Health Highlights: July 8, 2009

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

U.S. Hospitals Agree to Help Defray Health Reform Costs

To help pay for the health-care reform plan put forth by the Obama administration, hospitals across the country have agreed to a cut in Medicare and Medicaid payments, Vice President Joseph Biden announced Wednesday.

Terms of the agreement, which should save an estimated $155 billion in federal spending, include reducing payments for treating uninsured and low-income patients and slowing scheduled increases in Medicare payments, the Associated Press reported.

    • U.S. Hospitals Agree to Help Defray Health Reform Costs
    • Report Contends Lack of Oversight for Bottled Water
    • Wednesday Darkest Day for Suicides: Study
    • U.S. Doctors Complete Largest Kidney Transplant Chain
    • Sperm From Stem Cells Claim Challenged

In return, hospitals would be reimbursed at rates higher than now allowed by Medicare and Medicaid if a public health insurance plan becomes part of the reform legislation, according to the AP.

Although Biden repeated the administration's vow to have health-care reform bills passed by Congress by the end of August and signed into law by October, the legislation remains mired on Capitol Hill. Partisan discussion and debate this week has centered on a proposed tax on certain health insurance benefits provided by employers.

Appearing with the vice president for announcement of the hospital deal were representatives of the American Hospital Association, Hospital Corporation of America, Community Health Systems and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the AP said.


Report Contends Lack of Oversight for Bottled Water

The water in your tap is more rigorously regulated than the bottled water you buy in a store, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report delivered Wednesday to Congress.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee heard that Environmental Protection Agency rules governing tap water are more thorough and require more disclosure than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules that govern bottled water, CBS News reported.

The GAO's John Stephenson said Americans spend more than $11 billion a year on bottled water -- equaling an estimated 200 bottles annually for every "man, woman and child." But the oversight of bottled water is "less stringent" than for tap water. For instance, there are no rules for a potentially dangerous chemical used in plastics, DEHP, that could seep from the bottles, Stephenson said.

Joseph Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, said bottled water is a "safe, healthy convenient food product that is comprehensively regulated." He suggested that consumers who want to know where the water comes from just call the manufacturer.

But Jane Houlihan, of the Environmental Working Group, said that information should be printed on the label. According to CBS News, she said that consumers have a "right to know where their bottled water comes from, how or if it's treated and the pollutants it contains."


Wednesday Darkest Day for Suicides: Study

Forget what you've heard about the Monday morning blues. A new study shows that Americans are most likely to commit suicide on Wednesdays.

A five-year study, published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, found that nearly 25 percent of suicides take place on Wednesdays, followed by Mondays or Saturdays, which were tied with 14 percent, MSNBC reported.

Researchers had typically considered Monday the day of despair. But now they theorize that the Internet's ability to keep people feeling connected over the weekend may be responsible for the shift, making mid-week job stress more of a problem than weekend solitude.

"By Wednesday, the traffic has gotten to be too much, their co-workers are getting on their nerves and they can't figure out how they're going to make it to the end of the week," the report's lead author, Augustine J. Kposowa, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, told MSNBC.

Also, contrary to earlier research that showed more suicides in winter and spring, the new study found almost no seasonal differences -- a change that Kposowa also attributes to technological connectedness. Winter doesn't isolate folks the way it once did, he said.

He and his colleagues studied deaths among people age 18 and older from all 50 states from 2000 through 2004. About 30,000 people in that group took their lives each year on average, they found.


U.S. Doctors Complete Largest Kidney Transplant Chain

In what's believed to be the largest chain of organ donations in history, U.S. doctors at four hospitals in four states completed eight kidney transplants over three weeks.

For this kidney swap, 10 doctors performed 16 surgeries on eight living donors and eight recipients at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, and INTEGRIS Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma, the Associated Press reported.

This type of kidney transplant chain is arranged when a number of people who need transplants have relatives or friends who are willing to donate kidneys but aren't compatible. Each donor in the chain is matched with a compatible recipient they don't know.

The kind of multistate exchange performed in recent weeks could greatly reduce the number of kidney patients waiting for eligible donors, said Dr. Robert Montgomery, chief transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"We hope this creates a movement that encourages other transplant centers to adopt the model we used," he said at a news conference held a few hours after the last transplant was performed Monday night, the AP reported.


Sperm From Stem Cells Claim Challenged

Claims by British scientists that they used a new technique to create human sperm from embryonic stem cells are being challenged by other experts.

The technique would enable researchers to study sperm development and possibly lead to treatments for male infertility, Karim Nayernia, of Newcastle University, said in a statement Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute was also involved in the research.

However, other British scientists are skeptical about the research and note that the sperm cells created in the laboratory were abnormal.