What do they make?

It’s not a huge difference, but on average doctors in the Great Lakes region make more than doctors in any other part of the country.

So says the annual Physician Compensation Report compiled by Medscape, a medical information website designed for health professionals.

The average pay last year for a physician in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio was $258,000, Medscape reports. Just behind that was the $257,000 annual pay in the North Central states — the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

The lowest average pay — although not a lot lower — was $239,000 in the Northeast and $240,000 in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Keep in mind that while most of us are accumulating wealth, would-be doctors still are working their way through medical school. They’re accumulating unimaginable student loan debts in the process. And let’s face it: Most of us aren’t cut out to be physicians. It’s not surprising or illogical that they’re compensated fairly well.

In fact, some doctors don’t feel they’re paid well enough. Only 37 percent of plastic surgeons feel they’re compensated fairly, according to the Medscape report (average yearly pay for the specialty: $321,000).

On the other hand, 64 percent of dermatologists are satisfied with their pay. (Average pay: $308,000, just behind plastic surgeons.)

By far, the best-compensated specialty is orthopedics, an average of $413,000. At the bottom: HIV/ID specialists: $174,000.

You can reach me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.


Medical marijuana advocates elevate battle with Dayton

The advocacy group that’s leading the charge for medical marijuana legislation in Minnesota is taking to the airwaves in its ongoing battle with Gov. Mark Dayton.

Minnesotans for Compassionate Care announced this morning that a 30-second TV commercial “slamming Gov. Mark Dayton for blocking effective medical marijuana legislation” will premiere during the “Tonight Show” on Minnesota stations tonight.

The commercial features Angela Garin of St. Paul and her 5-year-old son, Paxton. Garin says her son’s seizures were reduced by 88 percent when he was given medical marijuana during a trip to Oregon, where it is legal.

The Duluth News Tribune in January portrayed a Hibbing couple, Josh and Angie Weaver, who also are involved in seeking passage of the legislation. Their daughter, Amelia, has a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome and suffers frequent seizures.

The bill was authored by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. Proponents say they’ve compromised to the point that it would be the most restrictive medical marijuana act in existence.

For his part, Dayton has proposed legislation under which medical marijuana would be studied at the Mayo Clinic. He has said he would not support a measure that didn’t have the backing of law enforcement. But medical groups such as the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Psychiatric Association also have concerns about medical marijuana, he said in a statement. And the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota supports his bill, he said.

The medical marijuana advocates say they plan to deliver a petition to Dayton’s office on Thursday calling on him to “stop blocking” Melin’s bill.

You can contact me at jlundy@duluthnews.com.


MNsure gets its own day

Tomorrow is “MNsure Day” in Duluth and the Twin Cities.

So says a news release from MNsure, the Minnesota agency entrusted with implementing the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace in this state.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman signed proclamations making it thus, the news release says.

Parade marshals?

I envisioned a MNsure Day Parade led by Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, the program’s erstwhile spokeslegends. I looked forward to attending the MNsure Day picnic.

Sadly, no such events appear to be in order.

Instead, the mayors’ proclamations say the day is all about beginning “the final weekend push for Minnesotans to obtain quality, affordable health coverage.”
That’s because the enrollment period for this year ends at the end of the day on Tuesday. Except that it doesn’t really, since the state and the Obama administration have extended the deadline.

You can contact me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

The deadline that isn’t

MNsure proudly announced this morning that 136,744 Minnesotans had enrolled in the program, which is Minnesota’s version of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange. That’s six days ahead of the March 31 deadline and ahead of the goal of 135,000.

It’s good news with a bit of spin, as Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio reports. The total includes 36,176 people who enrolled for private health insurance plans, compared with a goal of 70,000. The bulk of the 136,744 were enrolled for a form of public assistance.

That might help explain why, just yesterday, MNsure followed the lead of a few other states in softening that March 31 deadline. If you don’t enroll by 11:59 p.m. on Monday but can show that you tried, you get to go into overtime.

As you’ve seen, MNsure also is focusing on “Young Invincibles” in the final full week before the official deadline. As someone who is neither young nor invincible, I count on you young and healthy folks to buy health insurance. You bring the cost down for the rest of us, since you are so young and healthy that you probably won’t need to claim much of that insurance you paid for.

So in its “March to Enroll,” MNsure is looking for young adults at such venues as Pat’s Tap in Minneapolis from 4 to 6 p.m. today. (Free skee-ball is promised to anyone who agrees to talk to a MNsure navigator.)

In Duluth, navigators will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday as part of Community Wellness Day at the Romano Gym on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

No promise of skee-ball at UMD.

Your thoughts welcome: jlundy@duluthnews.com.




More herbs and spices, less salt

Teaching us to flavor food with herbs and spices can help us lower our salt intake.

So suggests a study released this afternoon during a conference in San Francisco.

It was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014.

Anyone think their conference could use a jazzier name?

In any event, the study started with 55 volunteers being fed a low-sodium diet for four weeks. The researchers provided all foods and all calorie-containing drinks during that phase, the American Health Association reports in an abstract.

