual super computer using grid technology if we could get enough people to sign up to combine their computing power,” Litow says.

People were more than willing to chip in. More than 3 million devices from 680,000 donors are registered on the WCG. One of the grid’s projects, Help Fight Childhood Cancer, conducted 9 million virtual chemistry experiments in five years and found seven promising agents that are being studied to fight a common childhood brain cancer. The Clean Energy Project evaluated 100,000 molecular shapes of organic molecules to identify formations most suitable for becoming organic solar cells that may emerge as alternative sources of energy. And FightAIDS@Home was launched in 2005 and enlisted individual computers to collectively scan chemical compounds to find new drugs against HIV; it’s 90% complete. The Ebola project, which debuted on the grid the first week of December, completed in one week what it would have taken a PC with a single processor about 35 years to accomplish.

“My biologists cannot look at a million compounds, for one, and even if they could, we couldn’t afford to buy them all. And even if we could, there just isn’t enough time to screen them all,” says Erica Ollmann Saphire from the Scripps Research Institute who is scanning chemical databases for possible Ebola therapies.

Saphire has two Ebola-related projects that she’s hoping the network of devices out there will solve. In 2013, she and her team discovered that the wily Ebola virus actually existed in three different structural forms during its life cycle, changing from a holiday wreath structure to a zig-zagging matrix to a butterfly-like shape, each uniquely designed to optimize its journey from budding new virus to finding cells to infect and finally invading those cells. “It’s like having thread that can be yoga pants in the morning, unraveled and reknitted into a shirt for work, then unraveled and reknitted into slippers for the evening when you go home,” says Saphire.

But understanding how these three complex structures form, and what signals them to materialize at specific times, is a “really complex computational problem,” she says. “The level of complexity of the three entirely different structures is each so big that you can’t even say it might take hundreds of years for a computer to accomplish; it would just be impossible to accomplish since there are just too many atoms and too many variables,“ says Saphire.

But with thousands of people chipping away at a small part of the problem, the large, complex, nearly impossible problem becomes potentially manageable. At least that’s what Saphire and the scientists at IBM are hoping.

And people like McCaskill are happy to do their part. Has the heavy lifting for science put a dent in his computing power? Not at all, he says. Cyber security hasn’t been a concern since IBM monitors the grid and ensures that any private information on PCs isn’t accessed or downloaded. And his daughter hasn’t complained about the grid draining her battery power, since the Kindle is set up to do most of its computing while the device recharges at night.

“You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, or some megalopolis, you can be in an area like we are, and be doing creative stuff and cutting edge research,” McCaskill says.

TIME toxins

4 Easy Ways to Cut Down on a Nasty Chemical That’s Everywhere

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Don't heat up plastic, for one

The thing I hate most about shopping is not navigating a crowded store or staring at my pasty reflection under the dressing room’s harsh lighting. Nope, that stuff doesn’t bother me. If you ask me, the most dreaded store moment is watching the machine spit out a footlong receipt, and then swimming in awkwardness because no way am I touching that thing.

“Um, can you just toss that for me?” I always ask—as I back away in horror.

“Sure,” the cashier replies, frowning at my apparent paper phobia.

HEALTH.COM: Which Internet Food Rumors Are True?

OK, so that’s a slight dramatization, but it does accurately represent my feelings regarding receipts. My reason: they’re coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that the National Toxicology Program deemed worthy of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” after reviewing the research in 2008. Two studies just this year linked handling receipts to elevated levels of BPA in the body.

Previous research has shown an association between BPA and heart problems, as well as asthma and obesity risk in children. And now, in a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, South Korean researchers found that drinking from cans lined with the chemical may raise blood pressure immediately.

The issue with BPA isn’t just that it’s linked to health issues—it’s that it’s so widely used in a variety of consumer products like car seats, food packaging, dental sealants, and electronics, to name a few, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Everyone is exposed to this chemical every day.”

HEALTH.COM: 10 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contends that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the levels we’re exposed to from all our daily contact with it are “entirely safe,” Vandenberg says. “Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are especially vulnerable. The new study about blood pressure is a big deal because it shows for the first time that there are measurable health effects in human adults.”

All of this means that perhaps my over-the-top receipt anxiety isn’t misplaced. If you’re concerned about BPA, here are a few changes to make that really can put a dent in your exposure.

Skip canned goods when possible

The plastic that lines the inside of your can of beans or soup serves a very important purpose: without it, the can would corrode over time, allowing metals to leach in your food. The problem? The lining is made with BPA which can get into your food, too. “The majority of the exposure is thought to happen this way,” Vandenberg says. Some companies, like Amy’s, Eden Organics, and Muir Glen use BPA-free cans, but very few follow their lead because it’s so much more expensive. Outside of those companies, this leaves you with few options other than choosing fresh whenever possible and looking for soups, broths, and tomato products packaged in glass jars or Tetra Paks (aka those paperboard cartons).

