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Health Headlines - April 7

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

High-Deductible Health Plans Increase Women's Costs: Study

Because of the kinds of routine medical exams they require, women face much higher costs than men in high-deductible health insurance plans that are increasingly popular with American employers, says a Harvard Medical School study.

The researchers noted that women need services such as birth control, Pap tests, mammograms, cervical cancer vaccine, and pregnancy-related care, the Associated Press reported.

The study of nearly 33,000 people found that the median expense for men ages 18-45 in high-deductible plans was $463, compared to $1,266 for women. A third of men in that age group spent more than $1,050 in annual medical costs, compared to 55 percent of women in the same age group.

The median cost for women ages 45-64 was $2,871, compared with $1,849 for men. The study appears in the April issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"High deductible plans punish women for having breasts and uteruses and having babies," study lead author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler told the AP. "When an employer switches all his employees into a consumer-driven health plan, it's the same as giving all the women a $1,000 pay cut, on average, because women on average have $1,000 more in health costs than men."

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Dire Forecast in Climate Change Report

Massive floods and avalanches in Asia, along with increased hunger and water shortages in the world's poorest nations are among the major threats facing the Earth unless action is taken to adapt to climate change and stop it from worsening, says a report released Friday by delegates at an international conference.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also warned that up to 30 percent of species worldwide face an increased risk of extinction if global temperatures increase 3.6 degrees above the average temperatures of the 1980s and 1990s, the Associated Press reported.

The environmental group Greenpeace said the document was "a glimpse into an apocalyptic future."

The final report was released after five days of intense negotiations, in which government delegates from the United States, China and Saudi Arabia often sought to tone down some of the more ominous projections about the impact of climate change, the AP reported.

"The poorest of the poor in the world -- and this includes poor people in prosperous societies -- are going to be the worst hit. People who are poor are least able to adapt to climate change," said IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

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New Epilepsy Drug Shows Promise

A new drug called eslicarbazepine (ESL) shows promise in treating epilepsy patients whose symptoms aren't controlled by existing medications, says a study in the latest issue of the journal Epilepsia.

The study, conducted at 19 sites in five European countries, found that a daily dose of the drug fully eliminated seizures in 24 percent of patients with at least four partial-onset seizures per month who did not respond to other treatments.

There were no gender- or age-related differences noted in the drug's effectiveness. The daily doses tested in the study ranged from 400 milligrams to 1,200 milligrams.

"Our study shows that ESL was safe and well tolerated," study co-author Patricio Soares-da-Silva said in a prepared statement. "We believe that ESL may have the potential to become an important new central nervous system drug not only for the treatment of epilepsy, but also for patients suffering from bipolar disorder and neuropathic pain."

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Betty Ford Recovering From Surgery

Former U.S. first lady Betty Ford, 88, is recovering at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. after she had unspecified surgery earlier this week, the Associated Press reported.

Mrs. Ford, wife of the late president Gerald Ford, was "recovering well," said a statement from the office of the late president. No other information will be released for several days.

After Gerald Ford died on Dec. 26, 2006, Mrs. Ford traveled across the country with her husband's body for services in California, Washington, D.C., and to his final resting place in Michigan.

Mrs. Ford, whose birthday is Sunday, was first lady from 1974 to 1977. She garnered wide respect for her openness about her struggles with breast cancer, arthritis and addictions to drugs and alcohol, the AP reported.

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Genetic Disease May Have Fueled Hatfield-McCoy Feud

A rare, inherited disease that can cause sudden rage and violence may have helped fuel the famous long-running feud between the Hatfields and McCoys in the hill country of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Dozens of McCoy descendents have Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which can cause high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and high levels of adrenaline and other "fight or flight" stress hormones, the Associated Press reported.

While the disease may not be the sole factor for the feud, which lasted for decades and left at least a dozen people dead, it could help explain some of the aggressive behavior exhibited by the McCoy clan, according to doctors.

"This condition can certainly make anybody short-tempered, and if they are prone because of their personality, it can add fuel to the fire," Dr. Revi Mathew, a Vanderbilt endocrinologist treating a McCoy descendent, told the AP.

However, other experts said they're skeptical that the disease played much of a role in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. They noted that there were many feuds between different clans in other places.

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Maker Reveals Source of Peanut Butter Contamination

A leaky roof and faulty sprinkler system at a Georgia plant owned by ConAgra Foods led to last year's outbreak of salmonella bacteria in peanut butter that caused more than 400 people across the United States to become sick, the company said Thursday.

ConAgra said it was now confident of the safety of its Peter Pan peanut butter, which is slated to return to stores in mid-July, the Associated Press reported.

The company said a nearly two-month investigation concluded that moisture from the leaky roof and faulty sprinkler system allowed bacteria-laden moisture to gather at the Sylvester, Ga., plant last summer.

A spokeswoman said although the plant had been cleaned after the roof and sprinkler system were repaired, salmonella remained and wound up contaminating the peanut butter, the AP reported.

In February, ConAgra recalled all supplies of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at the Georgia plant. The salmonella outbreak sickened at least 425 people in 44 states, the wire service said.

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