Health Highlights: May 28, 2009

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

Illinois Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

A bill to allow Illinois residents to use medical marijuana if they have serious diseases such as AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis was passed by the Illinois Senate in a 30-28 vote, the Associated Press reported.

The Illinois House will now consider the bill. Earlier this year, a House committee passed a medical marijuana measure.

If the bill is eventually signed into law, Illinois would become the 14th state to have such measures in place, Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the AP.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Illinois Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill
    • Wisconsin County Eliminates Black Infant Mortality Gap: CDC
    • Insured Americans Pay to Cover Uninsured: Report
    • Group Seeks Broader Coverage of Substance Abuse Treatments
    • Poorer Hospitalized More Often for Preventable Conditions: Report

Opponents say that legalizing medical marijuana would make it difficult for police to enforce other marijuana laws and would be a move toward general legalization of the drug.

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Wisconsin County Eliminates Black Infant Mortality Gap: CDC

The elimination of a large disparity in black and white infant deaths in a Wisconsin county suggests that this type of achievement is possible across the United States, a new U.S. report concludes.

Between 2002 and 2007, the death rate among black infants in Dane County decreased by 67 percent, resulting in the elimination of the 3:1 black-white infant mortality gap that existed for all of the 1990s in the county, according to the study, published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers noted that a disparity in black and white infant death rates exists in most, if not all, of the United States.

The large reduction in black infant deaths in Dane County was due to a sharp decline in the number of premature births and fetal deaths that occur during the sixth and seventh month of pregnancy, the study said.

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Insured Americans Pay to Cover Uninsured: Report

Americans with health insurance pay a substantial "hidden health tax" that covers health care for those without insurance, according to a report released Thursday by the advocacy group Families USA.

Each year, the average family with health insurance pays out an extra $1,000 a year and the average person with private coverage forks out an extra $370 in premiums to pay for health care for the uninsured, the Associated Press reported.

In 2008, uninsured people received $116 billion in health care from doctors, hospitals and other providers, Families USA said. About 37 percent of that amount was paid for by uninsured patients, and another 26 percent was paid for by government programs and charities. The remainder, about $43 billion, was covered by private insurance premiums paid by individuals and businesses.

"As more people join the ranks of the uninsured, the hidden health tax is growing," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, the AP reported. "That tax hits America's businesses and insured families hard in the pocketbook, and they therefore have a clear financial stake in expanding health care coverage."

The findings support the group's push to extend coverage to all 50 million uninsured Americans.

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Group Seeks Broader Coverage of Substance Abuse Treatments

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