Health Highlights: Sept. 21, 201009/21/10
Here are some of the latest health and medical news
developments, compiled by the editors of
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
"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.
Being Obese Is Expensive: Study
The annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for a woman and $2,646
for a man, while the cost of being overweight is $524 for a woman
and $432 for a man, a George Washington University study released
The totals include medical bills, lost wages and productivity
and even the need for extra gasoline, the
Associated Press reported.
One reason why being obese and overweight may be more costly for
women is because larger women earn less than skinnier women, while
men's wages aren't affected by their weight, said study co-author
and health policy professor Christine Ferguson.
When she and her colleagues also factored in lost years of life
associated with being too heavy, the annual cost of obesity
increased to $8,365 for women and $6,518 for men, the
The study was funded by a company that makes gastric banding, a
type of weight-loss surgery.
Many Teens Discount Dangers of Texting While Driving: Survey
Many American teens consider texting while driving to be less
dangerous than drinking and driving, even though research shows the
two can be equally serious, a survey released Monday found.
The poll of 697 teens aged 14 to 17 found that only 36 percent
strongly agreed that they could be killed if they regularly text
and drive, compared with 55 percent who believed the same thing
about drinking and driving.
The survey also found that 63 percent of the teens strongly
agreed they could get into an accident if they text and drive,
compared with 78 percent who believed the same thing about drinking
Teens who said they never text and drive were more likely than
those who admitted to texting while driving to strongly agree they
could get into an accident if they text and drive -- 73 percent vs.
"Some teens still think the consequences of reaching for a cell phone are less severe than reaching for a beer bottle," Laurette Stiles, vice president of strategic resources at State Farm, said in a news release. "We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to helping teens understand that texting while driving can be every bit as dangerous as drinking while driving. It's an awareness gap that must be addressed."
The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive for State Farm,
an insurance company.
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