2• February 2010 • The Senior Voice
ach year, about 4 millionAmericans are exposed to highdoses of radiation from CT scans andother imaging tests, according toresearch reported in the New EnglandJournal of Medicine.About 400,000 of them get veryhigh doses that are more than themaximum allowed for nuclear power plant workers. Medical researchersknow that radiation can cause cancer,and they are concerned that theamount given patients is increasing sorapidly.“It’s certain that there are increasedrates of cancer at low levels of radia-tion, and as you increase the levels of radiation, you increase cancer,” said Dr.Rita Redberg, a researcher at theUniversity of California.The number of CT scans givenMedicare patients, for instance, increasedby 400 percent from 1995 to 2005, andthe number of PET scans increased evenmore. That’s partly because doctors useimaging instead of examining andtalking with patients, said Dr. HarlanKrumholz, author of the report.Radiation treatments benefit manypeople and save lives, but they arebecoming increasingly dangerous,
Research on Radiation Therapy
ew Medicare Part D drugcoverage changes became effec-tive January 1 that will allow morelow-income retirees to qualify for prescription drug help.That means more Part D participantswill not have to pay insurance premiumsor annual deductibles for their medi-cines, according to Medicare officials.To qualify, annual incomes must be nomore than $16,245 for a single person or $21,855 for married couples.Assets such as savings accounts,stocks and bonds must be no more than$12,510 for a single person or $25,010for married couples. A house and auto-mobile are not counted as assets. Neither are life insurance policies andmoney received regularly from rela-tives to help with household expenses.Previously life insurance policiesand money from relatives were countedas assets. Officials estimate the changeswill allow about 1 million more peopleto qualify for the benefits.Insurance co-payments for somewill be as low as $1 for generic drugsand $3.30 for brand names.
according to another investigation byThe New York Times.Possibly one in every 20 peoplewho receive radiation treatments isharmed by them, according toresearcher Dr. John J. Feldmeier, whomthe Times said is a leading authority onradiation injuries. Most people are notseriously harmed, but some die.One Philadelphia hospital gaveincorrect radiation doses to over 90 prostate cancer patients. A Floridahospital gave wrong doses to 77 braincancer patients. No one knows exactlyhow many injuries nationwide arecaused by radiation treatments because mistakes usually are notrevealed, said the Times.Mistakes occur partly because thetechnology involved is complex and people are poorly trained to use it.Software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures and other things contribute to mistakes.“The new technology allowsdoctors to more accurately attack tumors...(but) its complexity hascreated new avenues for error,” said theTimes. The average American receivesseven times as much radiation today asin 1980 through tests and treatments.
Medicare Drug Coverage
Hospitals are often “too trusting of the new computer systems and soft-ware, relying on them as if they had been tested over time when, in fact,they have not,” said Dr. HowardAmols at Memorial Sloan-KetteringCancer Center.The Times investigators examinedthousands of public records. In NewYork state, they found that between2001 and 2008 at least 621 mistakeswere made in radiation therapy by providers in the state. In 284 of thosecases, the radiation missed the intendedtarget or treated a wrong body part.The Times notes that its investiga-tion should not discourage people fromhaving radiation treatments for cancer;the treatments save many lives. But thereport reveals a weakness in our healthsystem: Because information on radia-tion errors is difficult to obtain, it’s hardfor patients to choose a health provider with a good record.
A few words on Medicare coverage.Or, as you may think of it, gobbledygook.
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