Health Highlights: July 19, 2007

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

U.S. Senate Panel OKs Child Insurance Bill

Despite a threatened veto from President Bush, a Senate committee on Thursday approved a $35 billion child's health insurance bill to be paid for with higher tobacco taxes.

By an overwhelming 17-4, the Senate Finance Committee voted to reauthorize the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Associated Press reported. The program subsidizes insurance for children and some adults who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.

The Senate bill brings total funding for the program to $60 billion over five years, which is double what the Bush administration proposed, the wire service said. Taxes on many tobacco products would rise, including a 61-cent jump on a pack of cigarettes alone.

Senate proponents said the legislation would allow 6.6 million people to maintain current health insurance, and would fund coverage for another 3.2 million children who are now uninsured, the AP said.

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Rx for Confusion: Tamper-Proof Prescription Pads

A small provision slipped into a military funding bill would require that all prescriptions for Medicaid patients be written on tamper-proof pads to thwart forgeries, beginning Oct. 1.

Trouble is, most U.S. doctors don't use such pads, the Associated Press reports. That's got pharmacy groups nationwide asking for a delay in the law's implementation.

Some states require the pads, but usually only for controlled substances that are subject to abuse, the wire service said.

Opponents of the new rule or its speedy start date say it's unclear exactly what qualifies as tamper-proof pads, who is going to pay for them, and what pharmacies are supposed to do when a person shows up with an old-fashioned regular piece of paper.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the wire service that there are no plans to delay the law.

Countered Paul Kelly, vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores: "Our members are absolutely flabbergasted that they're going to be put on the hook for denying prescriptions if something is not on a tamper-proof pad."

"Our biggest fear is the negative impact this could have on patient care and access to prescriptions," he told the AP.

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Easy-Bake Child Ovens Recalled for Injury Hazard

Hasbro is recalling Easy-Bake ovens because children may get their fingers caught in the product, putting them at risk of being burned, CBS News reported Thursday.

About 1 million toy ovens are affected in the second recall of the product in less than a year. Retrofit kits designed to eliminate the hazards, first announced in February, are involved in the new recall, the network said. The affected model number is 65805.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has 249 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught in the oven's opening, including 77 cases of burns, CBS said. One 5-year-old child was so badly burned that her finger was partially amputated.

The product was sold at retailers including Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, Target, KB Toys, and others from May 2006 through July 2007 for about $25. Ovens sold before May 2006 aren't included in the recall.

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FDA Experts Recommend 2nd Neck Disc Approval

An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended approval of a second artificial neck disc, just days after the full agency approved the first such product.

The expert panel voted 7-1 late Wednesday to recommend full FDA approval of Medtronic's Byran disc. Just two days earlier, the full agency sanctioned the same company's Presitge disc for sale in the United States.

Medtronic says its Byran disc is a newer design and more closely resembles a natural spinal disc than its Prestige model, The New York Times reported.

Damage to the discs in the neck, medically referred to as the cervical spine, often requires a surgical procedure called fusion to relieve neck and arm pain. As many as 250,000 of the procedures are performed each year in the United States, the Times said.

The full FDA isn't bound by the decisions of its expert panels, but usually follows them.

Separately, the FDA posted on its Web site a warning letter sent to Medtronic about reporting and monitoring problems at the firm's Minneapolis plant where implantable pain pumps are made, the Times said. Medtronic issued a statement saying it was working with the agency to resolve the issue.

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Intensive Tennis Training Could Injure Young Players: Study

The intensive training often given to young tennis players could wind up damaging their spines, according to research to be published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers at the UK's Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital took MRI scans of 33 players ages 16 to 23 with no symptoms of pain. They found "a variety of spinal abnormalities in the lower back, some of which were irreparable," the journal said in a prepared statement.

The problems included disc degeneration, herniated discs, and spinal fractures, the journal said.

The study authors recommended modifying training techniques to "minimize the risk of progressive musculoskeletal damage."

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Food Makers Pledge to Limit Ads Aimed at Children

Eleven prominent food and drink companies have agreed to limit U.S. advertising aimed at children under 12, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The announcement came just before the start of hearings Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission into whether the growing child obesity problem could be curtailed by more responsible marketing practices, the wire service said.

The food makers included: Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, PepsiCo, McDonald's, Cadbury Adams, the Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co., Unilever, Masterfoods, Kellogg Co., and Kraft Foods, the AP reported.

The self-imposed rules included a pledge by seven of the companies to no longer use characters made popular by television and movies in their ads aimed at children, unless the ads promoted healthier products.

The voluntary commitments also affect advertising in schools and online advertising aimed at youngsters. The rules should be fully implemented by the end of next year, the AP said.

"These companies have taken a laudable step toward promoting healthier products to children and implementing changes in marketing practices that are truly meaningful," Joanne Lupton, President of the American Society for Nutrition, said in a prepared statement.

Posted: July 2007


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