HEALTH.COM: 15 Ways to Be a Natural Beauty

Don’t microwave plastics

BPA helps make plastic materials hard and strong, so they keep their shape and don’t break. “A lot of plastics say on them ‘microwave-safe’, but that only means it won’t totally ruin the plastic,” Vandenberg says. “It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or your food.” When microwaved, plastic food containers can break down from high temperatures, allowing more BPA or other chemicals into your food, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Put your leftovers in ceramic or glass before heating. (It’s also a good idea to wait for food to cool before putting it in plastic containers.)

Say no to receipts

This is one of the easiest ways to limit BPA in your life: ask the cashier if she can skip printing one (this saves her the exposure, too) and press “No” at the ATM or gas station. Simply touching a receipt allows your skin to absorb the BPA, and “so many people don’t realize how much they’re actually handling receipts. I’ve seen women use it to blot their lipstick or put it in their mouths while they go through their wallets,” Vandenberg says. For those times you absolutely need a receipt, store it in an envelope away from the rest of the things in your purse, and be sure to wash your hands after touching it. This may help reduce the amount that ends up in your system.

HEALTH.COM: DIY Non-Toxic Home Cleaners

Buy a BPA-free water bottle

The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012 because of the known risks to children, and BPA-free water bottles became all the rage. But if you still haven’t picked one up, here are some options:

Lifefactory Glass Bottle with Silicone Sleeve ($15, amazon.com)

Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle With Stainless Loop Cap ($17, amazon.com)

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Parenting

You Really Can Blame Your Parents for Everything

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How your parents treated you as a child has long-lasting effects on what kind of adult you turn into, finds a new study in the journal Child Development.

The researchers looked at 243 kids in Minnesota from low-income families and followed them for many years, until they turned 32. Researchers studied how their mothers interacted with the kids during their first three years of life, and as they got older, they asked their teachers about the child’s social skills and academic competence. Once the kids were in their 20s and 30s, researchers asked them about their education and relationships.

Children with mothers who practiced a more sensitive kind of parenting during their first three years of life—those who responded to their child promptly, had positive interactions with their kid and made their child feel secure—went on to have more successful relationships and higher academic achievement compared to those whose mothers didn’t engage with them in this way. The influence on academics appears to be stronger, but the overall effects of parenting could even be seen past age 30.

Prior research has shown that sensitive caregiving can influence social development when a child is young, but the new study shows that even despite economic factors, this type of parenting impacts children well into their adult lives—in a wide range of unexpected ways.

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TIME Parenting

From BFF to ‘Friend Divorce:’ The 5 Truths We Should Teach Our Girls About Friendship

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There's no such thing as a perfect friendship. It’s time to teach girls the truth about the complexities of BFFs.

Girls may love movies about fairytale princes, but their most captivating romance is with their friends. Every year, I stand on the stages of school auditoriums and ask thousands of girls this question: “How many of you have had a friend divorce?”

Instantly, a sea of hands shoot up in the air – this is not a term I need to define. The girls look around furtively, surprise spreading across their faces. They are astonished to discover they are not the only ones who have lost close friends.

That’s because girls receive unrealistic messages about how to have a friendship. Films and television see-saw between two extremes: mean girl-fests (think Real Housewives) and bestie love-fests (Sex and the City). Adults, meanwhile, aren’t always the perfect role models, either. The result is a steady diet of what I call “friendship myths”: find a best friend, and keep her forever. A good friendship is one where you never fight and are always happy. The more friends you have, the cooler you are.

These myths are all part of the pressure girls face to be “good girls”: liked by everyone, nice to all, and pleasing others before herself. It’s a subject I wrote an entire book on, and see often with my students.

Research has found that girls who are more authentic in their friendships – by being open and honest about their true feelings, and even having conflicts – have closer, happier connections with each other. Yet when a girls’ social life goes awry, they often blame themselves. Many interpret minor problems as catastrophes. Some may not even tell their parents out of embarrassment.

But there are things we can do to prepare girls for the gritty realities of real-life friendships. We can teach them that friendship challenges are a fact of life. That hiccups – a moody friend, fight over a love interest, or mean joke –- are simply par for the course. And when we do? They probably wouldn’t beat themselves up as much when conflicts happen. They’d be more willing to seek out support and move on when it did. Instead of expecting perfection all the time, they could adapt more easily to stress.

Here are five hard but important truths we can teach our girls about their relationships — perhaps sparing them that traumatizing “friend divorce” later on.

There is no such thing as a perfect friendship.

A healthy friendship is one where you share your true feelings without fearing the end of the relationship. It’s also one where you sometimes have to let things that bug you slide. The tough moments will make you wiser about yourself and each other. They will also make you stronger and closer as friends.

