Return to Transcripts main page


Health Care on Trial; Got (Chocolate) Milk?; Build Smart, Breathe Easier

Aired March 24, 2012 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: There is a food fight brewing in the school lunch room. The question is this: Do parents and teachers always know what's best?

Well, good morning from Los Angeles. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Today, I'm going to tell you what happened after celebrity chief Jamie Oliver led one town to ditch chocolate milk. A lot of people would say his efforts backfired.

Also this morning, a look at your toxic house. HGTV's eco- friendly carpenter Carter Oosterhouse is going to show how to detox your home just in time for spring.

But I want to kick things of in Washington, where the Supreme Court is set to hear what some are saying is the biggest case in a generation.

Under the microscope this morning: health care on trial. More specifically, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. You may have heard it referred to as Obamacare, which the Supreme Court is going to take up this week.

Now, according to our latest CNN/ORC poll, just 38 percent of Americans like this new health care law, while 56 percent oppose it.

It's a central issue for the Republican candidates as well, including Mitt Romney, who took a jab at President Obama while speaking in Rockford, Illinois, just last weekend.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know his views on health care, his view is that the heavy hand of the government can do better than you can in picking your type of insurance, the kind of coverage you'll have. Ultimately, I believe the kind of procedures you'll be entitled to will be decided by government under his plan. If I'm the next president of the United States, on day one, I will stop Obamacare in its tracks and get it repealed.


GUPTA: Now, look closer and you'll see that people oppose the law for different reasons. Thirty-seven percent say it's too liberal, 14 percent say it's not liberal enough. In fact, recent polls show most people don't even know what the law really does.

So, why don't we give you a quick reminder?

In effect: health plans must provide certain services such as mammograms and colonoscopies for free. There's not deductibles, no copayments on those.

Children without private insurance can stay on their parents plan until they turn 26. And to date, 2.5 million young people have gotten new insurance through this provision. And the law is also closing the so-called donut hole, 5.1 million seniors have gotten help paying for prescription drugs so far. That could be hundreds of dollars in many of these individual cases.

There's even some bigger changes that are in store for 2014, such as insurers will be prohibited in denying coverage to anyone, even if they have a pre-existing condition.

Now, the government will also dramatically expand Medicaid. That will insure millions more people as well. Most businesses will be required to cover their employees and anyone who doesn't have coverage through work, Medicaid or Medicare, will be required to buy it themselves or pay a penalty.

Now it's that last part, that requirement, which is most controversial. It will be the key issue in front of the Supreme Court this week. I recently met with economist Jonathan Gruber who helped design the plan and one in Massachusetts. He says the mandate is like glue, without it, the whole thing falls apart.


JONATHAN GRUBER, ECONOMIC PROFESSOR, MIT: The goal of health care reform in both Massachusetts and nationally is to fix broken insurance markets, where the insurers can discriminate against the sick by excluding for illness. The mandate makes that possible by requiring broad participation in insurance pools, and making sure the sick and healthy buy health insurance.

The part of the law people like is the part we get rid of insurance discrimination. You can't have dessert without the spinach that is the individual mandate. And we can't overstate how important it is.


GUPTA: We're, of course, going to follow those developments in D.C. closely. Make no mistake: what happens there is going to impact all of us. You can follow along with me on my Lifestream at, or on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

You know, I want to give you an update, though, on a story I reported right here in Los Angeles.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Veterans Administration on behalf of homeless and mentally disabled veterans. It accused the V.A. of breaking a promise to build permanent housing with services the vets needed, on this huge piece of land right next to a wealthy part of Los Angeles.


GUPTA: The story here actually dates back all the way to the 1880s. Back then, the government wanted to create facilities for aging veterans of the Civil War. So, former Senator John P. Jones and his friend, who was a glamorous heiress, decided to donate all of his land.

Today, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, it's some of the most valuable real estate in all of North America.

(voice-over): The original deed includes a condition that the land be used to establish and maintain a branch of a national home for disabled vets.


GUPTA: You know, there are nearly 8,000 vets homeless in Los Angeles alone. Hard to believe.

Last fall, the V.A. told us they are committed to helping every single one of those men and women. But this week a federal judge said the lawsuit can go forward. He said the V.A. does have a duty to provide that housing. Now, there is no trial date set as of yet. The two sides could still reach an agreement.

