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.

    • FDA Investigating 2 Delaware Deaths That May Be Linked to Heparin
    • Obama Praises Health Industry's Offer of Savings
    • Cervarix Induces Stronger Immune Response Than Gardasil: Study
    • Health Insurance Unaffordable for More Than Thought: Study

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.

While it's unclear whether the proposed rate reductions will prove decisive in passing more encompassing health care legislation, the promised savings could accrue to society as a whole, not just the federal government, the AP reported. A key point is that specific federal savings would be needed to help pay for expanding insurance coverage. U.S. costs for a health care overhaul could range from $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, according to the AP, but President Obama has so far only outlined where he would get about half that amount.

"I will not rest until the dream of health care reform is achieved in the United States of America," Obama said in the White House's State Dining Room as he announced the offer, the AP reported. "We can't continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years. Reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait."


Cervarix Induces Stronger Immune Response Than Gardasil: Study

A head-to-head comparison suggests that GlaxoSmithKline PLC's Cervarix vaccine triggers a stronger immune response against the cervical cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV) than Merck & Co.'s Gardasil.

The Glaxo-funded study of 1,100 women, ages 18 to 45, didn't examine which vaccine was more effective at preventing cervical cancer or precancerous lesions, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The findings were presented at a Swedish medical conference that began Friday. Cervarix is on the market in Europe and is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Gardasil is designed to protect women against four HPV types, including those that cause most cases of genital warts, the Wall Street Journal reported. Cervarix targets two HPV types and isn't meant to provide as much protection against genital warts.


Health Insurance Unaffordable for More Than Thought: Study

Most uninsured families who aren't covered by group health insurance through work can't afford to buy health insurance, says a U.S. government study.

Unlike most studies that use income alone to estimate how many Americans can afford health insurance, this study shows that measuring families' median net worth (the value of their savings plus other assets minus debt) provides a more accurate count.

Using national survey data, researchers with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that the median net worth of families who purchased health insurance was $105,819 -- nearly 35 times greater than the median net worth of $3,057 for uninsured families. Median net worth means that half the families had net worth above or below that amount.

In contrast, the median income of families who purchased health insurance was $41,086 -- only 2.3 times greater than the median income of $17,690 for uninsured families.

The study also found that 4.1 percent of families with access to work-based health insurance were poor (family income below 100 percent of the federal poverty line), and 11.1 percent were low income (family income 100 percent to 199 percent of the federal poverty line). Among families without access to employer-based health insurance, 33.8 percent were poor, and 28.4 percent were low income.

"This study has important implications for defining who can afford to pay for health insurance in the next wave of health care reform," AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, said in a news release. "We need accurate, evidence-based findings to ensure that we are providing policymakers with reliable information."