You will be left out or excluded.

It may happen because someone is being mean to you, or because someone forgot to include you. It will happen for a big reason or no clear reason at all; it will have everything or nothing to do with you. You will feel sad about it, and as your parent, I will be there to support you.

No matter how hard you try, your apology may not be accepted.

Some people just can’t move on from a conflict. You are only responsible for your own actions, not others’. You cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. If you have done everything you can to make things right on your side, all you can do is wait. Yes, you may wait a long time, maybe even forever, but I will be there to support you.

Friend divorce happens.

Just like people date and break up, friends break up, too. “Best friends forever” rarely ever happens; it’s just that no one talks about it. Friend divorce is a sign that something was broken in your relationship, and it creates space in your life to let the next good friend in. You may be heartbroken by this experience, but your heart is strong, and you will find a new close friend again soon. I will be there to support you.

Friendships ebb and flow.

There are times in every friendship when you or your friend are too busy to call, or are more focused on other relationships. It will hurt, but it’s rarely personal. Making it personal usually makes things worse, and being too clingy or demanding can drive a friend even further away. Like people, friendships can get “overworked” and need to rest. In the meantime, let’s figure out other friends you can connect with.

I know plenty of grown-ups who still haven’t learned these truths – and they can be painful. But that’s all part of friendship: understanding just how hard – but at the same time, rewarding — it can be.

 

Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence.” Follow her on Twitter @racheljsimmons.

TIME Research

Here’s How Hugs Can Prevent the Flu

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Hug-deprived people may get more severe colds

Want to stay well this flu season? New research suggests you can inoculate yourself with a hug—sort of.

For a study published Thursday in the journal Psychological Science, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University had an inkling that hugs—as an indicator of social support but also because it involves touch—might pack a flu-fighting punch. Studies have shown that strong social ties can protect against stress, anxiety and depression, and the researchers wanted to see if they can be a buffer for a purely physiological diseases, too. The researchers discovered that it did.

For two weeks, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University called up 400 people daily and assessed their levels of social support. They asked them if they’d been hugged that day, and if they were experiencing any conflicts or tension with people. The researchers then gave them nasal drops brimming with either the cold or flu virus, quarantined them for about a week in a hotel, and monitored their symptoms. (Everyone who participated in the study was compensated for their time, says study co-author Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon.)

Even though everyone was exposed to infection-causing drops, 78% who developed an infection and 31% actually got sick—meaning they had physical symptoms of illness. For the unfortunate third whose hugs weren’t enough to prevent physical symptoms of being sick, they at least got some big benefit: those who got regularly hugged and those who felt they had more social support had less severe symptoms than the hug-deprived.

“There’s a lot of evidence out there suggesting that touch might be really effective at protecting people from stressors,” says Cohen, and this study adds to that very hug-friendly body of work. “It’s a communication to people that you care about them, and that you have a close intimate relationship with them.”

And as for the ideal “dose” of hugs? Cohen says: “It looks like one hug a day might be enough.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Ways to Prep Healthy Breakfasts Ahead of Time

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Smoothies, eggs and (more with almost no effort)

Do your weekday mornings feel like a mad rush? Yeah, us too. Wake up, work out (sometimes), shower, dress, get the kids ready…oh, and have a balanced, healthy breakfast, too.

Sound crazy? It is possible, but to me, the only way to have even a shot at it is to do some advance prep. Don’t worry, we’re not going to crowd up your nights: a bit of easy work either on Sunday or during the week can set you up with nourishing breakfasts for days.

Try these 5 make-ahead tricks.

Hard-boiled eggs

Sure, eggs can make a quick breakfast—but sometimes even the 5 minutes it takes to make a scramble is too long. Instead, cook up a dozen eggs on Sunday and keep them in the fridge all week. Be careful to avoid overcooking the eggs; that leads to rubbery whites and that icky ring around the overcooked yolk. Luckily, perfect hard-boiled eggs are easy to make.

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Mini frittatas

If you’re looking for something jazzier than plain eggs, try baking up mini frittatas in a muffin tin. You can mix in chopped, cooked vegetables, cheese, herbs—anything you like. You can even make a variety within the same batch to please different family members. Take them out of the pan and store in a covered container in the fridge, then heat up one or two each morning.

Quality grains

Oatmeal is the king of breakfast grains, but other whole grains can make delicious hot cereals, too. Make it super-easy by prepping a big batch of a grain on Sunday. Store it covered in the fridge all week, and take out ½ cup to 1 cup at a time to whip up something quick. (Quinoa, brown rice, and millet work especially well.)

