Health Highlights: June 17, 2008

There are two main reasons for the rising costs, the study said. One is an increase in the expenses people with insurance are paying for people without coverage. Second, many hospitals are replacing facilities and adding private rooms and outpatient treatment centers, the Associated Press reported.

"Health care providers, insurers and employers will have to monitor medical costs carefully if we are to avoid a resurgence of the double-digit annual increases seen in the past," said Dr. David Chin, leader of the Health Research Institute at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

In an effort to control health care costs, study leaders said employers are increasing wellness, prevention and disease management programs designed to keep workers healthy and boost productivity, the AP reported.

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New Egg Freezing Method Called Safe

A new method of freezing human eggs for later use is as safe as conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, say Canadian researchers, who looked at 200 children conceived using eggs that were rapidly frozen using a process called vitrification.

In this method, water is removed from the egg, an "antifreeze" solution is added, and the eggs are then flash frozen in liquid nitrogen, BBC News reported. Up to 95 percent of eggs survive vitrification, compared with 50 percent to 60 percent of eggs frozen using older methods.

The Canadian team found that about 2.5 percent of the children born using vitrified eggs had birth defects, which is about the same as in natural pregnancies and conventional IVF.

The study appears in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

Additional studies are needed before the safety of vitrification can be established, Dr. Allan Pacey, the secretary of the British Fertility Society, told BBC News.

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AMA Report Card Rates Insurers

A report card that compares how quickly and accurately health insurers pay doctors was released Monday by the American Medical Association. The report card, based on an analysis of three million claims, compares Medicare and seven national commercial insurers, the Associated Press reported.

About 98 percent of medical services billed were paid by Medicare at the contracted rate, compared with 71 percent for Aetna and 62 percent for United Healthcare, which had the lowest rate of contract compliance.

Doctors and their billing services share responsibility for prompt payment, United Healthcare spokesman Gregory Thompson told AP.

"Data show there is often a significant lag time between when services are provided and physician claims are submitted," he said.

The aim of the report card is to lower claims processing costs and help doctors negotiate contracts with insurance companies, the AP reported. A reduction in wasteful administration costs (estimated at $210 billion a year) will help patients, said Dr. William Dolan, an AMA board member.

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Bone Density Screens Can Be Done Every Five Years: Study

Screening for bone loss in older adults can be done as infrequently as every five years, according to Canadian researchers who looked at 9,423 people, ages 25 to 85.

They found that women ages 50 to 54 had the most pronounced bone loss of all the participants -- 1.3 percent. The researchers said this decrease is within the margin of error of most bone density screening machines, which means that amount of bone loss is not as significant as previously believed, CBC News reported.

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