Health Highlights: Feb. 23, 2008

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

Insurer Ordered to Pay Breast Cancer Patient $9 Million After Canceling Coverage

A California breast cancer patient whose insurance company stopped paying for her chemotherapy treatments before they were completed has been awarded $9 million.

The ruling judge termed the actions of the insurer, Health Net of California, "reprehensible," just as the Los Angeles city attorney announced another lawsuit against Health Net on charges it illegally canceled claims from about 1,600 patients, according to the Associated Press.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Insurer Ordered to Pay Breast Cancer Patient $9 Million After Canceling Coverage
    • Quitting Smoking More Difficult for Blacks, Hispanics: Study
    • Companies Agree to Halt Unapproved Health Claims About Products
    • More Countries Reporting Tamiflu-Resistant Flu Viruses
    • Magnetic Dart Boards Recalled
    • Large Amount of Recalled Beef Went to School Lunch Programs

The cancer patient, Patsy Bates, 52, had her chemotherapy payment benefits cut off by Health Net in 2004 after she had undergone only two treatments, the wire service reported. She was left owing her doctors almost $130,000. The insurance company had an incentive program for its reviewers, rewarding them for rejecting or eliminating benefit payments, the AP reported.

A Health Net spokesperson told the wire service it had such a program in 2003 and 2004, but that it had been suspended, pending a review of the company's procedures. "Obviously we regret the way that this has turned out, but we are intent on fixing the processes to maintain the public trust," spokesman David Olson told the AP.

"It's hard to imagine a policy more reprehensible than tying bonuses to encourage the recision of health insurance that helps keep the public well and alive," arbitration judge Sam Cianchetti wrote in his decision.

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Quitting Smoking More Difficult for Blacks, Hispanics: Study

Quitting smoking is a difficult task for almost anyone. For Hispanics and blacks, it may be even harder to give up cigarettes.

Columbia University researchers have found that minority smokers had less success with various smoking cessation treatments than whites, and while the exact reason for this isn't known, the scientists were able to identify some common factors that may explain the difference.

According to a university news release, 559 smokers were used for the study -- 360 were white, 126 black and 73 Hispanic. The participants were given eight weeks of treatment using three widely accepted stop-smoking methods: buproprion (Zyban), the nicotine patch, and individual counseling.

During the last four weeks, about 60 percent of the white participants were able to stop smoking, compared to 41 percent of the Hispanic group and 38 percent of the blacks, the researchers found.

The scientists weren't able to determine an exact cause for the differences, according to study author, Lirio Covey, associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center. But there were some common factors among study participants, she added.

"In order for successful smoking cessation to occur, treatment must be tailored to specific population groups based on better knowledge of these groups," Covey said in the news release.

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