Troubled Launch of 'Obamacare' Tops Health News for 201301/02/14
FRIDAY, Dec. 27, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- As 2013 nears to a
close, the year's top health news story -- the fumbled debut of the
Affordable Care Act, often dubbed Obamacare -- continues to grab
The Obama administration had high hopes for its health-care
reform package, but technical glitches on the federal government's
HealthCare.gov portal put the brakes on all that. Out of the
millions of uninsured who stood to benefit from wider access to
health insurance coverage, just six were able to sign up for such
benefits on the day of the website's Oct. 1 launch, according to a
government memo obtained by the
Those numbers didn't rise much higher until far into November,
when technical crews went to work on the troubled site, often
shutting it down for hours for repairs. Republicans opposed to the
Affordable Care Act pounced on the debacle, and a month after the
launch Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius told
Americans, "You deserve better, I apologize."
Also apologizing was President Barack Obama, who in November
said he was "sorry" to hear that some Americans were being dropped
from their health plans due to the advent of reforms -- even though
he had repeatedly promised that this would not happen.
However, by year's end the situation began to look a bit rosier
for backers of health-care reform. By Dec. 11, Health and Human
Services announced that nearly 365,000 consumers had successfully
selected a health plan through the federal- and state-run online
"exchanges," although that number was still far below initial
And a report issued the same day found that one new tenet of the
reform package -- allowing young adults under 26 to be covered by
their parents' plans -- has led to a significant jump in coverage
for people in that age group.
Another story dominating health news headlines in the first half
of the year was the announcement by film star Angelina Jolie in May
that she carried the BRCA breast cancer gene mutation and had opted
for a double mastectomy to lessen her cancer risk. In an op-ed
The New York Times, Jolie said her mother's early death from
BRCA-linked ovarian cancer had played a big role in her
The article immediately sparked discussion on the BRCA
mutations, whether or not women should be tested for these
anomalies, and whether preventive mastectomy was warranted if they
tested positive. A
Harris Interactive/HealthDaypoll conducted in August found
that, following Jolie's announcement, 5 percent of respondents --
equivalent to about 6 million U.S. women -- said they would now
seek medical advice on the issue.
Americans also struggled with the psychological impact of two
acts of horrific violence -- the December 2012 Newtown, Conn.,
school massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead and the
bombing of the Boston marathon in April of this year. Both
tragedies left deep wounds on the hearts and minds of people at the
scenes, as well as the tens of millions of Americans who watched
the carnage through the media.
Indeed, a study released in December suggested that people who
had spent hours each day tracking coverage of the Boston bombing
had stress levels that were often higher than some people actually
on the scene.
Major changes to the way doctors are advised to care for
patients' hearts also spurred controversy in 2013. In November, a
panel from the American Heart Association and the American College
of Cardiology issued guidelines that could greatly expand the
number of Americans taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
One month later, an independent panel of experts issued its own
recommendations on the control of high blood pressure -- guidelines
that might shrink the number of people who take blood pressure
drugs. Both recommendations ignited controversy as to their
validity, and debate on these issues is likely to continue, experts
Contraception is another medical issue that's no stranger to
controversy. In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sparked
both applause and outrage when it moved the Plan B "morning after"
pill to over-the-counter status, with no age restrictions in place.
The move came after protracted legal battles, led by the Obama
administration, to prevent such access.
Other stories making headlines in 2013 included:
- Higher numbers of children diagnosed and treated for ADHD. One in every 10 U.S. children is now diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in November, although the agency also said the years-long rise in cases has begun to slow. And while some experts say better diagnosis of ADHD is long overdue, many Americans worry that children are being "overmedicated" for psychological issues.
- The ongoing epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse.Early
in 2013, a federal government report found that abuse of
prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin now trails
only marijuana use as a form of drug abuse, and 22 million
Americans have abused a prescription painkiller since 2002.
Reacting to the crisis, the FDA in October announced tighter
restrictions on Vicodin and painkillers like it.
- Pro football and head injuries.The 2012 suicide of retired
National Football League star linebacker Junior Seau, followed by
the 2013 death of former Michigan college quarterback Cullen
Finnerty -- both of whom had suffered concussion-linked brain
damage -- helped spark a national debate on the dangers of head
injury in amateur and professional sports. By year's end, the NFL
announced that it was partnering with the U.S. National Institutes
of Health on a major study into the long-term effects of repeat
head injuries and better concussion diagnosis.
- CDC anti-smoking campaign beat expectations.Perhaps one of
the most positive health stories of the year was the success of the
CDC's hard-hitting "Tips From Former Smokers" ad campaign. The ads
often focused on the difficulties in breathing or managing everyday
tasks faced by people ravaged by smoking-induced disease. CDC
officials said the campaign spurred a 75 percent jump in calls to a
stop-smoking hotline and a 38-fold rise in visits to the campaign's
- A new focus on "friendly" tummy bugs.A number of
high-profile studies were published in 2013 highlighting the role
of "helpful" microbes living in the trillions in the human
digestive tract. New research is suggesting that the human-microbe
relationship may have a big impact on conditions ranging from
infant colic to obesity. Successful "fecal transplants" were also
described, which allow patients sickened by dangerous gut bugs to
import disease-fighting microbial communities from healthy
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