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Consumer Confidential: Healthcare stocks, healthier chips, new smart phone

March 22, 2010 | 10:23 am

Here's your misanthropically Monday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Remember all that talk about "socialized medicine" and a "government takeover of healthcare"? Well, here's all you need to know about the reform package that cleared the House on Sunday: The stocks of health insurance companies and drug makers are all higher as a result. Why? Because extending coverage to an additional 32 million people is darn good for their business, and any move to bolster our dysfunctional healthcare system is seen as a big positive by investors. Turns out the sky isn't falling after all.

--PepsiCo wants to build a better potato chip. The company says it's developing a "designer salt" for its Lay's potato chips. The new-and-improved salt, the company says, will cut sodium levels by about 25% and thus make its chips healthier -- or less unhealthy. This is, of course, a good thing. High levels of salt can send your blood pressure soaring and increase your risk of heart disease. My question is this: If healthier chips are technologically feasible, why didn't they do it sooner?

--Computer maker Dell Inc. is leaping into the fast-growing smart-phone market. The company says it will soon start offering a rival to the iPhone and BlackBerry called the Aero. It will feature Google's Android operating system and use AT&T as its carrier. Competition is a good thing, so I'm sure we all welcome each new participant in the smart-phone sweepstakes. But you get the feeling that it's getting a little crowded out there. Let's hope the emphasis for the Aero and all other players is on innovation and not just iPhone imitation.

-- David Lazarus