The federal government is posting what it pays for certain medical procedures on the Internet in an attempt to help consumers.
Part of the Bush administration's plan to deal with rises in health-care costs and the number of people without health insurance is to educate the public on what it should be paying for health care and how to find quality care.
As part of that plan, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has just started posting at www.cms.gov the county-by-county Medicare price for 30 common medical procedures.
In addition, it's posting the number of procedures done by individual hospitals, so people can seek out hospitals with the most experience. — Joanne Silberner
AIDS Treatments Dramatically Boost Survival Rates
June 1, 2006 — A new analysis finds that AIDS treatments have added millions of years to the lives of Americans infected with HIV. The benefit is greater than for many other chronic diseases.
It's been 10 years since triple-drug "cocktails" transformed AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and other centers have added up the benefits from AIDS treatments. Their results are published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
In 1989 AIDS patients could expect a few months of added life from treating infections associated with AIDS. Survival improved dramatically with triple-drug therapy, to a current average of nearly 15 years after diagnosis.
The researchers say AIDS treatments account for nearly 3 million extra years of life. That number may be greater, as hundreds of thousands of Americans with HIV don't know they're infected and a third of those who do know aren't in treatment. — Richard Knox
Study: HIV Origins Traced to West African Chimps
May 26, 2006 — Scientists report they've been able to pinpoint the origins of the AIDS virus in the forests of southeastern Cameroon in West Africa.
Evidence has pointed to chimpanzee viruses as the ancestors of HIV-1. But nobody had found the ancestral virus in chimps living in the wild.
An online report in the journal Science provides that missing link. By analyzing viruses found in chimp droppings, researchers have traced the origin of HIV-1 to chimp communities in southeastern Cameroon.
Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama led the effort.
"We were able to zero in, if you will, on the forest areas and chimpanzee communities that must have given rise to HIV groups M and N," said Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama.
Group M is the virus that has spread around the world. Group N has been found in only 12 people. — Richard Knox
Senior FDA Officials Left Out of 'Morning After' Pill Decision
May 25, 2006 — Top officials of the Food and Drug Administration say their input was not included in last year's decision to indefinitely delay over-the-counter sales of the so-called "morning after" birth control pill.
The news comes in court depositions from senior FDA officials Janet Woodcock and Steven Galson. The Center for Reproductive Rights, which released the transcripts, sued the FDA following last August's announcement by then-FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford that the decision about the drug, known as Plan B, would be put back out for public comment.
The lawsuit claims the decision was based on politics rather than science.
Galson said he wrote a memo supporting a compromise under which the drug would be available to women 16 and older without a prescription, and to those younger only with a doctor's consent. Early in 2005 Galson testified he was told by Crawford that the commissioner himself would make the decision. — Julie Rovner
WHO Reports Person-to-Person Bird Flu Transmission
May 24, 2006 — The World Health Organization is worried about the first evidence from Indonesia that the H5N1 bird flu virus has passed from human-to-human-to-human. But the WHO is not raising the level of pandemic alert.
Seven members of an Indonesian family have died of Asian bird flu. The WHO's says a vegetable vendor passed the virus to her 10-year-old nephew, among others. The nephew apparently infected his father. This sort of repeated jump of the virus among humans has never been documented before.
The agency considered putting the world on a higher alert for a possible flu pandemic. But WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng says that's now on hold.
Analysis of the virus from this family shows no mutations signaling greater transmissibility from person-to-person. — Richard Knox
Study: Low-Income Teens Gaining Weight Faster
May 23, 2006 — The number of overweight teenagers has more than doubled over the past three decades. But low-income teenagers are gaining weight faster than their higher-income counterparts, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University examined national statistics, looking at weight, diet, exercise and family income. Teenagers between 15 and 17 who lived in households classified as low income by the federal government were 50 percent more likely to be overweight than children living in higher-income households.
Comparing diet and exercise, researchers said low-income kids exercised less, drank more soda, and more often skipped breakfast, which likely resulted in eating more high-calorie snacks during the day. Health experts say it's harder for low-income kids to exercise and eat well because neighborhoods can be dangerous, and markets are poorly stocked with fruits, vegetables and low-calories foods. — Patricia Neighmond
Poor Physical Condition May Increase Alzheimer's Risk
May 22, 2006 — Older people who are in poor physical shape may be at a greater risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers expected that the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer's would be mild forgetfulness or confusion, so they were surprised to first spot problems with walking and balance.
Researchers followed more than 2,000 older people in the Seattle area. Over six years, they watched to see who developed dementia and Alzheimer's.
"We use to say as a kind of truism of aging health advice, 'Use it or lose it,'" says Dr. Eric Larson, with the Group Health Center for Health Studies. "Now I think we can say, 'Use it even after you start to lose it.'"
Larson said the study adds to other research that suggests moderate, daily exercise, like 15 to 30 minutes of walking, can delay the progression of dementia, even after it's already started to develop. — Joseph Shapiro