Health Buzz: Medicare Premiums and Other Health News

Cellphones and brain cancer, chlorinated water turns 100, and Lance Armstrong gets back to biking.

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Time to Start Thinking About 2009 Medicare Plans

Seniors can sign up for new Medicare prescription drug plans starting November 15, but they should be wary of TV and print ads aimed at influencing their choice, Michelle Andrews reports. The Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed ads that ran last year around the open enrollment period and found that insurers didn't always give seniors the plan details they needed to make the best choice. The foundation also found that insurers placed three times as many ads promoting Medicare Advantage (MA) managed-care plans that include drug coverage along with medical benefits as they did standalone drug plans that accompany traditional Medicare. That's not surprising, Andrews reports, since insurers get reimbursed at higher rates for beneficiaries in MA plans than for those in traditional Medicare plans.

Medicare officials announced this week that most Medicare drug premiums will be the same or lower in 2009.

Exploring Whether Cellphone Use Causes Cancer

Scientists gave conflicting testimony before a House subcommittee yesterday on whether cellphone use increases the risk of brain cancer, CNN reports. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and David Carpenter, director of the Institute of Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in New York, cited a study that indicated that those who use cellphones have double the risk of ending up with cancerous brain tumors or acoustic neuromas (tumors that develop on the hearing nerve), according to CNN. However, Robert Hoover, an official at the National Cancer Institute, noted that the study cited by Herberman and Carpenter has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal and therefore has not been sufficiently scrutinized. Hoover said that research into a connection between cancer and cellphone use is inconclusive, so more study is needed.

A study presented in June concluded that too much time using cellphones can affect how well teens sleep.

Water Chlorination's Celebrates Its 100th Birthday

On Sept. 26, 1908, Jersey City, N.J., made public-health history when it became the first American city to chlorinate its drinking water supply. Had other municipalities not followed suit, the nation's drinking water might still be swirling with life-threatening bacterial and viral pathogens, such as cholera and typhoid. After Jersey City added chlorine to its Boonton Reservoir, deaths caused by waterborne disease plunged. The death rate from typhoid fever, for example, fell by more than 92 percent between 1906 and 1926, city records show. "There's no question that chlorinating our drinking water was one the greatest public-health advances our nation has seen," says Joan Brunkard, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In honor of chlorination's 100th birthday, Adam Voiland describes 12 other life-saving innovations that rarely get credit. In March, U.S. News offered tips on how to keep medications out of the water supply.

Why Lance Armstrong Decided to Race Again

At the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative on Wednesday, Lance Armstrong elaborated on a major reason for his plan to come out of retirement and ride in the 2009 Tour de France: raising global awareness about cancer. Armstrong, a survivor of testicular cancer and founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, concluded that returning to cycling in a very public way was the best route to drawing attention to the problem and to convincing people to do something about it, Katherine Hobson reports. Prospects for people with the disease vary widely, depending in part on where they live. In many countries outside Europe and North America, even good pain medicine—let alone treatment for cancer itself—is nearly nonexistent. And in many developing nations, there's stigma attached to being a cancer patient.

Earlier this month, Hobson explained how to train as race day approaches.

—January W. Payne