Health Highlights: May 9, 2007

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

U.S. Senate Votes to Overhaul FDA

In what's being described as the "most comprehensive drug safety overhaul in more than a decade," the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sweeping new powers to protect consumers from dangerous medicines.

The vote, 93 to 1, would give the FDA broad authority to oversee drug safety, order changes in drug labels, and limit the use and distribution of medicines found to pose serious health risks to consumers, The New York Times reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • U.S. Senate Votes to Overhaul FDA
    • Report Cites U.S. Health-Care Disparities
    • Scientists to Catalog 1.8 Million Known Species
    • Doctors Paid Millions to Prescribe Anemia Drugs
    • Chinese Company Linked to Cough Medicine Deaths Not Licensed
    • Cracker Barrel Pulls Hamburgers After Woman Injured
    • FDA Approves Respirators for Use in Flu Pandemic

The FDA's traditional role has been to ensure the safety of drugs and medical devices prior to authorizing their use. The new bill, which is likely to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Bush, calls for a fundamental change in the philosophy and operations of the agency, the Times said. The FDA would now be charged with monitoring and overseeing the entire life cycle of a drug -- from the pre-approval review through to patients' experiences with a medicine, the newspaper said.

The FDA's image has taken a beating in recent years, starting with the 2004 removal from the market of the arthritis drug Vioxx, which was eventually found to increase the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. Senators said the new bill was an effort to restore Americans' confidence in the FDA's ability to protect consumers. The bill would also meet many recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, the newspaper said.

"This legislation will make a major difference for families in America, ensuring the safety of our prescription drug system," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-Mass.), the chief sponsor of the bill. "We will also have safer food for families and for pets," Kennedy added, referring to the series of high-profile food contamination problems that first surfaced last fall.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, (R-Wyoming), said the bill was the "most comprehensive drug safety overhaul in more than a decade."

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Report Cites U.S. Health-Care Disparities

Despite some improvements, differences in the quality of health care provided to American women and men and different racial and ethnic groups persist, says the latest News and Numbers from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the improvements:

  • In 2004, nearly as many female Medicare patients (85 percent) as male Medicare patients (86 percent) received recommended care in a hospital after a heart attack. In 2002, the rates were 79 percent of women and 81 percent of men.
  • Women were more likely than men to have a usual source of ongoing health care in 2004 -- 90 percent compared to 83 percent. A usual source of care is associated with lower costs and improved health results.

But the bad news is that more women were more likely than men (56 vs. 38 per 100,000 people) to be hospitalized for high blood pressure in 2003. Hospitalization for high blood pressure can usually be prevented if a patient has good quality primary care.

Among other examples of gender or racial/ethnic disparities:

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