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Posts Tagged ‘alcohol’

I’m still amazed that a government agency is asking for our opinions – and better yet, they’re actually listening.

Check out this post for a little background. The verdict is in. The USDA is backing off on a proposal that might have inadvertently encouraged heavy drinking. They had originally proposed to ditch the daily recommendations and set weekly recommended quantities of alcohol, but the public spoke out. Since most people do their drinking only one to three nights a week, those who took the time to comment online were mostly concerned that drinkers would look at weekly guidelines and try to cram one week’s worth of drinking into one night. And that was a real possibility – most of us know how bright alcoholics are when it comes to justifying “let’s have another one!”

The USDA’s new guidelines retained a daily recommendation for alcohol consumption, and they now define heavy drinking and binge drinking as well. They admit there is evidence of health benefits of moderate drinking – apparently they’re trying extra hard not to give anyone the idea that it’s okay to drink like a fish – but they now give the stern “this is bad for your health” statement like you’ll find on a cigarette pack, listing all the health conditions that might get in your way if you drink too much.

According to Join Together, it was the online response from private citizens (both healthcare professionals and concerned consumers) that made a difference in the final policy decision. That is seriously encouraging. All government agencies should have a limited public commenting period like this every time new policies are being considered. 

Get ready to click again – someone else needs our input now. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (part of the Department for Health and Human Services) is asking what we think about Medicare covering alcohol screening and counseling in primary medical care.

This debate is about whether Medicare and Medicaid should cover alcohol abuse prevention, screening, and counseling. They already cover screening for other medical issues, but this time they’re considering doing that for something that might cross over into services that are normally performed by mental health providers.

Providing the service could mean a significant extension of prevention and early intervention services for individuals struggling with alcohol. It could also be pretty expensive, but then again so is the current drain on state and federal budgets when it comes to incarceration of drunk drivers and other alcohol-fueled criminals, child protective services, healthcare services for abused family members, emergency services for indigent people with alcohol poisoning, and anything else that relates to the public costs of excessive drinking.

A report on reducing underage drinking from the National Academy of Sciences found that government agencies, businesses, and individuals in the United States end up spending – and remember, this is just about underage drinkers – around $53 billion per year (including $29 billion due to violent crime and $19 billion from traffic crashes) because we can’t keep the alcohol away from the kids. Now that’s expensive. And that study was presented back in 2003. What are those numbers like today? And how much greater could the costs be for adults with alcohol problems?

If you want to get in on the debate, their National Coverage Analysis Tracking Sheet is open for comments until March 20, 2011. Let them know – especially if you work in healthcare – what you think about how this might work, who might coordinate the services, how often the services might be offered, or under what conditions Medicare or Medicaid might play a greater role in preventing a lot more unnecessary problems.

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The great thing about the Internet is that we – the public – can weigh in on proposals that our government is trying on for size, and they’re actually asking our opinion straight up, without asking us to contact our representatives! Now that’s democracy in action – I love this country.

The latest open commentary has to do with the USDA’s recommendations on how much alcohol is too much – in this case, the cap on “low-risk drinking” and “moderation” would now be defined as 14 drinks weekly (no more than 4 drinks per day) for men and 7 drinks weekly (no more than 3 drinks per day) for women. CLICK HERE to read what other people are saying about the Rethinking Drinking report and submit your own comments. But don’t wait – the deadline for weighing in on this issue is this Thursday, July 15.

Personally, I think it’s interesting that someone thinks we’re going to consult the USDA recommendations before we go to a party or a bar and have a few. But people really take this sort of thing as an authoritative statement for how much is too much. We don’t know – we’re not doing the research. We rely on them for information. And they are citing research about how alcohol is actually good for your health sometimes. On the other hand, nobody’s changing the legal limit for how drunk is too drunk, and we’re having a hard enough time keeping the kids and the drunks from thinking that getting smashed is cool.

What do you think? Are they giving people license to drink more, or are they just telling us to lighten up?

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