Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2010

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

Expect Health Insurance Rate Increases, HHS Warns

Large health insurance premium increases are likely to be common in coming years, warns a U.S. Health and Human Services Department report released Thursday.

“Across the country, families have seen their premiums skyrocket in recent years, and experts predict these increases will continue,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a news conference Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

In California, about 700,000 households face premium increases averaging 25%, with some as high as 39%. These increases are in line with those sought by insurers in other states, according to the HHS.

The Obama administration is highlighting the rate increases in many states as it seeks to revive stalled efforts to reform health care, the AP reported.


Maalox Product Confusion Could Cause Harm: FDA

Consumers who mistakenly use Maalox Total Relief instead of other Maalox products could suffer serious side effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Maalox Total Relief is meant to treat stomach upset and diarrhea. It contains different active ingredients than traditional Maalox liquid products Maalox Advanced Regular Strength and Maalox Advanced Maximum Strength, which are antacids, the FDA said.

All the over-the-counter products are made by Novartis Consumer Health Inc.

“Maalox Total Reliefs active ingredient (bismuth subsalicylate) is chemically related to aspirin and may cause similar harmful side effects such as bleeding. As such, Maalox Total Relief is not appropriate for individuals with a history of gastrointestinal ulcer disease or a bleeding disorder. Maalox Total Relief also should not be taken by children and teens if they are recovering from a viral infection, nor by individuals who are taking certain medications including: oral antidiabetic drugs (OADs), anticoagulation (thinning the blood) drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and other anti-inflammatory drugs,” the FDA said in a news release.

Novartis has agreed to change the name of Maalox Total Relief to one that doesn’t include the word Maalox. The company also plans to change the product’s packaging.


FDA May Tighten Rules for Medical Devices

More stringent safety regulations for medical devices are being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will get input from manufacturers, doctors and consumer advocates at a meeting Thursday.

If device approval rules are tightened, experts say it could mean more time and money for companies looking to market devices such as pacemakers, heart valves, drug pumps and hip replacements, the Associated Press reported.

An internal FDA panel has been created to review and suggest improvements to the medical device approval process. Last year, the FDA asked the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine to prepare a report, which is expected in March 2011.

A report from the institute, which advises the federal government on medical issues, is a common prerequisite to drafting new regulations, the AP reported.


Gardasil Effective for Older Women, Gay Men: Merck Studies

About 89% of women ages 24 to 45 who received the Gardasil vaccine were protected from cervical cancer, according to a new study. Another study found that about 77% of homosexual men ages 16 to 26 who received the vaccine were protected from anal cancer.

The studies, released Wednesday, were funded by vaccine maker Merck & Co.

The findings will be used by Merck as it seeks U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to market Gardasil for preventing cervical cancer and genital warts in women up to age 45 and for preventing anal cancer, the Associated Press reported.

Gardasil is designed to protect against strains of the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) that can cause genital warts, cervical cancer and anal cancer.

Currently, the vaccine is approved in the United States for prevention of genital warts and cervical cancer in females ages 9 to 26 and for prevention of genital warts in males ages 9 to 26, the AP reported.


Clinton Cites Lack of Sleep As Factor in Heart Problem

Former President Bill Clinton put some of the blame for the heart trouble that led to his hospitalization last Thursday on a lack of sleep while working to help Haitian earthquake victims.

According to the Associated Press, Clinton said that while he doesn’t intend to work any less hard, he does hope to try and manage stress better.

Clinton, 63, was hospitalized overnight last Thursday after complaining of chest discomfort. Doctors inserted a stent to help unclog a blocked artery, and Clinton went home the following day.

The former president spoke about his health Wednesday at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which aims to improve heart health.


More Than Half of U.S. Hospital Procedures Now Outpatient

Outpatient procedures accounted for nearly 58% of procedures performed at U.S. hospitals in 2007, says a federal government report.

Patients who undergo an outpatient procedure normally require hospital care for less than 24 hours. Outpatient procedures are becoming increasingly common as a result of advances in surgical technology and anesthesia.


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