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.

    • 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.


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.


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.


Group Seeks Broader Coverage of Substance Abuse Treatments

In 2005, $468 billion was spent to deal with smoking and drug and alcohol abuse in the United States -- an amount that represents more than 10 percent of combined federal, state and local spending for all purposes, says a study released Thursday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Most of that spending was for direct health care costs for conditions caused by smoking and drug and alcohol abuse, or for law enforcement. Just over 2 percent of the $468 billion was spent on prevention, treatment and addiction research, The New York Times reported.

The lack of spending on prevention is a "stunning misallocation of resources," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of the Columbia University-based center. "It's a commentary on the stigma attached to addictions and the failure of governments to make investments in the short run that would pay enormous dividends to taxpayers over time."

The group said efforts focused on prevention of addictions and substance abuse reduce related medical and criminal costs, as well as expensive social problems such as homelessness, domestic violence and child abuse, The Times reported.

Califano and colleagues called for federal legislation to require health insurers to provide broader coverage of substance abuse treatment.


Poorer Hospitalized More Often for Preventable Conditions: Report

In 2006, hospital admissions for asthma and diabetes were 87 percent and 77 percent higher, respectively, for the poorest Americans than for wealthier people, according to a federal government report.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said that, compared to people from wealthier communities, those from the poorest areas had higher hospitalization rates for other potentially preventable conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (69 percent), congestive heart failure (51 percent), skin infections (49 percent), and dehydration (38 percent).

Patients from the poorest communities were also more likely to be hospitalized for severe blood infections, stroke and depression, said the AHRQ's latest News and Numbers.

The report also said hospitalized patients from the poorest areas were 80 percent more likely to receive hemodialysis for kidney failure, and were more likely to undergo procedures often done on an outpatient basis, such as eye and ear procedures (81 percent more likely).