Obama Budget Squeezes Medicare—and Wealthier Seniors
President Obama's budget proposal calls for creating a $634 billion fund to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system. Tax increases and Medicare savings would fund the effort, the Wall Street Journal reports. The plan would result in unwelcome changes in the healthcare benefits and costs for some seniors, U.S. News's Michelle Andrews reports. Individuals earning more than $85,000 would reportedly be asked to shell out higher premiums for their Medicare drug coverage starting in 2011, a change that would affect about 2.3 million of the roughly 45 million Medicare enrollees. In addition, the budget proposal would halt the higher payments that the government gives insurers who cover Medicare beneficiaries through private Medicare Advantage plans. That would undoubtedly mean higher premiums and reduced benefits for some of the 10 million or so beneficiaries enrolled in such plans.
Health Officials Push Flu Shots After Deaths of Two Maryland Teens
Health officials are asking people of all ages to get vaccinated against the flu after two Maryland teens died in the past two weeks of flu-related illness, the Washington Post reports. Zachary Weiland, 15, died Sunday while hospitalized in Baltimore, and 13-year-old Ian M. Willis died February 19 while hospitalized in Washington. While there's no reason to believe that this year's flu season is worse than those in years past, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of infections is beginning to creep up. Last year, 78 people under age 18 died from the flu; this year, nine young people have died from the flu as of February 20, not counting the two Maryland teens.
Researchers think that monoclonal antibodies could be used as a treatment for bird flu and seasonal flu and also as the basis for a vaccine against many different flu strains. But that approach is still being studied, so the annual flu vaccine for now remains the best way to stave off the flu. Even though last season's vaccine was an inexact match for the flu strains that caused most of the illness, it is still worth being vaccinated during such years, health officials say; if you do get the flu, the shot may keep you from getting as sick as you would otherwise and may shorten the duration of your illness. If you're a parent, consider U.S. News reporter Deborah Kotz's take on whether flu vaccines are necessary for kids and Nancy Shute's advice on deciding whether to vaccinate your child against the flu.
Can Irradiating Food Zap Salmonella Outbreaks?
The salmonella outbreak involving peanuts products just keeps on going, and federal officials say it could continue another two years, Nancy Shute reports. With at least 666 people in 45 states sick and nine dead, that's not good news. Could irradiating peanuts with X-rays stop the killer bug? That's just one notion that's being tested to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. The new technologies—and some controversial old ones, like food irradiation with gamma rays, a high-energy form of electromagnetic radiation—are gaining increased interest as a result of the salmonella outbreak, which has been traced to plants operated by Peanut Corp. of America in Blakely, Ga., and Plainview, Texas.
This salmonella outbreak may be the scariest one yet because it involves peanut butter and peanut paste that are mixed into hundreds of products on supermarket shelves. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC's Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, told U.S. News why this outbreak is raising such loud alarms. Here's how to reduce your risk of becoming ill. Also, updates on Twitter and Facebook make it possible to track the effects of the salmonella outbreak online.
—January W. Payne
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