But, you know, during my investigation, I met a 22-year-old former soldier, Robert Rissman. He's not part of this lawsuit, but he did end up homeless after being kicked out of the Army, despite a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, when we met, he was living in a halfway house, just a few blocks from where we are now. I asked him to come by this morning and give us a quick update.

It's good to see you again, Robert.


GUPTA: People saw your story, they heard you story, a few months ago. First off, how are you doing? I mean, how's life been?

RISSMAN: I'm doing better, actually. I'm still in school. I'm doing everything I need to be doing. I'm getting close to getting out of the halfway house and getting my own place.

GUPTA: So, are you still in the same facility?

RISSMAN: Still in the same facility right now.

GUPTA: And you don't call it a halfway house.

RISSMAN: I prefer transitional -- house.

GUPTA: Transitional housing.

RISSMAN: But I'm doing much better -- much better now.

GUPTA: I mean, what is it -- living there, how consistent is it or how reliable is it in terms of your housing? Are you guaranteed you can be there a certain amount of time?

RISSMAN: No, you can be there up to two years. But at any point, if you aren't doing the right thing, they can get rid of you.

GUPTA: You recently had your case reassessed -- was the language I heard, this case with the V.A. What does that mean for you?

RISSMAN: It's good news. Basically, their original decision to deny me for all benefits was reversed, and I'm now eligible for all benefits.

There is a lot of other people, though, that the V.A. needs to do that for. They've done -- they're doing right for me right now. But there are people they need to change their decisions for as well.

GUPTA: You're a young guy, what do you think about when you think about two years from now, three years from now -- for you?

RISSMAN: For me, hopefully in three years I'm done with school. I'm a psychology major. I'm trying to do something in that field. I would like to hopefully, within the next year or two, transfer to an actual university and get a real degree from university.

And so, I'm moving forward. I got plans.

GUPTA: I don't know if you have an answer, I don't know if you heard about Sergeant Bales in Afghanistan, now back having shot several and killed several people in Afghanistan.

RISSMAN: I heard something about that, I did.

GUPTA: I just wondered -- so that, you know, he had four tours of duty, some speculated that he also had post traumatic stress disorder.

RISSMAN: I would almost 100 percent tell you that he does. I'm not a doctor, but from what I know about it, I think he does.

GUPTA: So tragic. I mean, do you -- does any of that make sense to you?

RISSMAN: Yes, actually, it makes sense to me. A lot of veterans suffer from that, including me. And it sounds to me like he just had -- he had a moment and it led to him doing something that is going to now going to ruin his life and it's a terrible thing.

GUPTA: You look well. I'm glad to se you and glad you're still able to stay in school and we'll keep tabs on you.

RISSMAN: All right.

GUPTA: Robert Rissman, thanks s much. Thanks for coming in.

RISSMAN: Thank you.

GUPTA: As you can tell you, a lot of the stories that we do on the show are about resilience, people overcoming things. The next story is no different. This guy was a top notch mountain climber who lost both legs in an accident. And today is perhaps the premiere design he of artificial limbs, so good, in fact, that healthy people will want these things as well some day.


GUPTA: Well, over 1,000 veterans have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan missing arms or legs. And this grim parade, this blaring need has been driving a revolution in medicine. Many vets still struggle with old fashioned prosthetics. But there is new technology out there that offers hope of less pain and more natural movement.

In fact, I paid a visit to one designer who is leading the way. He's also got a daunting story of his own.


HUGH HERR, DIRECTOR, BIOMECHATRONICS GROUP, MIT MEDIA LAB: My name is Hugh Herr. I'm a professor at MIT. We develop robots that attach to the body that help people move again.

GUPTA (voice-over): Here at his playground at MIT's famous media lab, Hugh Herr designs prosthetic limbs with amazing capability. In rehab medicine, no one has done more to bring the future to the here and now.

As you can see, Hugh has a personal stake in this work.

Back when he was a kid, all he wanted to do was climb mountains.

HERR: By the age of 12, 13, I was considered a child prodigy in climbing. I was climbing walls that had never climbed before.

GUPTA: But then, at age 17 --

HERR: In 1982, I was mountain climbing, and we got struck by a tremendous blizzard. And what we intended to be a single day turned in a four-day mountaineering trip (ph). I suffered severe frostbite to my lower limbs. And after months of effort, my medical team give up the fight to save my biological limbs.

GUPTA (on camera): So, it's a deeply personal quest for you as well.

HERR: Yes. I was -- it's funny because I was a terrible high school student, at best I got C's, I often got F's. Then my accident happened when I was 17, it just inspired me to begin to developing prosthetic limbs for myself and for other people.

