en español: El Innovador de Texas
CHIP Needs Outside Investigation
I am shocked and appalled by the recent findings of the Texas State Auditor’s Office (SAO) highlighting “serious deficiencies” in the management of the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) contract. Because the auditor reported on these questionable activities, I recently wrote to United States Attorney Johnny Sutton and United States Health and Human Services Acting Principal Deputy Inspector General Dara Corrigan asking for a federal investigation into the mishandled CHIP contracts.
The SAO report also found that the Health and Human Services Commission’s lack of oversight and lax standards for the CHIP contractor for rural Texas led to “excessive or unnecessary payments” of $20 million.
More than one-fourth of the money went to a company that “had no employees and did not provide a service” that “directly benefited CHIP,” according to the auditor.
Because federal dollars as well as state dollars are involved in this scandal, an independent, federal inquiry is warranted.
A number of the players involved have connections with the Texas administration. Consequently, an internal investigation would not be independent because the governor, who sits atop the Texas Health and Human Services System, appoints the Health and Human Services System Inspector General.
By my estimates, the agency’s lax, possibly criminal mismanagement that led to $20 million in overpayments could have paid for insurance for 17,000 children for a year. Since last September, 145,500 children have been dropped off the children’s health insurance rolls because of budget cuts. That’s unconscionable!
The time has come for an outside, independent investigation of all aspects of the state’s CHIP program.
Carole Keeton Strayhorn
Click it for tickets
Houston Astros baseball fans can print their own tickets at home—after paying for them, of course.
In April 2004, the Astros announced a new, online ticket purchasing system that allows fans to buy tickets to a game through the team’s Web site, www.astros.com , and then print them on their home printers. This service saves fans time at either the “will call” window or waiting for tickets to arrive through regular mail.
“I think it’s been great so far, and the number of fans using that option has increased every day since it became available,” said John Sorrentino, the Astros’ vice president of ticket operations.
The printed ticket contains a bar code that ballpark employees can scan at all entry points to Houston’s home stadium, Minute Maid Park. The Astros began using the system after their first home series of the season.
“We got through the first homestand and saw our will call lines were swelling,” Sorrentino said. “We had this option at our disposal and decided to go ahead and use it.”
Should a buyer forget to bring the printed tickets with them, Sorrentino said ticketing officials can verify the purchase by computer on a case-by-case basis. He added that without the bar code, there is no guarantee fans will be admitted, and they should handle the printed tickets like cash.
For more information, contact John Sorrentino,
Pill a day keeps gray away
Someday, gray hair may be a thing of the past, thanks to a pill that would keep the estimated 100,000 hairs on the average human head from turning gray.
The concept of altering genes to prevent gray hair gained attention in 2000, when researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia used gene therapy to change white albino mice hairs black.
Kyonggeun Yoon, associate professor of dermatology and cutaneous biology at Jefferson Medical College, and other researchers corrected an alteration in the gene that controls hair color in albino mice cells.
Yoon’s team created DNA molecules and introduced them to mutant DNA within an albino mouse’s hair follicles—tubes of tissue beneath the skin that hold the root of each strand of hair. The new DNA corrected the mutation and restored pigment back to the hair, turning it black.
The scientists said that if their gene therapy could make an albino mouse’s hair turn black, it could be used to correct genetic mutations in skin cells.
As people age, the pigment cells in their hair follicles gradually die. The hair contains less melanin—the chemical that gives hair its color—and turns gray, silver or white as it grows.
The researchers said it could be several years before anti-gray gene therapy, perhaps in the form of a pill, could be developed.
For more information, contact Kyonggeun Yoon,
Phone home—for free
There might not be enough dorm rooms to go around at West Virginia’s Marshall University next fall, now that residents are getting free cell phones.
The university, in a partnership with West Virginia Wireless, is working to provide a cell phone to all dorm residents by fall 2005.
“It’s a great benefit, especially for out-of-state students,” said university spokesperson Tom Hunter. “Last year was the first year for the program, and we had the highest student retention rate ever in student housing. We could end up with a shortage.”
Hunter said the college strives to be a leader in technology and also expects long-term savings from the switch to wireless dorms. The program was originally a pilot program for four new dorms, but its popularity made the decision to go campus-wide an easy one, Hunter said.
More than 100 universities, including MIT, have expressed interest in the program, Hunter said.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to West Virginia Wireless for making the investment in towers and capacity needed for that many new users,” Hunter said. “When you have 2,400 students hitting ‘send’ at the same time, that can be quite a problem—if you don’t have the infrastructure.”
For more information, contact Tom Hunter,
America’s space program has spun off any number of inventions that have benefited earthbound humans. The latest comes from a team of NASA and Stanford University researchers that has developed the LifeGuard system to give astronauts information on how their bodies are functioning in space.
