Health Highlights: Sept. 16, 2009

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Senate Introduces $856 Billion Health Care Bill

Under a new bill introduced Wednesday, all Americans would have to buy health care insurance or pay a fine, and insurance companies would be forbidden to charge higher premiums to people with serious health problems.

The $856 billion, 10-year version of health system reform was introduced by Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. There don't appear to be any Republican backers, which means the bill faces a rough ride through Congress, the Associated Press reported.

    • Senate Introduces $856 Billion Health Care Bill
    • Coronary Artery Disease No Longer Top Cause of Hospitalization in U.S.
    • Drug Must Carry Warning About Possible Tissue Damage: FDA
    • 35 Percent Of Iraq War Vets Will Seek Treatment for PTSD: Study
    • Increases Forecast for Employer-Based Health Premiums
    • Doctors' Groups Urge Climate Change Action

"The Finance Committee has carefully worked through the details of health care reform to ensure this package works for patients, for health care providers and for our economy," Baucus said.

Under a new purchasing exchange, people could shop for and compare insurance plans. The bill would also expand Medicaid and place caps on patients' yearly health costs, the AP reported.

The bill doesn't include a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, once one of the key goals of President Barack Obama's proposed health care reform package.


Coronary Artery Disease No Longer Top Cause of Hospitalization in U.S.

From 1997 and 2007, the number of Americans admitted to hospital for treatment of coronary artery disease decreased by 31 percent, which means it's no longer the No. 1 disease treated in hospitals. Pneumonia was the most common disease treated in U.S. hospitals in 2007.

A analysis of national data also showed that hospitalizations for heart attack decreased 15 percent (732,000 to 625,000) from 1997 to 2007, according to the latest News and Numbers from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That means that heart attacks have moved from No. 4 to No. 10.

Among the other findings:

  • Stroke-related hospitalization fell by 14 percent, from 616,000 to 527,000, dropping in rank from No. 6 to No. 15.
  • Hospitalizations for irregular heartbeat rose by 28 percent, from 572,000 to 731,000, but remained at No. 7 in rank.
  • The number of hospitalizations for congestive heart failure rose by three percent, from 991,000 to just over one million, moving it from No. 3 to No. 2.


Drug Must Carry Warning About Possible Tissue Damage: FDA

The antihistamine and anti-nausea drug promethazine must carry a warning that it can cause tissue injuries, including gangrene, if it's administered incorrectly, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said Tuesday that the drug's label must carry a warning that it should not be administered into an artery or under the skin. The drug should be injected deep into muscle, the Associated Press reported.

A requested label revision would caution doctors who choose to administer promethazine intravenously to limit the concentration and rate of administration of the drug.

Manufacturers must submit the safety label changes to the FDA within 30 days or make a case for why they feel changes aren't needed, the AP reported.


35 Percent Of Iraq War Vets Will Seek Treatment for PTSD: Study

As many as 35 percent of U.S. military personnel who serve in Iraq will seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the Veterans Affairs Department needs to boost its mental health resources to deal with the demand, say Stanford University researchers.

They said the tempo of deployment cycles to Iraq is higher than for any war since World War II, United Press International reported.

The researchers combined a mathematical operations research model with deployment and PTSD data from the Iraq War and came up with the 35 percent estimate. The study appears in the journal Management Science.

There are already long waits for people seeking PTSD treatment in the VA system, which must increase its ability to deal with the expected high demand, the researchers said, UPI reported.


Increases Forecast for Employer-Based Health Premiums

Another modest rise in employer-sponsored health insurance premiums this year likely will be followed by larger increases in coming years, says a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

For the third straight year, there was a 5 percent increase in the average annual premium for family coverage, which now stands at more than $13,000, the Associated Press reported. About 74 percent of the premium is paid by employers, while workers cover the rest of the cost.

The average annual premium for single coverage remained relatively flat at $4,824, with employers paying 84 percent.

From 2000 to 2004, premiums increased between 10 percent to 13 percent a year, the AP reported. The smaller premium increases in recent years may be due to the recession and the push for public health reform. Both factors discourage insurance companies from introducing large rate hikes, the report said.

But, the lower premium increases likely won't last, according to Kaiser CEO Drew Altman. "We've historically seen these peaks and valleys before, and we always have a bounce back effect," he told the AP.


Doctors' Groups Urge Climate Change Action

Failure to tackle climate change could have "catastrophic" health consequences, the heads of 18 doctors' associations warned Wednesday in a joint appeal published in the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.

The doctors urged governments to take decisive action at a U.N. climate change conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early December, Agence France Presse reported.

The letter said doctors must take a lead in speaking out about the urgency of taking action against climate change.

"There is a real danger that politicians will be indecisive, especially in such turbulent economic times as these," the letter stated, AFP reported. "Should their response be weak, the results for international health could be catastrophic."

The many health threats posed by climate change include malnutrition caused by drought, the spread of mosquito-borne diseases to temperate regions, and the risk of cholera caused by flooding, the scientists warned.