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Health Highlights: Sept. 22, 2010

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

White House Pushing New Health Care Provisions

Six months after the new health care law took effect, the White House is launching a campaign to win over the many Americans who remain skeptical about it.

The Obama administration is highlighting new reforms that take effect Thursday, the Associated Press reported. They include provisions that prohibit insurers from cancelling coverage for people who become ill, that offer free coverage for preventive care, that also offer coverage under parental policies for young adults until they are 26 and which remove lifetime coverage limits.

The new provisions are being touted by Democrats as a "Patient's Bill of Rights."

"When people better understand the Affordable Care Act, they'll understand, I think, that this isn't something being done to them but is something that's really going to be valuable to them," Obama said Tuesday during a conference call with community and religious leaders, the AP reported.


Small Decrease In Medicare Advantage Premiums Next Year

The average monthly premium for Medicare Advantage plans will drop by 1 percent next year to about $35, Medicare officials said Tuesday.

However, some seniors enrolled in the private plans through Medicare will pay a little less while others will see higher premiums. Advocates encourage beneficiaries to shop around when the open enrollment season starts on Nov. 15, the Associated Press reported.

About 11 million seniors (one-quarter of Medicare beneficiaries) are signed up in Medicare Advantage plans and enrollment will increase by 5 percent in 2011, according to Medicare projections.

Under the new health care law, payment rates to insurers who run the programs are frozen for 2011 and significant reductions in payments will occur in a few years, the AP reported.


Emergency Preparedness Levels Improve: CDC

Significant improvements in public health emergency preparedness and response capabilities have been made by state and local health departments in recent years, says a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, nearly 90 percent of states and localities have the ability to activate and rapidly staff their emergency operations centers for drills, exercises or real incidents.

Among the other findings:

  • Nearly 90 percent of state and local biological laboratories in the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) could be reached 24/7, and 94 percent of the labs passed proficiency tests for detecting biological agents.
  • About 72 percent of LRN chemical laboratories were proficient in core methods for detecting and measuring exposure to chemical agents, and more than half were proficient in other methods considered important for responding to chemical emergencies.

The report also noted a number of key challenges, including adequate funding, infrastructure and training to prepare for outbreaks and other public health emergencies that may occur simultaneously.


Distracted Driving A Major Problem

Tougher laws and increased enforcement are among the measures needed to reduce the number of fatalities caused by drivers who are distracted by cell phones and other devices, U.S. government officials said Tuesday at a summit on distracted driving.

"Every time someone takes their focus off the road -- even if it's just for a moment -- they put their lives and the lives of others in danger," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed in distracted driving crashes.

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia forbid drivers from texting while driving and eight states prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones. But LaHood noted that car makers continue to introduce in-vehicle technology that can distract drivers.

"Features that pull drivers' hands, eyes and attention away from the road are distractions," LaHood said. He plans to meet with car makers to develop new safety guidelines for technology in vehicles, the AP reported.

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Posted: September 2010