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Health Highlights: August 1, 2002

Chemotherapy Overdoses Given to Two Children at Johns Hopkins Prescription Drug Coverage for Elderly a Must, Studies Say White House Patients' Rights Talks Break Down: Report Louisiana Reports First West Nile Death of Year Man Dies of Heart Attack as His Train Rolls On 5 Million U.S. Kids Lack Health Insurance: Study 103-Year-Old Man Asked to Bring Parents to Doctor's Office

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

Chemotherapy Overdoses Given to Two Children at Johns Hopkins

Two children receiving chemotherapy for cancer at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore were given overdoses, and the treatment may have caused deafness in one of them.

The Associated Press reports that state health officials say a 2-1/2-year-old boy who was critically ill received twice the correct dose of the chemotherapy drug carboplatin on three consecutive days two months ago and became deaf.

Experts say hearing loss is a known risk of the medication. The boy received the treatment before undergoing a bone marrow transplant for neuroblastoma, the third-most common cancer in children. State officials say he may be regaining some hearing, but it's not certain how much.

The second child, identified only as a young girl, was also accidentally given an overdose, but the mistake was corrected after just one treatment and she was reportedly not harmed by the dose.

The hospital issued a statement yesterday acknowledging the error and stressing that it has "multiple systems in place" to prevent such mistakes in the future.

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Prescription Drug Coverage for Elderly a Must, Studies Say

As U.S. senators sling blame over their failure this week to pass a prescription drug bill for seniors, two new studies show how sorely such a package is needed, the bill's authors say.

The Senate yesterday rejected a pared-down proposal from Democrats, who control the chamber by a one vote margin, to provide $390 billion in drug coverage to low-income Medicare recipients and those who struggle to pay their medication bills, reports HealthDay.

One study, a survey reported in the journal Health Affairs, found that nearly 25 percent of seniors in eight states said they skipped doses or didn't buy medication last year because it cost too much. The review also found that roughly the same percentage of seniors spent at least $100 a month, or $3,600 in 2001, on prescription drugs.

And a report issued today by the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund found that an expenditure of $350 billion over eight years -- a House bill passed in June sets aside $320 billion over 10 years -- would meet only 23 percent of what seniors are likely to spend on drugs during that period.

"This approach meets almost none of the principles for coverage, and provides inadequate protection for those with high costs and/or low incomes," the authors say.

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White House Patients' Rights Talks Break Down: Report

Come the fall campaigns, Americans can expect to hear a lot of debate over health care issues that have made headlines this week.

In addition to Congress's failure to pass a national Medicare plan, the Associated Press reports that talks between the White House and Senate Democrats over patients' rights legislation have completely broken down.

A leading issue in the talks was patients' rights to sue health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and the amount of damages patients could ask for. Democrats support giving patients more power in filing lawsuits, saying their protection is limited without the ability. But Republicans, who receive large contributions from HMOs, generally favor limitations on damages, arguing that such lawsuits could cause health care costs to further increase.

A bill passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate in June limits punitive damages against HMOs in federal court lawsuits to $5 million. But days later, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill limiting damages to just $1.5 million and further limiting pain and suffering damages for patients to $1.5 million.

Just before the Senate adjourned for its August break last night, Democrats made a last minute effort to appoint negotiators to help work out a compromise, reports the AP. But Republicans blocked the move, saying more time was needed to consult on the issues.

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Louisiana Reports First West Nile Death of Year

In the nation's first reported death from West Nile virus this year, the Louisiana state health department has confirmed that a woman in her 70s has died from the mosquito-borne disease.

The woman, who died Monday in Baton Rouge, was one of 32 people in that state reported to have contracted West Nile, reports the Associated Press.

State officials say they are also investigating two other Louisiana deaths that may have resulted from West Nile virus, which can cause a potentially fatal brain inflammation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that since the first Americans were diagnosed with the disease in 1999, there have been 185 confirmed cases and 18 deaths in the nation from West Nile.

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Man Dies of Heart Attack as His Train Rolls On

A Boston commuter-train conductor employed by Amtrak has been suspended after his train continued to make scheduled stops while a passenger was suffering a heart attack, according to wire service reports. The conductor was not identified.

Heart attack victim James Allen, 61, died yesterday at Boston Medical Center. Although the crew knew of the emergency, the train continued to make two additional stops between Auburndale and Boston's Back Bay Station, where Allen was finally taken off the train 17 minutes after it left Auburndale.

Passengers tell the Associated Press that they came to the man's aid, while a public address announcer asked commuters if anyone had medical expertise. Allen reportedly was unconscious and wasn't breathing. An assistant conductor told a local television station that she performed CPR on the man.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has promised an investigation. A spokesman said the MBTA has made it very clear that in the event of a medical emergency, the crew is to stop at the next station and wait for medical help.

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Nearly 5 Million U.S. Kids Lack Health Insurance: Study

Nearly 5 million American children are eligible for government health insurance but remain uninsured, the Associated Press reports of a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The alarming statistic follows creation five years ago of a government program aimed at kids in poor working families. The program known as CHIP, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, is designed to complement Medicaid.

CHIP already serves about 3 million children on a sliding scale, based on families' ability to pay. Officials cite several possible explanations for why more parents don't enroll their kids, the AP reports. They include the stigma attached to Medicaid, which is thought to go hand-in-hand with welfare; the fact that families in many states must enroll annually, which parents may forget to do; and the possibility that parents simply don't know the program exists.

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Centenarian Asked to Bring Parents to Doctor's Office

A 103-year-old British man was shocked when he was asked to bring his parents to a routine eye exam.

Joseph Dickinson of Hartlepool was born in 1899, and hospital officials later apologized for mistakenly listing his birthday as 1999.

Dickinson, who served in the Royal Navy during World War I, lost his father 60 years ago, and his mother passed away more than 40 years ago.

Still, he says he saw a humorous side to the error. "I must be getting younger!," he told the BBC.

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