Health Highlights: July 15, 2008

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

Bush Vetoes Bill to Reverse Medicare Cuts to Doctors

President Bush has vetoed legislation that would have restored a 10.6 percent cut in payments made to doctors for treating Medicare patients, the Associated Press reported Tuesday afternoon.

While the White House said it supported restoration of the cut, Bush said he vetoed the legislation because it made up the resulting shortfall by reducing reimbursements to private insurers who participate in a program called Medicare Advantage.

The original cut to doctors, which took effect July 1, had been required by law because Medicare spending exceeded budgetary limits. The Bush Administration has ordered a one-month freeze on processing Medicare payments in hopes that a compromise could be reached.

In restoring the cut to doctors, the legislation would have frozen rates to the private insurers in 2008 and increased them by 1.1 percent next year, the AP said.

"I support the primary objective of this legislation, to forestall reductions in physician payments," the wire service quoted Bush as saying in a statement. "Yet taking choices away from seniors to pay physicians is wrong."

News reports say House and Senate supporters of the vetoed legislation believe they have enough votes to override Bush's action, which had been expected.

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Recalled 'Lean Pockets' Sandwiches May Contain Plastic Pieces

Nestle is recalling 199,417 pounds of "Lean Pockets" frozen stuffed chicken sandwiches that may contain pieces of plastic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The recall involves 9-ounce boxes of "Lean Pockets Spinach Artichoke Chicken - 2 sandwiches." Affected packages have a "best before" date of "Nov 2009," followed by a package code starting with "8144 544616." The establishment number "P7721A" is printed on the side of the package.

The sandwiches were produced May 23 and distributed to retailers nationwide.

recalled sandwiches

Two unspecified injuries have been reported to the company, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said on its Web site.

Consumers with questions should contact Nestle at 800-350-5016.

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Drug Thwarts Bone Loss in Prostate Cancer Patients: Study

Amgen's experimental bone-loss drug denosumab increased bone density and prevented fractures among clinical trial participants being treated for prostate cancer, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing company research.

The injected drug was evaluated among 1,400 men who were being treated with prostate cancer therapy that blocks male hormones including testosterone, increasing their risk for weakened bones and fractures. Those who took denosumab fractured vertebrae at less than half the rate of those who took a placebo, the newspaper said.

The drug works by blocking certain immune system defenses, which could increase users' risk of infection. Serious infections were reported among 6 percent of denosumab users, versus 5 percent of those who took a placebo.

An estimated 186,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, the American Cancer Society predicts. And according to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all men with the disease are treated at some point with hormone therapy, the newspaper said.

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Auditors Getting a Portion of Medicare Payments Recovered

Private auditing firms have gotten back more than $690 million in overcharges paid by Medicare, and under a new program that's irking health care "providers," the companies that identify the overpayments are getting a portion of the monies they recover, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The program has identified about $1.03 billion in "improper" payments over three years, mostly in New York, California and Florida, the newspaper said. About $992.7 million was in overpayments.

Industry groups representing the providers, mostly hospitals, call the new program an overaggressive "bounty hunter" arrangement. Nonetheless, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) said it is planning to expand the program nationwide, the Journal reported.

Just over $187 million has been paid to the auditors, and some $60 million more was reclaimed by providers who successfully challenged the auditors' findings. That left about $694 million that has been returned to Medicare, the newspaper said.

The CMMS said the auditors don't get paid if their findings are successfully appealed, and they are paid using the same formulas whether they identify Medicare overpayments or underpayments.

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Illinois Governor: Insurers Should Pay for Autism

Insurers in Illinois should be required to absorb the skyrocketing costs of diagnosing and treating autism, Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed Sunday.

Under the proposal, insurance companies would be bound to pay up to $36,000 annually and cover an unlimited number of medical visits for autistic children until they turned age 21, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Some states set a higher monetary limit, but the Illinois proposal would amount to the most comprehensive guarantee for autistic children in the United States, Mike McRaith, insurance director of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, told the newspaper.

Some 26,000 state residents have been diagnosed with the mysterious neurologic disorder, he said. Currently, only people with policies from large-group insurers are covered in the state, the Sun-Times said.

Blagojevich made his proposal under his power to rewrite legislation. The proposal would become law if three-fifths of the state House and Senate support it, according to the newspaper.

Posted: July 2008


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