Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2008

Nov. 20 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Former Senate Leader Tom Daschle Offered HHS Post: Reports

President-elect Barack Obama has settled on former Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to published reports.

Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, was an early and close adviser to Obama during the just-concluded presidential campaign. He recently wrote a book on his ideas to improve health care, and is working with former Senate leaders on recommendations to improve the health-care system, the Associated Press reported.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Daschle would lead a department with a budget this year of $707.7 billion, and nearly 65,000 employees spread across 11 divisions. He would be responsible for the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Food and Drug Administration, public health programs and the National Institutes of Health, the Washington Post reported.

Daschle has emerged as Obama's main adviser on efforts to expand health-care coverage, while at the same time lowering costs. During the campaign, Obama promised to reduce the average family's medical bill by $2,500, according to the Post.

Besides health reform, the next HHS secretary will have to manage the growing budgetary problems facing some of the nation's most important health agencies. For instance, years of funding that didn't keep pace with inflation means the National Institutes of Health has lost 14 percent of its buying power, said Dr. Harold Varmus, NIH's former director and a science adviser to Obama's campaign. That has left promising disease research without money to move forward, the AP said.

Daschle has already been chosen to head the Obama transition team on health policy, the Post said.

"Clearly, Daschle getting this appointment means the Obama administration is strongly committed to making health care reform an early and top priority," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the health advocacy group Families USA.


Plastic Pieces Found in Lean Cuisine Chicken Meals

More than a million Lean Cuisine frozen meals are being recalled in the United States after seven customers said they found pieces of hard, bright blue plastic in their chicken meals.

Three varieties of meals are being recalled: Lean Cuisine Pesto Chicken with Bow Tie Pasta, Lean Cuisine Chicken Mediterranean, and Lean Cuisine Chicken Tuscan, the New York Daily News reported.

One consumer suffered a minor injury after a piece of plastic poked the person's gums, said Roz Ahearn, a spokeswoman for Nestle Prepared Foods.

"A tray may have broken and chip-chopped into the product," Ahearn told the Daily News.

For more information about the recall, call (800) 227-6188.


G.E. Wall Ovens Pose Fire Hazard: Report

About 244,000 wall ovens are being recalled by General Electric Co. because the ovens could cause a fire or property damage during the self- clean cycle, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

To date, there have been 28 cases in which kitchen cabinets have been damaged by escaping heat after oven doors were removed and improperly reattached by installers or consumers. There have been no reports of injuries, Bloomberg news said.

The recall covers GE, GE Profile, Monogram and Kenmore wall ovens sold from October 2002 to December 2004 for between $900 and $3,600. The CPSC advises consumers to inspect the oven door, which won't open into the flat position if it's not properly attached, Bloomberg said.

If there's a problem with the door, consumers should not use the self- clean cycle until a free repair has been completed. The ovens can still be used for normal baking or broiling. For more information, phone GE at (888) 569-1588.


Protein Linked to Breast Cancer Metastasis

Reducing production of a protein called palladin limits the ability of breast cancer cells to spread, according to U.S. researchers who also found that levels of palladin were higher in four invasive breast cancer cell lines than in four non-invasive cell lines.

The findings from laboratory tests suggest that palladin plays a crucial role in the spread of cancer cells from breast tumors to other areas of the body, United Press International reported.

Most breast cancer patients wouldn't die if cancer cells couldn't make their way from the breast tumor to the brain and bone marrow, said researcher Carol Otey, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

The study was published in the journal Oncogene.


Nearly Half of Primary-Care Docs Dissatisfied: Survey

A new U.S. survey found that 49 percent of 11,950 primary care physicians said they want to stop practicing or reduce their patient loads during the next three years due to frustration caused by having to deal with non-clinical paperwork, difficulties being reimbursed by insurance companies, and too many government regulations.

"Tens of thousands of primary care doctors face the same problems as millions of ordinary citizens: frustrations in dealing with HMOs and government red tape," said Sandra Johnson, a board member of the Physicians' Foundation, which released the survey, United Press International reported.

"The thing we heard over and over again from the physicians was that they're unhappy they can't spend more time with their patients, which is why they went into primary care in the first place," Johnson said in a news release.

The survey also found that 78 percent of respondents believe there's an existing shortage of primary care doctors in the United States, UPI reported.