Health Highlights: May 20, 20112011-May-20
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Insurers Told to Justify Rate Hikes Over 10 Percent
The Obama Administration on Thursday told the health insurance industry that insurers must now justify any increases in rates that exceed 10 percent, in an effort to hold back soaring premium rates, The New York Times reported.
In a period where many Americans are putting off care due to faltering finances, insurers are reaping the benefit in higher profits, said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.
"Health insurance companies have recently reported some of their highest profits in years and are holding record reserves," she said. "Insurers are seeing lower medical costs as people put off care and treatment in a recovering economy, but many insurance companies continue to raise their rates. Often, these increases come without any explanation or justification."
The 10 percent threshold was first proposed in December, but the insurance industry criticized it as arbitrary, the Times said. The administration rejected that notion, and on Thursday upheld the 10 percent threshold.
Workers in some states experienced health insurance premium hikes of 20 percent to 40 percent in 2011, the Times said, even as coverage shrinks and deductibles rise.
Federal officials do not have the authority to block rate increases over 10 percent that are found to be unjustified, but many states do have that capability. The administration is therefore providing $250 million in aid to states to help them fight increases deemed to be unreasonable, the Times said.
The new rule has its critics and admirers. "If we believe health care costs are crushing the economy, we ought to have a debate about how to bring costs under control," Karen M. Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, told the Times. "Focusing on premiums diverts attention from that debate."
But a consumer advocate supported the new move. "The days of insurance companies running roughshod over consumers and jacking up rates whenever they want are over," Ethan S. Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, which represents labor unions and civil rights groups, told the Times.
FBI Investigating 'Unabomber' Kaczynski for 1980s Tylenol Deaths
Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called "Unabomber" in prison for life for three killings, said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seeking to procure his DNA to see if he was also behind the rash of tainted-Tylenol killings in 1982, Bloomberg News reported.
Those killings, still unsolved, had Americans on edge as seven people in the Chicago area died and 31 million bottles of the nonprescription painkiller were taken off pharmacy shelves.
Kaczynski's disclosure comes in an effort to block an auction of his belongings, currently ongoing, Bloomberg reported. In one handwritten court document, the 68-year-old former mathematics professor said that the FBI "wanted a sample of my DNA to compare with the partial DNA profiles connected with a 1982 event in which someone put potassium cyanide in Tylenol." According to Kaczynski, "I have never even possessed any potassium cyanide."
FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright declined to comment, Bloomberg said.
Most U.S. Women Have Complications During Pregnancy: Report
More than 9 out of every 10 American women who give birth experience some form of complication, according to a study conducted in 2008 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Overall, 94 percent of women hospitalized for their pregnancy/delivery experienced a complication such as abnormal fetal heart rate, advanced maternal age (over 35 years), anemia, bleeding, diabetes, eclampsia (sudden rise in maternal blood pressure), hypertension, laceration during delivery of the area between vagina and anus, premature labor, urinary infection or vomiting.
Complications seem tied to longer hospital stay: an average of 2.9 days for pregnancies with complications vs. 1.9 days for those without, the AHRQ said in their News and Numbers.
Costs also rose, from an average of $2,600 for pregnancies without complications to $4,100 when health issues arose. Overall, pregnancy/delivery-linked complications totaled $17.4 billion in hospital costs in 2008, the report found.
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