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Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2009

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

Agency: Medicare Change Should Mean Lower Drug Costs

A change that begins next year in Medicare's Part D regulations should translate to lower costs for Medicare participants at the pharmacy counter, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a news release.

The change, effective Jan. 1, 2010, revises the way pharmacies report negotiated drug prices under Part D. It distinguishes between administrative costs and the actual price of a drug paid to a pharmacy by a pharmacy benefit manager. This change should create a uniform standard of drug costs for all Part D sponsors and result in lower negotiated prices for drugs, the agency said.

The rule also allows the agency to impose a penalty of up to $25,000 for each Medicare enrollee who has been adversely affected when the agency determines that a Part D contract has been violated.

The rule change will be of particular help to beneficiaries with high drug costs, since it should slow the beneficiaries' movement toward Medicare's drug coverage limits, the agency said.


56 Substances That Interact With E.D. Drugs Listed

Certain anti-angina drugs, blood pressure medicines, grapefruit juice and the herbal supplement St. John's wort are among the substances that could negatively interact with popular erectile dysfunction (E.D.) drugs, the consumer group Public Citizen said Monday in releasing a list of 56 such substances.

The substances were analyzed when taken with the E.D. drugs Viagra, Cialis or Levitra, Public Citizen said in a news release. The substances are capable of causing either:

  • A life-threatening drop in blood pressure,
  • An overdose of the E.D. drugs because the other substances prevent the body from ridding itself of the E.D. drugs,
  • Or reducing the effectiveness of the E.D. drugs by speeding up the body's metabolism.

E.D. drugs cause the blood vessels to dilate, and this process can be magnified when taken with blood pressure medicines such as Flomax or Cardura. Men who take hypertension medicines should avoid the E.D. drugs, the consumer group said.

The complete list of substances is available at Public Citizen's Web site.


Health Clubs Roll Out Welcome Mats

Gym memberships in the United States were down 3 percent in 2007, due to the sagging economy, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the good news -- it's getting cheaper to keep New Year's resolutions to get into shape.

The economic downturn has would-be exercisers cutting back on extra costs, fitness centers, health clubs and gyms across the country. So the facilities are offering an array of reduced-price deals for new, current and former members looking to tone up, the newspaper reported.

Bally Total Fitness, for example, is offering a free guest pass for two weeks, while Gold's Gym is offering free enrollment. The Times said that even specialty outfit L.A. Boxing is trying to punch-in new members with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Joe Moore, chief executive of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a fitness trade group that represents more than 9,100 for-profit health and fitness facilities in 78 countries, told the newspaper that consumers should ask managers at independent gyms about cost-cutting promotions and savings.


MRI Appears to Verify Everlasting Love

Cynics have long disputed the notion of everlasting love. But medical technology may prove them wrong, Britain's Sunday Times reported.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York state scanned the brains of couples who had been together for 20 years. About one in 10 of these couples, when shown pictures of their loved ones, had the same chemical reactions in the brain as newlyweds.

Prior studies had shown that the intense "limerence" felt by new couples was virtually gone after a decade, the newspaper said.

The new study found that true love is born in the brain's "reward-seeking circuitry," not in the heart, as lore would have it. The scientists found that so-called "swans" who maintained an intensive love after two decades together tended to avoid anxiety and stress, shared most experiences, and had other common traits, including being generous, calm and deeply attached.

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Posted: January 2009