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Health Highlights: May 13, 2009

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

Medicare Says It Won't Pay for Virtual Colonoscopies

Medicare says it won't pay for the procedure called virtual colonoscopy, citing what it calls a lack of evidence that the less invasive method can rid a patient of precancerous growths as well as regular colonoscopy can, the Associated Press reports.

In a memo posted on its Web site, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that the test does not qualify for Medicare coverage and noted that the procedure is performed on people without symptoms. Medicare does cover regular colonoscopies, wherein a small video camera inside a slender tube is snaked through the intestines to identify polyps and remove them if necessary.

CT colonography, or virtual colonoscopy, is an enhanced X-ray of the colon that is quicker, cheaper and easier on the patient, but involves radiation, the AP reported. Both procedures still involve drinking a liquid preparation to clean out the bowels.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided last fall not to approve virtual colonoscopies because of the risk of radiation to patients, among other factors. Medicare said in its posting that it took that decision into account in reaching its decision. Some private insurers cover the virtual procedure, but others don't, according to the AP. Colonoscopies can cost up to $3,000, while the virtual procedure can range from $300 to $800, the wire service reported.


Recession Hastens Social Security, Medicare Insolvency: Report

The economic recession and resulting huge job losses are bringing great pressure to bear on Social Security and Medicare funds, reducing revenues far below previous projections, U.S. officials are warning.

They project that Social Security will run out of funds in 2037, four years earlier than last year's estimate, and that Medicare will be insolvent in 2017, two years earlier than last year's estimate and just eight years out, United Press International reported. To head off a funding shortfall, the Obama administration has proposed raising payroll taxes 2 percentage points to 14.4 percent or reducing benefits by 13 percent, or some combination of both ideas.

None of the options appears palatable, however, since raising payroll taxes would be unpopular and break a key pledge Obama made during his election campaign, the officials said. Additionally, Social Security trustees said a cut in benefits is unlikely to pass because of backlash from politically powerful groups such as AARP, UPI reported.


Kids' Face Paint Product May Be Contaminated, FDA Warns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found "significant microbial contamination" in a brand of water-based face paints used by children, and has warned consumers to stop using the products, United Press International reports.

The cosmetic paints -- manufactured by a Shanghai company and distributed across the United States -- are being recalled by Fun Express Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oriental Trading Co., because of skin reactions in children who used the products, UPI reported.

"The FDA has learned of a cluster of adverse events in children exposed to various colors of the face paint," the FDA said in a statement. "All exposures occurred on the same day at an organized event and included rashes, itchiness, burning sensation and swelling where the face paints were applied. Significant microbial contamination was indicated in most of the products in testing by a FDA laboratory."

The FDA is asking consumers to report adverse events from the paints to state and local health officials, or by calling the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

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Posted: May 2009