Health Highlights: April 7, 2009

U.S. Sets 2010 Medicare Advantage, Part D Drug Rates Pistachio Recall Expanded China Announces Major Health System Reforms Simultaneous Partial-Face, Double-Hand Transplant a First: Report

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

U.S. Sets 2010 Medicare Advantage, Part D Drug Rates

The national average growth percentage per capita for Medicare Advantage plans will increase 0.8 percent in 2010, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid said Monday.

That's higher than the 0.5 percent increase in preliminary rates announced by the CMS in February, but much lower than the 4.24 percent and 5.71 percent increases this year and in 2008, the Associated Press reported.

The main reason for the large difference is a proposed 21 percent pay cut in physician reimbursement for 2010.

Despite the 0.5 percent increase in the rate used to determine Medicare Advantage reimbursement to insurers, many analysts expect overall payment rates to decline in 2010, the AP reported.

The CMS also announced that next year there will be an average 4.66 percent increase in average per capita Part D Prescription Drug Plan spending that's used to update the deductible, initial coverage limit, and out-of-pocket threshold for defined standard benefits.

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Pistachio Recall Expanded

A nationwide recall of pistachio products from a California plant was significantly expanded Monday after federal and state health officials found salmonella bacteria in "critical areas" of the Setton Pistachio facility. Investigators didn't provide any more details.

The company announced it's now recalling all lots of roasted in-shell pistachios, roasted shelled pistachios and raw shelled pistachios produced from nuts harvested in 2008, the Washington Post reported.

Last week, Setton recalled about 2 million pounds, which represents just a small portion of the 2008 harvest. At the time, it was believed the pistachios may have been contaminated by a sanitation problem that affected only one or two production lines.

Setton is the second-largest pistachio processor in the United States and supplies about 35 wholesalers and food manufacturers that repackage the nuts for retail sale or use them as ingredients in other products, the Post reported. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it could take weeks before there's a complete list of affected products.

To help consumers, the pistachio industry created a Web site that lists products not affected by the recall. The Web site address is www.pistachiorecall.org.

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China Announces Major Health System Reforms

By 2020, all Chinese citizens will be provided with universal health care, the government announced Monday.

Officials said reforms to the current system -- criticized as costly and inadequate -- will provide "safe, effective, convenient and affordable" health services for all 1.3 billion citizens, the Associated Press reported.

Under the new plan, hospitals and clinics in poor rural areas and in less developed cities would be improved, and the price of essential medicines would be capped, said the official Xinhua news agency. In addition, there will be "diversified medical insurance systems" to cover employees in the private sector, unemployed people in cities and those who live in the poor countryside.

Greater attention will also be given to disease prevention and control, maternal health, mental health and first-aid services. There were no details about the cost of the reforms, the AP reported.

Currently, only 30 percent of the population in China is covered, according to the AP. A serious medical condition can deplete a family's life savings, and setting aside money to pay medical fees can significantly reduce domestic spending.

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Simultaneous Partial-Face, Double-Hand Transplant a First: Report

The world's first simultaneous partial-face and double-hand transplant was performed in France over the weekend.

Dozens of doctors worked in teams for 30 hours on a 30-year-old male patient whose burn scars from a 2004 accident prevented him from having any social life, Paris' Public Hospital System said Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The operation was the world's sixth partial-face transplant but the first to include hands as well. It was performed at the Henri Mondor Hospital in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The transplanted organs came from a brain-dead patient.

The first part of the operation involved transplantation of the upper half of the face, including the scalp, forehead, nose, ears and upper and lower eyelids, the AP reported. A new set of hands were then attached above the wrist. All relevant arteries, veins, nerves and tendons were successfully reconnected by the surgeons, the hospital authority said.

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