Health Highlights: Aug. 21, 2007

Every five minutes, eight African children under the age of five die of vaccine-preventable diseases, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Polio, tetanus and measles are the primary killers of the children, said a UN statement released at a meeting in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Delegates were discussing ways to increase child vaccination rates in Africa, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 155 of every 1,000 children born in Africa die before the age of five, the UN said. The UN's World Health Organization and children's fund UNICEF want to halve that death rate by 2015.

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Some Medicare Participants Still Can't Afford Drugs

One in five U.S. Medicare drug benefit enrollees has put off or even skipped getting medications due to the program's high costs, according to a survey of more than 16,000 seniors published online by the journal Health Affairs.

The survey authors noted that many low-income seniors don't know that they can get additional government subsides to lower their prescription drug costs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On the positive side, the proportion of seniors with no prescription drug coverage declined to about eight percent after the Medicare drug benefit took effect in January 2006, compared to about one-third the year before.

The program has had mixed results, the study researchers said.

"It has helped in expanding coverage to people who didn't have it, and that is a great thing, but there is still work to be done in making medications more affordable for seniors," said Tricia Neuman of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the Times reported.

Researchers from the Commonwealth Fund and the Tufts-New England Medical Center also took part in the study.

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New Rules Hamper State Efforts to Fund Child Health Coverage

The Bush Administration has announced new standards for the Children's Health Insurance Program that make it much more difficult for states to extend coverage to children in middle-income families, The New York Times reported.

The new standards, outlined in a letter sent to state health officials last week, are designed to return the program to its original focus on low-income families and to prevent the program from becoming a substitute for private health insurance, White House officials said.

States that want to cover children in families with incomes 250 percent above the federal government's poverty level ($20,650 for a family of four) will have to enroll at least 95 percent of children in the state below 200 percent of the federal poverty level who are eligible for either Medicaid or the child health program.

But state officials cited by the newspaper said the Bush administration's new policy imposes unachievable standards and hinders states' efforts to provide more children with health coverage.

"No state in the nation has a participation rate of 95 percent," Deborah Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, told The Times.

"We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children," said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey.

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Merck Fighting Each Vioxx Suit Separately

Merck's plan to aggressively fight each Vioxx-related lawsuit separately seems to be successful. Of the 45,000 people who have sued American's third-largest drug maker, none has received payments from the company, The New York Times reported.

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