This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services is winning some Republican support. The president chose Sylvia Matthews Burwell to take over from the embattled outgoing secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. And today, Burwell appeared before the Senate Health Committee. That's where Arizona Senator John McCain said she is well qualified to serve as health secretary.
It's never easy to talk with aging parents about the end of life, but it was maybe particularly difficult for Roz Chast and her parents, which is why her new graphic memoir is called Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
If you were a bear and wanted to make a go of it in the frozen North (think polar bear, of course), what would you need to survive?
White fur would help, to help you sneak up on prey. Also plenty of body fat to stay warm. And you'd need great stamina to swim many miles from one ice floe to the next.
And there's another important trait, researchers reported Thursday: Polar bears have genes that help them live on a diet that's overloaded with fat — without suffering the sorts of human diseases that typically come with a diet of that sort.
Sometimes there really are economies of scale. And the nation's health insurance exchanges may be a case in point.
As rocky as the rollout of HealthCare.gov was, the federal exchange was relatively efficient in signing up enrollees. Each one cost an average of $647 in federal tax dollars, an analysis finds. It cost an average of $1,503 – well over twice as much – to sign up each person in the 15 exchanges run by individual states and Washington, D.C.
This next story begins with an old saying among musicians: If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days of practice, the audience will notice. A study found evidence that saying applies to surgeons, and lives may be at stake.
NPR's Shankar Vedantam has been looking at the results of that study. He's in our studios. Hi, Shankar.
North Carolina is facing a very big mental health care challenge — 28 counties across the state do not have a single psychiatrist. That's despite the fact that in recent years, emergency rooms in the state have seen more patients with mental health, developmental disability or substance abuse problems.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki tells NPR that he's determined to get to the bottom of allegations that veterans may have died at a Phoenix VA hospital while waiting for care.
The accusations of extended delays in providing health care at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system surfaced last month. The facility reportedly kept two lists of veterans waiting for care, one it shared with Washington and another, secret list of wait times that sometimes lasted more than a year.
Older people face higher risks in surgery, but not all 85-year-olds are alike. One may celebrate his birthday skydiving, like former president George H.W. Bush, while another may be unable to stand without help.
Since half of all surgery in the United States is performed on people 65 and older, figuring out an individual's risk is key. Measuring frailty beforehand more accurately predicts who will do well after surgery, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery.
Can corporations shift workers with high medical costs from the company health plan into online insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act? Some employers are considering it, say benefits consultants.
"It's all over the marketplace," said Todd Yates, a managing partner at Hill, Chesson & Woody, a North Carolina benefits consulting firm. "Employers are inquiring about it, and brokers and consultants are advocating for it."
When Bryan and Elizabeth Shaw learned that their son Noah had a potentially deadly eye cancer, like a lot of people, they turned to their religious faith to help sustain them. But faith is also impelling Bryan Shaw to create software to detect eye cancer in children as soon after birth as possible.
Among the states that looked to expand health coverage to nearly all their citizens, Massachusetts was an early front-runner.
The state passed its own health care law back in 2006 mandating near-universal insurance coverage. That law became a model for federal action. And after the Affordable Care Act went through in 2010, Massachusetts had a head start in bringing health coverage to the uninsured.
Yet Massachusetts threw in the towel Tuesday on the problem-plagued online marketplace that was supposed to make health insurance shopping a snap.
Medicare will pay for screening for cognitive impairment, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a good idea.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in March that there isn't enough scientific evidence to make the call.
That's the same conclusion that the task force, an independent panel of medical experts, came to more than a decade ago, when it last evaluated dementia screening. Patient advocates say the evidence is crystal clear in one respect: More research needs to be done.
When you think of bird flu, you may conjure up images of chickens being slaughtered to stem an outbreak, or of migrating ducks, which can carry flu viruses from one continent to the next. Well, it's time to add penguins to your list of mental images.
Yes, Adelie penguins, which breed in huge colonies on the rocky Antarctic Peninsula, also harbor a version of the avian influenza virus, according to a study published in the journal, mBio.
It is, says the World Health Organization, "an extraordinary event." Polio is spreading to a degree that constitutes a public health emergency.
The global drive to wipe out the virus had driven the number of polio cases down from 300,000 in the late 1980s to just 417 cases last year. The World Health Organization has set a goal of wiping out polio by 2018.
When people talk about extending the human lifespan to 120 it bothers Roz Chast. "That upsets me for a lot of reasons," she tells NPR's Melissa Block. "I feel like these are people who don't really know anybody over 95." The reality of old age, she says, is that "people are not in good shape, and everything is falling apart."
The World Health Organization is warning that recent outbreaks of polio in the Middle East, Africa and Asia mark a setback to the decades-long effort to eradicate the disease. In response, the WHO has declared a world health emergency. It's asking Syria, Pakistan and Cameroon — current polio hot spots — to require all travelers leaving those countries to show proof of vaccination.
Brain training is big business, with computerized brain games touted as a way to help prevent memory loss. But new research shows you might be better off picking up a challenging new hobby.
To test this theory, Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, randomly assigned 200 older people to different activities. Some learned digital photography. Another group took up quilting.
Remember that famous line in the movie Jerry Maguire where Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise, "You had me at 'hello' "? Well it turns out there is some scientific evidence to back this up. People use voices to instantly judge people, researchers say.