During the second phase, half of the volunteers participated in a 20-week “behavioral intervention,” in the words of the researchers, seeking to reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day by using spices and herbs. The other half sought to reduce their sodium on their own.

During the first phase, sodium intake decreased from an average of 3,450 milligrams per day to an average of 1,656 milligrams.

Sodium intake increased in both groups during the second phase — but by an average of 966 milligrams per day less in those who got the mentoring.

The study’s lead author was Cheryl A.M. Anderson of the University of California San Diego.

“Salt is abundant in the food supply and the average sodium level for Americans is very high — much higher than what is recommended for healthy living,” Anderson said in the abstract.

“We need a public health approach aimed at making it possible for consumers to adhere to an eating pattern with less salt,” she said.

It’s worth noting that the study was funded by the McCormick Science Institute, the research wing of the McCormick company that sells lots and lots of spices.

Are you trying to cut back on salt? Your comments welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.ocm.






Music to die for

Oboist Ray Still died early this morning, on his 94th birthday.

I’m not up on my oboists, but the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein writes that Still was “famous for being the best of the best.” He played oboe for the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 40 years, 39 as the principal oboe.

But what caught my eye in von Rhein’s piece (which you can read here), was that when Still died, surrounded by family at his home in Woodstock, Vt., Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” was playing in the background.

Given that we’re all going to die, that strikes me as a cool way to do it.

And it prompts me to ask a question, which I hope doesn’t across as overly morbid or too far removed from the subject of health:

If you could choose music to listen to as you die, what music would it be?

I’m considering my own answer to that question, but I need to give it some more thought.

If you’d like to offer your choice you can use the “Comment” space here, or email me at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Itchy wipes

A growing number of people are experiencing rashes because they’re allergic to the  toiletry wipes they use, according to a dermatologist at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

The culprit is a preservative called methylisothiazolinone, said Dr. Matthew Zirwas, who  is labeled by the Wexner media folks as a “dermatology detective.” The substance, which happily is usually referred to as simply MI, is common in many products, such as liquid soaps and shampoos. In those products, it’s washed away, the Wexner news release explains. In baby wipes and toiletry wipes, it stays on the skin.

This is not a problem unless you happen to be allergic to MI. Those who are allergic develop a rash that is equivalent to poison ivy, Zirwas said.

In a video produced by the Wexner media people, Zirwas recommended that if you buy a wipe for the first time you check to see if it has MI. If it does, try it a couple of times a day on the inside of your elbow. If no rash develops after a week, you probably aren’t allergic.

You can contact John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune health beat reporter, at jlundy@duluthnews.com.



Maintaining MNsure

Here’s a note for anyone thinking of taking advantage of the cold weather by staying inside and enrolling for health insurance this weekend.

MNsure, Minnesota’s online health exchange, tells us they’ll be doing some website maintenance. All should be normal until 5 p.m. on Saturday, but after that significant functions will be unavailable until 6 a.m. on Monday.

You won’t be able to apply, create an account, enroll, make a payment or shop for plans.

The interruption will allow for software and other system updates, a MNsure advisory said.

You can contact me at jlundy@duluthnews.com.


Have you struggled to pay for health care?

The Minnesota Department of Health released the results today of a health access survey taken last year. Among other things, it reports that 30.8 percent of Minnesotans “experienced some financial strain” in 2013 because of health care costs.

I’m writing a story about this for Saturday’s News Tribune, and I’d be interested in hearing your experience if you struggled to pay for health care last year to be part of that story.

If you’re willing to share, you live in Northeastern Minnesota, and you have a few minutes, please give me a call or send me an email by 3 p.m. today (Friday, Feb. 28). Please keep in mind that I’ll need to use your name in the story.

Call John Lundy at (218) 720-4103 or email me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.


The REAL super berries

The Brazilian acai berry is often portrayed as a “super berry” from a nutritional point of view.

But it has a challenger from Sweden.

Scientists from Sweden’s Lund University decided to test what happened to mice fed a high-fat diet if they also consumed one of several berries: lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or acai berry.

The lingonberry mice had “by far the best results,” the scientists reported in a news

A bowl full of lingonberries.

release from the university. After three months, their weight was similar to mice fed a low-fat diet, and their blood sugar and insulin readings also were about the same.

Mice that ate bilberries and blackcurrants also did well, but not quite as well as the lingonberry mice, the scientists said. The acai berry mice fared worst.

Granted, this was a Swedish study in which a Swedish berry starred. But it was done by scientists, and by scientists who said they were surprised by the results.

Researcher Karin Berger speculated that Brazilians use the acai berry is an energy supplement. It’s in the U.S. and Europe that it has been turned into a “super berry” that supposedly even can promote weight loss.

The researchers want to try lingonberries on humans next. But they acknowledge that the 20 percent lingonberry diet they used in the mice wouldn’t be realistic in humans.

They also caution that lingonberry jam isn’t likely to have the same salutary effect. Try frozen lingonberries on your cereal or in a smoothie, they suggest.

You can hear from the scientists — in English and in Swedish – here:

Your comments, questions, observations and suggestions welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.