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Health Highlights: Dec. 15 2009

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

Coalition Opposes Kidney Transplant Drug Payment

A coalition that includes the National Kidney Foundation opposes a Congressional proposal to help pay for the anti-rejection drugs that kidney transplant recipients need because it would reduce government reimbursements for kidney dialysis patients.

Under the proposal, Medicare would extend coverage of immunosuppressant drugs beyond the current limit of 36 months after a kidney transplant. In order to pay for the extra drug coverage, the formula used to reimburse kidney dialysis patients would change, The New York Times reported.

In a letter to senators, the Kidney Care Partners coalition said "the kidney care community strongly objects" to the proposed changes. Along with the National Kidney Foundation, the coalition includes dialysis providers, drug companies and nephrologists.

The proposal has created a split between those involved in dialysis and those involved in transplants, The Times reported. The American Society of Transplantation supports the provision.


Strangulation Risk Prompts Recall of Shades and Blinds

All 50 million Roman shades and roll-up blinds in U.S. homes with small children need to be repaired in order to prevent the risk of strangulation, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Since 2001, the agency has received reports of eight children who died and another 16 who nearly strangled in window covering cords, NBC News and reported.

"Parents need to understand that these are hidden dangers, that a child can get entangled or strangled on these cords very quickly," said CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum.

Consumers with small children should remove these blinds and contact the Window Covering Safety Council (800-506-4636) to receive a free repair kit to make the window coverings safe.


BPA Affects Intestines: Study

A chemical used in baby bottles, plastic containers and food and beverage cans affects the functioning of the intestines, say French researchers.

In tests on rats and human intestine cells, the scientists found that bisphenol A (BPA) lowered the permeability of the intestines and the immune system's response to digestive inflammation, Agence France Presse reported.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings show "the very high sensitivity on the intestine of Bisphenol A and opens new avenues for research," including reassessing acceptable levels of the chemical for humans, said the researchers at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Toulouse, AFP reported.

Earlier this year, six major U.S. baby bottle makers said they would stop using BPA.


Americans May Live Longer Than Government Thinks

Thanks to biomedical advances, the average American lifespan in 2050 will be longer than the U.S. government now predicts, says a team of researchers.

The average American will live three to eight years longer than the U.S. Social Security Administration and Census Bureau anticipate, said members of the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society in a report released Monday, according to ABC News.

Those few years could have a huge implication on U.S. society, they said. "The economic implications for the U.S. economy are huge. We estimated we would be spending $3.2 to $8.3 trillion more in today's dollars than currently projected," said S. Jay Olshansky, professor in the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the report released in The Milbank Quarterly.

According to the group's estimates, women would reach 89 to 94 on average instead of the government's estimate of 83 to 85 years, ABC said. Men would live to 83 to 86 instead of the 80 years average predicted by the government.

Traditionally, the government's lifespan projections were relatively accurate. But Olshansky's group contends that the government failed to take into account advances in medicine, including gene therapy, that could lengthen lifespans.

"The government is anticipating that the rate of improvement in life expectancy will decelerate," said Olshansky. "We suggest the opposite." And to minimize the burdens that an aging society will place on the young, he said "the time to plan for this is now."

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Posted: December 2009