Health Highlights: May 11, 2009

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

FDA Investigating 2 Delaware Deaths That May Be Linked to Heparin

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent a team to investigate the deaths of two Delaware patients who died over the weekend after taking the blood thinner heparin, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The deaths were confirmed by a spokesman from Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del., after three people suffered medical problems after using heparin. All three people were using the drug supplied by Baxter International Inc., of Deerfield, Ill., although the spokesman said there is no evidence that directly ties heparin to the deaths, the Journal reported. Baxter spokeswoman Erin Gardiner told the newspaper that the company immediately contacted the FDA, and both the agency and Baxter sent medical teams to Delaware to investigate.

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The people who died, identified only as a 71-year-old man and a 64-year-old woman, were flown by helicopter from Beebe. One died at Christiana Hospital in Delaware, and the other died at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Gardiner said both received pre-mixed intravenous bags of heparin.

In 2008, tainted heparin bulk supplies, vials of the medicine and drug-coated medical devices reportedly were tied to some 80 deaths and led to a recall of heparin from several companies. The current investigation is so far focused on North American sources and not product from China, according to the Journal. Last year's cases mostly involved allergic reactions and cardiac complications, while the Delaware deaths involved cranial bleeding, Gardiner told the newspaper.


Obama Praises Health Industry's Offer of Savings

Calling it a "watershed event," President Barack Obama on Monday applauded an offer by health care industry leaders to voluntarily slow rate increases. The move is designed to help provide heath insurance for the estimated 50 million Americans who have none and who are a focal point of the administration's health care reform proposals, the Associated Press reported.

The industry leaders -- representing sectors including hospitals, doctors and insurers -- offered the president more than $2 trillion in rate reductions over the next 10 years and pledged to cut the growth rate for health care by 1.5 percentage points each year, the wire service said. The industry groups' offer doesn't resolve prickly details of the emerging health care plan overall, but does put the health care industry in a position to influence legislation that Congress is writing.

By offering the savings now, these private sector health care groups hope to avoid creation of a competing government health plan that would enroll middle-class workers and their families, the AP said. Additionally, hospitals and doctors are worried that any government-run plan could dictate what they get paid to care for patients, and drug makers are concerned that future medications could face tougher cost-benefit analysis before new drugs could win approval.

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