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Health Headlines - January 25

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
States to be Fully Reimbursed for Medicare Drug Costs

The U.S. federal government said Tuesday that states will be fully reimbursed for prescription drug payments they made that should have been covered by the new Medicare program.

Dozens of states are spending millions of dollars a day to help low-income people unable to get their prescription drugs under the program, which took effect Jan. 1.

Tuesday's announcement by the Bush administration was made in response to the political uproar over the problems plaguing the new Medicare drug program, The New York Times reported.

The federal government will use its influence to ensure that private insurers under contract to Medicare reimburse states for the cost of drug claims that the insurers should have paid.

The federal government will also reimburse states that have paid more for drugs than what the private plans would repay them and will also cover administrative costs incurred by states, the Times reported.

Through Feb. 15, states will be reimbursed for prescription drugs provided to low-income Medicare beneficiaries. The reimbursement program would end Feb. 15 because problems with the new drug program will be corrected by then, federal officials said.

Drug Companies Will Boost Flu Vaccine Production

Drug companies in the United States plan to boost flu vaccine production to as many as 120 million doses for next year's flu season, an amount that far surpasses the record of 95 million doses produced in 2002, the Associated Press reported.

The move is in response to expected rising demand for flu shots caused by public fears about bird flu, increased government reimbursement for flu shots, and indications that the federal government may eventually recommend flu shots for nearly all people in the United States.

The plans for increased production could mean there will be no more of the flu vaccine shortages that have occurred in the United States for the past three autumns, the AP reported.

"We and other manufacturers are making the investments to ensure that there will be sustainable supplies going forward," Andrew MacKnight, executive director of vaccine supply for GlaxoSmithKline, said Tuesday at a flu vaccine summit meeting in Atlanta.

The planned boost in flu vaccine production is good news, said a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jury Selection Made for Fourth Vioxx Trial

A jury of 10 men and two women was selected Tuesday to hear the fourth Vioxx trail in the United States.

The case involves a lawsuit filed in Texas by the family of 71-year-old Leonel Garza, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001, after taking Vioxx for 17 days. The jury will have to decide whether the drug played a role in his death or whether he died as the result of 23 years of heart disease.

The jury selection was made late Tuesday after attorneys spent a long day questioning prospective jurors, the Associated Press reported. Several jurors were dismissed because they knew the plaintiffs or had experienced recent deaths in their families.

"The dispute is a very simple one. It is whether Vioxx played any role whatsoever in the death of Leonel Garza," defense attorney Richard Josephson said.

David Hockema, the plaintiff's lawyer, said Garza was the last person who should have been given Vioxx, given his heart condition, the AP reported.

Critics Denounce EPA Criteria for Pesticide Tests on Humans

Some members of Congress are harshly critical of how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is establishing the first-ever guidelines for human pesticide testing, the Associated Press reported.

The EPA won't allow intentional pesticide dosing studies of children and pregnant women, according to Susan Hazen, the agency's principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

Nonetheless, the EPA's rules are being denounced by three California Democrats -- Sen. Barbara Boxer and Reps. Henry Waxman and Hilda Solis -- who have seen the final draft of the EPA criteria, the AP said.

Boxer said the EPA rule still allows tests on pregnant women and children as long as pesticide companies can convince the EPA that they didn't intend to submit the results of those studies when they began them.

"The fact that the EPA allows pesticide testing of any kind on the most vulnerable, including abused and neglected children, is simply astonishing," Boxer said.

Magnetic Method Tracks Organ Rejection

Magnetic tracking of immune cells may eventually prove an effective way of checking for signs of rejection in transplanted organs, concludes a study led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

The scientists found that it was possible to tag immune cells with iron oxide and then use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track the cells. Accumulation of immune cells in a transplanted organ can indicate whether the body is rejecting it, the Associated Press reported.

The findings appear in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For this study, the scientists tagged immune cells called macrophages with iron oxide particles. The immune cells were then injected into mice that had undergone heart transplants three days earlier.

MRI was used to track the immune cells and observe what happened as the mice rejected the new hearts.

UCI Transplant Program Rejected Many Kidneys: Report

Even though as many as 150 people were on a waiting list, the kidney transplant program at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center turned down numerous kidneys over the last five years, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A Times analysis of UCI data found that many patients on the waiting list would have had a much better chance of receiving a kidney if they'd gone to other hospitals.

The review showed that between July 2000 and June 2005, the UCI Medical Center accepted only 8.7 percent of the kidneys offered for its patients. That's far lower than the median annual acceptance rate of 25.9 percent to 31.2 percent across the United States over the same period.

During those five years, about 35 patients died while waiting for kidney transplants at UCI. It's not clear how many kidneys were offered for those patients or whether they would have survived if they had received a new kidney, the Times reported.

The problems uncovered by the Times echo troubles that led to the closure of UCI Medical Center's liver transplant program in November 2005.

Food Fact:
Balanced diet?

Eat more blueberries, and you may be less prone to falls. Researchers at Tufts University fed antioxidant-rich extracts of blueberries, strawberries or spinach to rats for eight months -- and those that received blueberry extracts displayed better balance when walking over small rods. Similarly, the deep blue color of this all-American berry comes from anthocyanin, a powerful plant pigment believed to reduce some of the cognitive problems associated with aging.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Lift weights, lose weight.

Marilyn Monroe knew it, and you should, too: For good health and a great shape, dumbbells are a girl's best friend. Dieters who lift weights and eat well lose more body fat, and feel stronger and more flexible. Lifting weights as you diet makes it easier to shed pounds; increased muscle mass will boost your metabolic rate over time, allowing you to burn calories even at rest. It also gives your muscles a tight, firm appearance.

FAQ of the day:
Is a "plant-based" diet the same as "vegetarian"?

Nutritionists use the term "plant-based" for a diet that gets most of its calories from plant foods, but may include some animal foods. In some parts of the world, what nutritionists have called plant-based diets will include red meat like beef or pork, but eaten rarely, or in very small amounts. Vegan diets, which include no foods of animal origin, are plant-based by definition. So are lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, which include dairy foods and eggs, as well as diets that include fish, shellfish and poultry. Population studies have demonstrated a significant link between plant-based foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, soy) and a reduced risk of developing cancer and coronary heart disease.
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