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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Doesn't anybody get it right the first time?

When the news broke last month that a comprehensive new medical study indicated that cholesterol-lowering drugs should be prescribed for millions more Americans between the ages of 40 and 70, I didn’t believe it.

I don’t think I’m particularly prescient; I’ve just caught the skepticism that’s going around. Why would it be true? Who did the study? Who makes money off the change in treatment?

As it turns out, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiologists conducted the study. Comprising the best and brightest, the groups jointly put out the results, which landed with a splash in the news. Headline: Cardiac care changed forever!

Then there was the inevitable walking back of the news. First we get the big step forward, the public pronouncement that will change our medical care/government/travel experience/food quality/automobiles/education — and then the other shoe drops. We get the equivocations and the qualifications.

Sure enough, a week after the cholesterol news that would drastically alter cardiac care, two Harvard professors came forward to say that the study was flawed. Not only that, but they had warned the study administrators that there were problems with their online risk calculator for heart disease. The professors said the calculator greatly overstated risk in many people by 75 to as much as 150 percent.

Dr. Steven Nissan, chief of cardiovascular disease at the Cleveland Clinic, said, “We need to pause and further evaluate.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all surprised. No one, no matter how talented and revered, seems immune to creeping incompetence.

In particular, the heartbreaking, catastrophic non-rollout of the Affordable Care Act has jaundiced my view of good old American know-how. Of all the things that might have gone wrong, who ever imagined a technology glitch?

I’m more accustomed to hearing that some new miracle drug also causes virulent purple hives or fatal dizziness or some other dreadful reaction. The embarrassing technological mess known as the Obamacare website has shaken my faith in the ability of our best and brightest to get things done right the first time out of the gate.

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