Warm it on the stove mixed with some milk (dairy, almond or coconut), cinnamon, and a little maple syrup, then top with a chopped apple or sliced banana. Heartier and lower in sugar than instant oatmeal, and way more interesting. Bonus: Those pre-made grains can help you put together a quick dinner, too. Can’t imagine anything other than oatmeal in the a.m.? Overnight oats and baked oatmeal are great options.

HEALTH.COM: Oatmeal Recipes for Every Day of the Week

Pre-measured smoothies

Smoothies are a fantastic quick breakfast, and all you have to do is toss everything in a blender, right? Well, even that can take up precious time in the morning. Make them lightning-fast by pre-prepping. Measure out your frozen fruits and vegetables and store in a plastic bag—just make a different one for each day. I tend to make my own mix of add-ins instead of using pre-made protein powder, so I prep that in advance, too (I use 2 Tbsp. hemp seeds, a small scoop of maca powder, a tsp. of cinnamon and sometimes 1 to 2 Tbsp. raw cacao, if I need a chocolate fix). In the morning, toss one fruit-vegetable mix, one powder mix, and some water or milk in the blender, blend and go.

Leftovers

Breakfast doesn’t have to mean traditional breakfast food. Make a few extra portions of dinner, keep it in the fridge, and warm it up in the morning. I’ve done this with my spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs, salads (store the salad and dressing separately so it doesn’t get soggy), soups and stews, and casseroles. Even a fruit crumble—have it with a dollop of plain yogurt instead of ice cream, and suddenly it’s breakfast.

HEALTH.COM: The 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME disability

Watch This Woman Take Her First Steps in Ten Years

With the help of a motorized exoskeleton, journalist Nikki Fox was able to stand and walk on her own

Journalist Nikki Fox, who serves as a disability correspondent for BBC News, was born with muscular dystrophy and hadn’t taken a step on her own in ten years. But in the video above, Fox was able to briefly walk again with the help of a device known as an exoskeleton, which was strapped to her body. The motorised robotic equipment, which she was able to control herself, allowed her to stand and take slow steps, without the aid of another person.

“My legs hadn’t been that straight since 1995,” Fox told the BBC. “What was quite unbelievable was how I felt afterwards. Standing for half an hour would usually be quite tough but it wasn’t.”

[BBC]

TIME European Union

European Court Rules That Obesity Could Be a Disability

The case was brought by a Danish man who weighs more than 350 pounds (160kg)

In a ruling delivered Thursday morning, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said “obesity can constitute a disability” for the purposes of equality at work legislation, the BBC reports.

The ECJ, Europe’s highest court, was asked earlier this year to consider the case of Karsten Kaltoft, a Danish childminder, who claimed he was fired by his local authority for being too overweight.

Judges said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability. This means that if a person has a long-term impairment because of their obesity then they would be protected by disability legislation.

The ruling is binding across the E.U. but it is left up to the national courts to decide if someone’s obesity is severe enough to be classed as a disability. This is something the Danish court will now have to assess in Kaltoft’s case.

Important to the ruling is the European Court’s judgement that the origin of the disability did not matter, meaning that it is irrelevant if the person is obese because of overeating.

The judgement may mean that employers will have to start providing larger seats, special parking spaces and other facilities for obese workers.

[BBC]

TIME Developmental Disorders

8-Year-Old Raises More Than $1 Million to Help Cure His Friend’s Rare Disease

Dylan Siegel and Jonah Pournazarian Michael Smiy

Every cent made from Dylan’s book goes to trying to find a cure for his friend's disease

Some best friends will do anything for each other – even if it means raising more than $1 million.

In 2012, when Dylan Siegel, then 6, found out his best pal, Jonah Pournazarian, had a rare liver disorder called glycogen storage disease type 1B, he decided to write a book to help raise money for a cure.

Dylan describes his friendship with Jonah as “awesome as a chocolate bar,” so he called the book Chocolate Bar and started selling copies for $20 each, according to ABC.

To date, nearly 25,000 copies have been sold in all 50 states and more than 60 countries worldwide.

Jonah, now 9, is one of just 500 children in the world with the disease, which has no cure. He fights dangerously low blood sugar and has to be fed cornstarch and water every few hours through a feeding tube in his stomach. It’s the only treatment for a disease that, left untreated, can cause hypoglycemia, seizures and even death.

Every cent made from Dylan’s book is going to Dr. David Weinstein’s Florida lab, the largest clinical research program for the disease in the world.

The money raised has financed the hiring of a new geneticist and studies resulting in new gene-therapy treatments, according to ABC.

It has also kept the facility open and on track to find a cure within several years.

“It is now reality. It’s not just a dream that these children can be cured,” Dr. Weinstein told ABC affiliate KGO-TV in February.

“I am so happy that we finally reached my million-dollar goal,” Dylan said in a statement. “And that kids around the world have been inspired by my story. I will continue to raise money until Jonah’s disease is cured forever.”

This article originally appeared on People.com

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