Health Highlights: Dec. 9, 2009

HealthDay SHARE
  • Senators Reach Deal on Health Bill Roadblock
  • Antipsychotic Drugs May Carry Weight Gain Warning: FDA
  • WHO Urges Stronger Action Against Smoking
  • FDA Lags on Recommended Drug Safety Changes: GAO
  • Medicare Covers HIV Screening
  • FDA Launches Widget for Pet Health

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Senators Reach Deal on Health Bill Roadblock

A group of Democratic senators has reached a "broad agreement" to resolve an impasse over a proposed government-run health insurance plan, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.

The dispute over a government-run plan has been seen as a major threat to passage of health care reform legislation, which has been on the Senate floor for nine days, The New York Times reported.

The tentative agreement would allow people ages 55 to 64 to "buy in" to Medicare, and a federal agency would negotiate with insurers to offer national health benefit plans similar to those offered to federal employees, The Times reported.

If private plans don't meet specified targets for making affordable coverage available to all Americans, the federal government would offer a new public insurance plan, said Senate Democratic aides.

The Obama administration welcomed the Senate announcement. "Senators are making great progress, and were pleased that theyre working together to find common ground, said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, The Times reported.

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Antipsychotic Drugs May Carry Weight Gain Warning: FDA

Antipsychotic drugs may have to carry warnings about weight gain and diabetes, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drugs' labels currently include information about weight gain and associated problems, but the FDA is considering requiring that information be included in the warnings section.

The agency has asked manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs for all the information they have about metabolic side effects, such as increases in blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The drugs that may be affected by the label change include Seroquel, Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal and Geodon. These drugs are used to treat conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Studies have suggested that the weight gain impact of antipsychotic drugs is stronger in children than in adults, Dow Jones reported.

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WHO Urges Stronger Action Against Smoking

Each year, smoking kills at least 5 million people worldwide, and that death toll could rise if nations don't do more to fight smoking, says the World Health Organization.

"People need more than to be told that tobacco is bad for human health. They need their governments to implement the WHO Framework Convention," said Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative, the Associated Press reported.

In a tobacco use and control report released Wednesday, the WHO noted that nearly 95 percent of people in the world aren't protected by laws that ban smoking. And less than 10 percent of people are covered by any of six anti-smoking strategies introduced last year by the WHO.

The strategies include protecting people from smoke, raising taxes on tobacco products and enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, the AP reported.

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FDA Lags on Recommended Drug Safety Changes: GAO

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't followed through on changes suggested in 2006 to help improve drug safety, say Government Accountability Office investigators.

The recommendations were made after the pain drug Vioxx was pulled from the market because of links to heart attack and stroke, the Associated Press reported.

While the FDA has made some changes to drug safety oversight, most of the decision-making powers remain with agency scientists who approve new drugs, rather than those who track the side effects of drugs on the market, the GAO said.

"It is not yet clear if or when FDA's decision-making process will be substantially improved as a result of its efforts," said the GAO report obtained by the AP.