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Health Highlights: Dec. 9, 2010

Congress Passes Bill Stopping Medicare Payment Cuts to Docs WTC Worker Health Bill Fails Senate Vote Americans Using Nutmeg to Get High CDC Urges Older Adults to Get Flu Vaccine Aretha Franklin Has Pancreatic Cancer, Reports Say

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

Congress Passes Bill Stopping Medicare Payment Cuts to Docs

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill that prevents a proposed 25 percent cut in 2011 to the reimbursement rates Medicare provides to doctors.

The hotly contested bill, which passed the Senate Wednesday, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, CNN reported.

The American Medical Association has lobbied hard against the cuts, saying that some doctors might stop seeing Medicare patients if reimbursements fell. More than 43 million older Americans now receive Medicare benefits, CNN said.

"Stopping the steep 25 percent Medicare cut for one year was vital to preserve seniors' access to physician care in 2011," Dr. Cecil Wilson, the association's president, told the news agency.

A law enacted in 1997 requires that Medicare adjust its payments to physicians each year, based on the economic situation at the time, so that the program remains solvent. But rate cuts have been thwarted 10 times over the past eight years, CNN noted.

The bill passed by Congress is estimated to cost $19.3 billion over 10 years, and will be paid for by revisions in tax credits for people purchasing health insurance -- part of the health care reform package.


WTC Worker Health Bill Fails Senate Vote

A bill to provide as much as $7.4 billion in health care and compensation to 9/11 responders sickened by dust at the World Trade Center has been blocked by Senate Republicans.

The bill, which fell short of the 60 Senate votes needed to carry it forward, has passed the House, the Associated Press reported.

New York and New Jersey lawmakers have led the push for the bill and believe this session of Congress may be its last chance.

Opponents are concerned about the cost and question whether the government can guarantee the money will only go to eligible recipients, the AP reported.


Americans Using Nutmeg to Get High

Some Americans are getting high on nutmeg, which can be hallucinogenic like LSD and give a buzz that lasts for one to two days. But the awful side effects mean it's a one-time thing in most cases.

"It's the flavor of the month," said Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, ABC News reported. "But most people only try it once because they have such nasty side effects. The rewards are not worth the risks."

Nutmeg contains a compound called myristicin, which can have mind-altering effects if ingested in large quantities.

However, consuming copious amounts of nutmeg can cause severe gut reactions such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as heart and nerve problems, ABC News reported.


CDC Urges Older Adults to Get Flu Vaccine

Flu vaccination is critical for adults age 65 and older because they're at greater risk for serious flu complications such as pneumonia, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of National Influenza Vaccination Week, the agency designated Thursday as Older Adults Vaccination Day.

Because the body's ability to fight illness weakens with age, older adults have some of the highest rates of hospitalization and death from the flu, the CDC said. Each year, older adults account for about 9 out of 10 seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 6 out of 10 seasonal flu-related hospital stays in the United States.

The CDC is working with a number of grassroots and national organizations to educate older adults about the serious threat posed by the flu and the protection offered by flu vaccination.


Aretha Franklin Has Pancreatic Cancer, Reports Say

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to media reports.

Detroit-based news outlets reported on Wednesday that the 68-year-old singer underwent surgery last week. Last month, Franklin announced she was canceling all concert dates and personal appearances through May.

And The Detroit News confirmed that Franklin has pancreatic cancer, which has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers, killing around 95 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Wednesday that he has visited Franklin several times recently and she is "recovering very well" from the surgery.


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