Health Buzz: Flu Vaccines and Other Health News

The cost of health insurance, prospects for mental health parity, and what to know about stroke.

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The Flu and You

This season's flu vaccine is expected to be more effective than last year's, when the vaccine proved to be a poor match for circulating strains of the virus, health officials said yesterday. This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that more Americans than ever before get vaccinated against the flu. Children and adolescents ages 6 months to 18 years old should get the vaccine, as should those with chronic health conditions, those who will probably interact with people who have the flu (like healthcare workers), pregnant women, and adults older than age 50. Those groups represent about 261 million people, HealthDay reports. The new vaccine contains one influenza B strain and two influenza A strains, and there are about 146 million doses available this season. That should meet the demand because many people who should be vaccinated won't follow the recommendation, CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding said during a teleconference yesterday.

Earlier this week, U.S. News's Nancy Shute offered advice on how to decide whether to vaccinate your child against the flu.

Cost of Health Insurance on the Rise

Healthcare insurance premiums rose 5 percent this year, leaving the typical family with a $3,354 tab for coverage, Michelle Andrews reports. Since 1999, premiums have more than doubled while wages rose a modest 34 percent and inflation rose 29 percent, according to an annual survey released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. More workers this year are also facing higher deductibles, thanks in part to an increase in consumer-driven health plans. The survey found that in 2008, 18 percent of workers in employer-sponsored plans have a deductible of at least $1,000, a sharp increase over the 12 percent with a deductible of that size last year.

Andrews previously explained that consumer-driven health plans aren't very popular with consumers.

Mental Health Parity Bill May Be Close to Fruition

Congress may be close to passing a mental health parity bill that has been in the works for 10 years and is designed to eliminate loopholes in federal law that let insurers provide less coverage for mental illness than for physical illness. That can leave families struggling to pay out of pocket for treatments for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other often chronic mental problems. The House and Senate are negotiating over a corporate tax break that is proposed to help offset anticipated costs of the parity bill. The legislation could be approved by the end of the week.

U.S. News's Nancy Shute lists four changes to look for if the bill gets approved. Last year, she reported on the high cost of mental healthcare.

What You Need to Know About Strokes

Stroke afflicts 700,000 people each year, but treatments available are far from ideal. TPA, a clot-busting drug, is the best bet so far, but it doesn't work for everybody. Nancy Shute provides advice on how to prevent a stroke from disabling you—including getting to the hospital fast, knowing how to recognize a stroke, and other tips.

Last week, Shute described how robots are helping people rehabilitate after strokes.

—January W. Payne