Health Highlights: Sept. 24, 2008

Sept. 25 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Health Insurance Premiums Rise 5%

Health insurance premiums in the United States rose about 5 percent this year, a modest rise compared to the 119 percent jump overall since 1999, according to a report released Wednesday.

Premiums for family coverage rose to an average of $12,680 during the past year, while premiums for single coverage increased to an average $4,704, according to the analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

While about 75 percent of each premium is still absorbed by employers, the trend in recent years has been to require workers to pay a higher percentage, the Associated Press reported.

In the past year, employees who paid deductibles of $1,000 or more rose to 18 percent from 12 percent, the wire service said. About one in three people employed by a small business now pays at least a $1,000 deductible.

Only about 62 percent of companies with fewer than 200 employees offer a health insurance benefit, the AP said. By comparison, 99 percent of larger businesses offer coverage.


Armstrong, Stressing Cancer Project, Returning to Cycling

Lance Armstrong, who despite a battle with cancer won seven straight Tour de France bicycle races before he retired three years ago, will return to the sport in January, he said Wednesday.

At a New York City press conference, Armstrong also said that shortly after a race next year in Australia, he would hold the first global meeting of the Livestrong campaign to raise cancer awareness, The New York Times reported.

The 37-year-old Armstrong said he also would try for an eighth straight Tour de France victory next July.

He promised that his anti-cancer campaign would "touch all aspects of our society, all continents of our society, and certainly touch all the different aspects of cancer," the Times quoted him as saying.

Armstrong formed his foundation after a well-publicized bout with testicular cancer in the late 1990s.


Hospital Blood-Thinner Rules Need Tightening: Commission

Rules that govern hospitals' use of heparin and related medicines need to be tightened after at least 28 deaths resulted from drug errors involving the blood-thinners over the decade ending in 2007, a regulatory group said Wednesday.

The Joint Commission said hospitals should consider preventive measures including bar coding and computer technology to prevent similar errors, the Associated Press reported. A highly publicized example was a dangerous heparin overdose given to the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid at a Los Angeles hospital in November.

In all, 59,316 errors involving blood thinners were reported from 2001 to 2006 to a company that tracks such errors, the commission said. About 1,700, or almost 3 percent, of those cases led to patient harm or death, the wire service reported.

Too much of a blood thinner can lead to bleeding that's difficult to control, and too little after surgery or an injury can result in dangerous blood clots.

The commission is a privately run organization that accredits most U.S. hospitals -- a measure of prestige that also influences federal funding, the AP reported.


Experts Warn of Caffeine Levels in Energy Drinks

Caffeine intoxication is possible from so-called energy drinks that can contain as much of the stimulant as 10 cans of Coca-Cola, experts warn.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine want caffeine doses prominently displayed on the drinks' labeling, which the scientists say also should include a warning of the products' potential risks, the CanWest News Service reported.

Children and adolescents who aren't habitual caffeine consumers are particularly vulnerable to caffeine intoxication, they wrote in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Symptoms could include nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, upset stomach, tremors and rapid heartbeat.

"Many of these products are not labeled with the amount of caffeine. There are no cautionary notes," the news service quotes Roland Griffiths, a professor in the Hopkins departments of psychiatry and neuroscience, as saying.

Griffiths added that younger people who seek the caffeine high from energy drinks could be more likely to abuse prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin, recent research indicates.

Some 906 million gallons of the drinks -- with brand names including Red Bull, Full Throttle, and AMP Energy -- were consumed worldwide in 2006, the researchers said.


Drug Maker to Make Doctor Payments Public

Global drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. plans to become the first pharmaceutical firm to make public the amount it pays doctors to advise the company or speak at conferences on its behalf, the Associated Press reported.

The revelation comes as Congress considers legislation designed to guard against such payments influencing doctors' prescribing practices and other medical decisions, the wire service said.

Lilly said starting next year, it will reveal payments of $500 or more to doctors who offer advice or who speak at conferences. Eventually, the company said it would widen disclosure to include payments for travel, entertainment and gifts, the AP reported.

Since 2006, House and Senate lawmakers have proposed bills to require drug companies to disclose physician payments of $25 or more. The drug industry took issue with the $25 threshold, and Lilly had said it would comply with key provisions of the legislation if the threshold were raised to $500, the wire service said.

Trade groups representing physicians, including the American Medical Association, also had said they would support the legislation if it included the higher threshold, the AP said.

Only a few states -- including Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia, and Maine -- and the District of Columbia now have disclosure laws, the wire service said.