As the deadline to acquire new health insurance under the Affordable Care Act draws closer, Chicago-area residents are nailing down plans for 2014. Finding out what the new insurance exchanges have to offer has come with elation for some and confusion, frustration and disappointment for others. Here are five area residents’ stories:
When the makers of the da Vinci surgical robot asked University of Illinois doctors to appear in a national advertising campaign, their Chicago hospital saw an opportunity to promote its expertise with the device. But the plan backfired. Instead of gaining national publicity for being leaders in robotic surgery, the doctors and the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System are under scrutiny for endorsing a commercial product, a possible violation of U. of I. policy.
Silver has long been known for its ability to kill some of the nasty microbes that can make people sick. In hospitals, it’s used to help burn victims, to combat germs on catheters and even to wipe out dangerous “superbugs” that have grown resistant to traditional antibiotics. Now, capitalizing on consumers’ fear of germs, companies are adding tiny, powerful silver particles to cutting boards, underwear, yoga mats, running shirts, socks and an expanding array of other “antibacterial” goods. Such products are made possible by recent advances in technology that allow manufacturers to create nano-sized silver and incorporate it into various materials. But some scientists and environmental watchdog groups say putting nanosilver to widespread use may pose risks, as no one knows how chronic exposure to the particles may affect human health or the ecosystem in the long run. They also worry that silver may lose its power to fight infections if bacteria become more resistant.
In a move that will add to the city’s mountain of debt, Mayor Rahm Emanuel won support Monday from the City Council’s Finance Committee to issue up to $900 million in bonds backed by property taxes. It’s the largest request put forth during Emanuel’s tenure and comes at a time when Chicago already has about $7 billion in outstanding general obligation debt, more per capita than bankrupt Detroit or any of the 10 biggest U.S. cities except New York. In testimony before the committee, Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott provided a broad outline of how the bond proceeds would be spent, saying it would be consistent with previous years. Last year, the Tribune’s “Broken Bonds” series revealed how city leaders have used long-term borrowing to paper over budget shortfalls and push current costs onto future generations — all with little input from taxpayers or oversight from aldermen. Monday, aldermen asked few questions about the borrowing as the ordinance authorizing the debt sailed through the committee with virtually no debate.
Decades of efforts to curb air pollution have cut lung-damaging smog to levels far below the hazy days of the 1970s and ’80s in Chicago and most other big urban areas. But a growing body of scientific research suggests that smog can trigger health problems and contribute to early deaths even at these lower levels. Citing the latest studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a more stringent smog standard as part of a review required every five years under the Clean Air Act. Though the EPA isn’t expected to issue a formal proposal until the end of the year, an agency staff report released last week already is renewing a fierce political battle that led President Barack Obama to scuttle an overhaul of the standard before his 2012 re-election campaign.
Three years ago, state authorities vowed to shut a troubled North Side nursing facility after more than a dozen deaths of children and young adults with severe disabilities. But the facility, Alden Village North, remained open after a judge said the state had botched its chance to close the home. Illinois health officials say the facility has improved since then, but two recently released state inspection reports show a total of seven violations, including giving a patient too much medicine.
In a part of the West Side long marginalized by City Hall planners, officials have seized on a grand proposal for an “innovation park” that would train and employ impoverished Chicagoans in high-tech factories. Spearheaded by labor activist Dan Swinney, the proposal represents City Hall’s most significant attempt to help develop South Austin, a once-stable African-American community where jobs remain scarce even as other neighborhoods slowly recover from the recession. But lost in Swinney’s promise of economic renewal is the checkered history of a West Side high school that plays a key role in his vision for the innovation park, the Tribune has found. Even as his proposal gains momentum, the school’s dismal academic record reveals the gulf between Swinney’s ability to generate high-profile support and his effectiveness in carrying out those inspired plans.
Smell and taste researcher Dr. Alan Hirsch has long argued that certain aromas can help people lose weight , improve athletic performance or increase sexual arousal. One of his studies found that the smell of buttered popcorn or strawberries helps exercisers burn more calories, another that a whiff of jasmine can improve bowlers’ scores. Hirsch’s boldest and most controversial research finding, however — that sprinkling flavored granules on food can help people lose weight without diet or exercise — is one he can no longer advertise. This month the Federal Trade Commission announced it had reached a $26.5 million settlement with the marketers of Sensa Weight Loss System after accusing the company and Hirsch of false and deceptive advertising practices.
In 2012, the agency responsible for protecting the public from dangerous doctors disciplined fewer than 30 Illinois physicians in cases where the department cited medical errors or failures to properly diagnose a problem, according to a Tribune review of state data. By contrast, IDFPR took disciplinary action against more than 100 physicians after medical boards in other states found the doctors had engaged in misconduct or provided improper care. The cases involve doctors who hold or have held licenses in Illinois, yet often no longer work here. Such cases are important to address, patient advocates say, as they prevent incompetent or abusive doctors from simply relocating to another state. But federal figures show that Illinois nearly leads the nation in relying on other states’ actions as the basis for disciplining doctors. Experts and advocates say that when so-called reciprocal actions far outpace all others, it can signal a lack of effectiveness in more difficult cases.
Essure, on the market since 2002, has been hailed as the next generation of permanent contraception. Unlike a tubal ligation, which requires surgery, Essure can be inserted by catheter in a doctor’s office, without anesthesia or incisions. Most patients return to normal activities in one or two days. But complaints about Essure have recently surged. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received nearly 1,000 “adverse event” reports related to the device, with 500 arriving in 2013. The most common issues cited are pain, hemorrhaging, headaches, menstrual irregularities, weight fluctuation, device migration and suspected nickel allergy. Thousands of women also have joined support groups on social media to discuss debilitating side effects and baffling medical problems they link to Essure. Some women have undergone a hysterectomy or other procedure to remove coils that were never meant to be taken out of the body.