GUPTA (voice-over): Losing both legs, it's a lot for anyone to overcome. But with Hugh, it lit a fire.

HERR: Whenever I sprint upstairs with my bionic limbs, I just -- when I get to the top, I giggle. I mean, I grew up with the television show "The Bionic Man and Woman" and "Six Million Dollar Man." So, when I'm running up steps, I hear the motors -- I find it absolutely hysterical.

GUPTA: One of the first designs, adjustable legs, so he can do things on the mountain that used to be impossible. At MIT, this is how he and his team like to work. First, they break down a real human movement. Then find a way to copy it, with better and better machinery.

His latest creation is a bionic ankle, the BiOM.

HERR: The human ankle is turbo charged, gives so much energy as you walking and running. Conventional prosthesis lack that energy. So, I wanted to have an invention that really propels the amputee forward and allows them to walk with less energy and less pain.

GUPTA: To help me understand it better, he introduced Sean Brown, how lost a foot in an industrial accident 20 years ago. And he uses the BiOM himself.

HERR: His gait is normal. It's normal.

GUPTA: And Hugh says even this is primitive compared to what we will see in years to come.

HERR: I'm often asked what I wished for my biological legs back, I say, absolutely not. My bionic limbs are part of my creation. They become part of my identity. As my biological body ages, my artificial limbs get better and better, they are in a sense, immortal.


GUPTA: As you can see, more of my time with Hugh Herr. That's this Sunday on "THE NEXT LIST," 2:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Well, up next, we're going to go back-to-school. There's a food fight that's brewing. The question is this: does chocolate milk do a body good?


GUPTA: We all know childhood obesity is a big problem in the country. That's why the federal government, along with local school systems, have been looking at way to cut calories and also provide healthier lunches to their students.

Salad bars, cooking from scratch, healthier drinks. But you know, one drink in particular is creating a lot of controversy.


GUPTA: It's lunchtime at Huntington Middle School. It seems pretty mellow now, but over a year ago, these kids were in the middle of a food fight -- a fight specifically over chocolate milk.

RHONDA MCCOY, DIRECTOR OF FOOD SERVICES, CABELL COUNTY, WV SCHOOLS: We were really asked to remove the flavored milk from the schools.

GUPTA: Nestled in the Appalachian mountains, Huntington, West Virginia, in Cabell County, has taken its share of lumps. In 2008, it was labeled one of the most unhealthy cities in the country because of the obesity problem.

County school officials were determined to offer more nutritious meals. And TV chef Jamie Oliver came to visit.

Oliver made Huntington part of his reality show. One of these changes for us to take chocolate milk out of the cafeteria.

MCCOY: The sugar content he thought was too high.

GUPTA: But the plan back fired. Students rebelled.

The consumption of milk dropped 38 percent in the elementary and middle schools and 75 percent at the high schools. Instead of milk, the kids were drinking sugary juice and soda brought from home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White milk just doesn't satisfy my taste buds.

GUPTA: About half the students in the county live around the poverty level. For many, school lunch and breakfast are the main meals of the day. Without milk, local doctors said, kids weren't getting enough vitamin D, vitamin A, calcium, or potassium.

WILLIAM A. SMITH, SUPERTINDENT CABELL COUNTY, WV. SCHOOL: We knew those students were not drinking milk at home and were not getting any of those nutrients.

GUPTA: So, three months after Oliver left, they had a do over. Chocolate milk went back in the cooler.

SMITH: There was initially I think about three or four months after he left, there was -- he wanted to come back and do a follow-up but we weren't interested in that.

GUPTA: Since then, the USDA has made the school lunch guidelines stricter. Chocolate milk must be fat free and contain around 150 calories or less. That's down from 190 calories.

DOUG LONGENETTE: Now, our new product is a fat free skim milk and the sugar went from 29 grams on the chocolate to 22.

GUPTA: By comparison the same size soda has about 30 grams of sugar. Some nutritionists say 22 grams is still too much.

But here in Cabell County, the compromise seems to be working. For kids and parents, milk with sugar is better than none at all.


GUPTA: Last year after a long debate, the Los Angeles school district took flavored milk out of their cafeterias. Now, since doing that, they've seen a 5 percent drop in the total amount of milk consumed.

As of now, chocolate milk remains off the shelves and there are no plans to put it back on the menu.

So that's what's going on at school. What about at your home?

