Health Highlights: March 5, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Retiree Couples Need $225,000 for Health Costs: Report
Another report suggesting that Americans need to set aside a large chunk of cash to cover health costs during retirement was released Wednesday by Boston-based Fidelity Investments.
It concluded that a couple (both partners age 65) retiring this year will need about $225,000 in savings to cover medical costs for the remainder of their lives, the Associated Press reported. That's an increase of 4.7 percent from Fidelity's $215,000 estimate for a couple retiring in 2007.
The Fidelity figure is based on the assumption that workers don't have employer-sponsored retiree health coverage. The figure includes Medicare premium payments, co-payments, and deductibles, as well as out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses.
"With health care costs continuing to outpace wage increases and companies trimming retiree health benefits, financing health care has to be central to retirement planning," Brad Kimler, executive vice president of Fidelity's benefits consulting group, said in a prepared statement, the AP reported.
Last month, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College released a report that estimated a couple retiring this year would need about $206,000 for health care coverage.
Researchers ID Protein That Stimulates Production of Fat Cells
A protein that stimulates production of fat cells has been identified by Swedish researchers, who say the finding may lead to new treatments for obesity, Agence France-Presse reported.
The Karolinska Institute team made the finding in studies of cell cultures and mice and also found that obese people have excessive levels of the TRAP (tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase) protein.
TRAP "stimulates the formation of new fat cells and can thus precipitate the development of obesity," said a statement released by the institute.
Study leader Professor Goeran Andersson said it may be possible to develop new anti-obesity treatments that inhibit the action of TRAP. He also said the protein "is potentially useful in the treatment of conditions involving morbid cachexia (weight loss), such as cancer diseases," AFP reported.
The research was published online Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science.
Tamiflu Gets Stronger Warning Label for Psychiatric Problems
A specific warning of sometimes fatal psychiatric problems in a small number of patients has been added to the label of the prescription influenza drug Tamiflu. Roche, the Swiss company that makes the drug, also said in a letter to doctors that cases of delirium and self-injury have been reported among patients taking the drug, the Associated Press reported.
The letter and the updated labeling were posted Tuesday on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site.
Previously, the Tamiflu label mentioned reports of psychiatric problems among some patients. The new label warning, recommended by FDA advisers at a meeting in November, specifies that these psychiatric troubles sometimes proved to be fatal, the AP reported.
According to the FDA, there have been nearly 600 cases of psychiatric problems reported in people taking Tamiflu. About75 percent of the cases occurred in Japan, where at least five children died after "falling from windows or balconies or running into traffic," the FDA said.
The drug's new label states that "the contribution of Tamiflu to these events has not been established," and it notes that flu -- with or without treatment -- can cause delirium, hallucinations and other behavioral abnormalities.
Drug Prices Increased 7.4 Percent in 2007: AARP Study
The wholesale prices of brand name medicines most commonly prescribed to elderly Americans increased an average of 7.4 percent last year, an increase about 2.5 times greater than general inflation, says a study released Wednesday by the advocacy group AARP.
The study looked at 220 brand name prescription drugs and found that all but four had wholesale price increases in 2007, the Associated Press reported. Among the top 25 medicines, the sleep aid Ambien had the largest price increase (27.7 percent). At the other end of the list were the blood thinner Plavix (0.5 percent increase) and the cholesterol drug Zocor (no increase).
The increase in drug prices in 2007 continues a long-standing trend, said AARP, which noted that price increases have been slightly larger since the Medicare drug benefit took effect Jan. 1, 2006, the AP reported. In the four years before the drug benefit was launched, wholesale drug prices increased between 5.3 percent and 6.6 percent a year, according to AARP figures.
There were loud complaints about high drug prices at the time that Congress approved the Medicare drug benefit, but that outrage has since eased, perhaps because the federal government now pays for much of the cost of Medicare beneficiaries' drugs, the news service said.
"Unfortunately, many manufacturers have taken the absence of an outcry as a green light to go ahead and raise prices even more," said John Rother, AARP's policy director, the AP reported.
Many Americans Have Trouble Paying For Drugs: Survey
Many Americans say that they have trouble paying for drugs or that they skip prescriptions or cut pills because of the costs, according to a survey released Tuesday by USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The national telephone survey of 1,695 found that 40 percent of Americans (and half of those who regularly take at least one medication) reported at least one of three cost-related concerns in their family: 16 percent said they have a "serious" problem paying for prescription drugs; 29 percent said they haven't filled a prescription in the past two years because of the cost; and 23 percent said they've cut pills in half or skipped doses in order to make medications last longer.
These types of issues were most common among people who lack drug coverage (52 percent), have low incomes (54 percent), and those who take at least four drugs regularly (59 percent).
Almost 80 percent of respondents said the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, 70 percent said drug companies are too concerned with profits and not concerned enough about helping people, and 64 percent said there's not enough government regulation of drug prices. Almost 60 percent said insurers should only pay for new drugs if they're proven to be not just safe, but also more effective than existing drugs.
The survey also found that about half of respondents said they take a prescription drug daily, and 20 percent said they take at least four prescription drugs regularly.
Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mixes Recalled
Potential salmonella contamination has prompted the recall of some batches of Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle mixes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.
Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems. In healthy people, salmonella infection can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. No illnesses have been reported in connection with the recalled products, made by the Quaker Oats Co.
The recall includes 2- and 5-pound boxes of pancake and waffle mix with Best Before dates of FEB 08 09 H through FEB 16 09 H stamped on the top, and with the following UPC codes:
- 30000 43272: Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Complete, 5 lb.
- 30000 05040: Aunt Jemima Original, 2 lb.
- 30000 05070: Aunt Jemima Original Complete, 2 lb.
- 30000 05300: Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Compete, 2 lb.
Consumers with these products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, phone Quaker at 1-800-407-2247.
Posted: March 2008
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