LifeGuard contains a series of biosensors that monitor astronauts’ vital signs and then send the data to a central processor that astronauts can wear around their waist. Designers say it’s comfortable, uses two AAA batteries and doesn’t require an astronaut to stay still for a checkup.
The system’s practical applications back on Earth could include a way to monitor people with pacemakers without requiring a trip to the doctor’s office. Athletes in training might enjoy the added mobility the device offers.
Stanford researchers worked with NASA engineers on the new system. John Hines, project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said LifeGuard, which can store up to eight hours of data, is designed to monitor skin temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiration, activity and blood pressure. LifeGuard still must undergo extensive tests before it could be tried out in space, said Hines.
For more information, contact Phil Davies,
Dream job getaways
Always wanted to be a winemaker, innkeeper, hunting and fishing guide or pastry chef? These are just a few of the “dream jobs” customers of Oregon-based VocationVacations can try out without risking losing their regular job.
Brian Kurth, creator of VocationVacations, said he came up with the idea while stuck in traffic on his commute to work.
“I was planning an upcoming vacation, and it suddenly occurred to me to ‘test the waters’ in one of my dream jobs while on vacation,” he said. “It’s been VocationVacations ever since.”
Professionals in each of the career fields mentor customers during their vacation. A one-day innkeeper package at St. Bernard’s Bed and Breakfast in Arch Cape, Ore., runs $499 plus taxes. Customers are involved in all aspects of innkeeping, from preparing and serving breakfast, checking in guests, managing the property and purchasing supplies.
Kurth will soon add several new jobs to the lineup, such as zookeeper, lounge singer and photographer.
For more information, contact Brian Kurth,
Chewing to lose weight
The latest gadget in the weight-loss craze is not a new fad diet or exercise routine; it’s a retainer. But unlike a standard retainer from a regular dentist or orthodontist, this mouthpiece doesn’t fit into the roof of the mouth. Instead, it creates an artificial roof several centimeters below the actual roof to decrease the capacity of the mouth, limiting how much food it will hold.
Atlanta-based Scientific Intake developed the retainer, called the DDS system, to help dieters trigger the satiety response, which tells people they are full and to stop eating, said Scientific Intake CEO William Longley.
“People really struggle with over-eating in this country and there, so far, has been varying success with the solutions that are out there,” Longley said. “The problem that most Americans have is that they outpace that response. [The dental device] re-trains you to eat more slowly.”
To sell the device, dentists must register with Scientific Intake and take a four-hour course on eating and weight disorders. Dieters can find one of the 3,000 certified dentists by visiting the DDS Web site www.ddssystem.com. Since July 2004, Scientific Intake has sold more than 6,000 of the retainer-like devices, which cost between $400 and $500.
For more information, contact Scientific Intake,
Can’t sleep this off
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a blood test that may tell whether a person abuses alcohol. The test analyzes a single drop of blood to look for markers that indicate ongoing alcohol abuse. The markers are genes that have been affected by alcohol consumption. Professor R. Adron Harris and his team of researchers studied about 40,000 genes and found about 400 affected by alcohol abuse.
Austin-based Proactive Medical Technologies Inc. licensed the technology and plans to develop a diagnostic product for military, government and industry applications. Proactive Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Skillern said the test will fill demand from organizations that want to ensure that employees responsible for others’ lives are not impaired by alcohol.
The company applied for small business innovation research grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop the test for commercial applications and will work with advocacy groups and policy groups to determine the possible impact of the test. The test could be on the market by 2006.
For more information, contact R. Adron Harris,
EBay may be the largest swap and shop in the world, but to the uninitiated, using a Web site to sell one’s belongings can be daunting. For a percentage of the sale price, Austin-based MooDog will photograph the item for sale, develop a description to post on eBay and, once the item is sold, package and ship it to the buyer. Items must have an estimated value of at least $50.
For more information, contact Chad Herron,
In March 2004, researchers with Georgia’s SpaceWorks Engineering Inc. (SEI) completed a NASA-funded study designed to develop ways to protect Earth from asteroid strikes. SEI has proposed creating a “swarm” of robotic craft that could land on a dangerous asteroid, drill into its surface and begin throwing off pieces into space, gradually nudging the object into a different, and less Earth-lethal, trajectory.
For more information, contact Dr. John Olds,
SpaceWorks Engineering Inc., 770-379-8000
A group of University of Florida researchers are making the radio disappear from sight. The researchers constructed an ultra-small radio chip with a transceiver, processor and battery on a chip about the size of a pinhead. They installed an antenna less than one-tenth of an inch long on it, which can receive signals from across the room. Researchers said the device has several surveillance applications.
For more information, contact Ken O,
Editor: Angela Freeman
Contributing to this issue: Magdalena Hamner, Ann Holdsworth, Karen Hudgins, Greg Mt.Joy, Edd Patton, Clint Shields, Suzanne Staton, Pam Wagner and Bruce Wright