Well, up next, build smart, breathe easier. HGTV's eco-friendly carpenter Carter Oosterhouse.


GUPTA: Most of us think of our homes as a safe zone, a place were we feel protected. What you may not realize is every day items could be making your family sick. Now, the good news is there are simple, inexpensive ways to detox your home.


CARTER OOSTERHOUSE, HGTV STAR: I've always built efficient, tried to build efficient, eco-friendly green homes.

GUPTA (voice-over): HGTV star and Carter Oosterhouse teamed with Habitat for unity to build homes that helped families though this year.

(on camera): One thing that struck me is the air inside homes can often be worse than the air outside homes.


GUPTA: People shut the doors and shut the windows --

OOSTERHOUSE: Which people spend so much time in.

GUPTA (voice-over): They're breathing in dust, mold, dirt, pet dander, causing their airways to constrict, swell, and triggering attacks in 24 million Americans with asthma.

(on camera): So this is a sort of allergy free zone.


GUPTA: This is the kitchen. So what are the things you notice here?

OOSTERHOUSE: Some of the things we notice here is that our cabinetry is not plywood, it's not veneer, it's not laminated, it's actually hardwood, so there is no toxin in there with the adhesive because there are no adhesives holding the wood together. So, that's something --

GUPTA: So you don't see the glow in the bag --

OOSTERHOUSE: Yes, exactly.

I'm sure there are adhesives holding some of this cabinetry together, but the actual doors, themselves, the siding themselves not plywood. And so we -- right away we know that we're just eliminating those. We're not even bringing them into the house.

GUPTA: If you don't want to replace your plywood cabinets just purchase a sealant to limit the adhesive exposure.

And you know that new house smell for a fresh coat of paint? Well, that smell is often chemicals that can make it hard to breathe.

OOSTERHOUSE: What you want to get and what look for is what is called no VOC paint or low VOC paint. So, all the homes that we did, we used no VOC paint. It doesn't have the paint smell at all. They've made huge strides in the last two years on how functional the paint is -- meaning how well it coats the wall.

GUPTA (on camera): So, it's billed as non-VOC paint. It's pretty good to work with.


GUPTA: You mentioned the floors. It's hardwood floors. They can be expensive.

OOSTERHOUSE: Yes. I mean, hardwood floors, you can get vinyl floors that look like hardwood, that look exactly like hardwood. Use tile floors.

GUPTA: As you walk into the -- this is the more living area with bedrooms and stuff. You got your appliances. I'm going to admit right off the bat I'm guilty of -- I'll go check as soon as I get home to see if it looks like this.

OOSTERHOUSE: So your HAVAC system is something everybody should check, that you have an air filter on there. OK?

Now, everybody should change their filters every three to six months. I'm going to say everybody changes them probably every two years and this is one that I picked up out of my office. It was extremely dirty because what they're supposed to look like is this right here. So you can see the difference on that.

GUPTA: Just getting that much dust, otherwise in your lungs you're inhaling the small particles. You can understand why it would be a problem not only in terms of your ability to breathe but this also causes the inflammatory reaction.

OOSTERHOUSE: And what I like to do is actually write a little date on there so we know when you changed it last.

GUPTA: Another room to pay attention to is the bedroom -- linens, pillows. They're breeding grounds for dust mites and allergens.

OOSTERHOUSE: You can watch these linens, throw them in the wash and wash the pillows as well. Some women, you know, they make a little bit easier for the dust mites to live.

GUPTA: So look for linens with a certified asthma and allergy seal on the label to help deflect dust.

OOSTERHOUSE: You don't have to live with your symptoms on a day-to-day or regular basis. Think about the things that you have in your house that you can make it more efficient within your home. You can make it cleaner and the air quality better in your home. We're trying to bring awareness to that so people know that, hey, maybe I can change my blinds, my air filter, the paint on the walls.

GUPTA: I'm going to do that when I get home.

OOSTER: Those things will make a difference.


GUPTA: You know, another thing you can with your family to keep them healthy is take your shoes off before entering the house. Think about this. Your shoes are often covered with chemicals, garden pesticides, lawn fertilizers, herbicides, road oil. You get the idea. These toxic chemicals can be especially dangerous for families with babies and toddlers who spend a lot of time on the floor.

I reduce the risk of being exposed to some of the toxic chemicals in my own home by taking off shoes before entering the house. It's pretty simple.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for this morning, t make an appointment and come back and see me next Saturday and Sunday right here. Time now to give a check of your top making news right now.