Health Highlights: July 9, 2018
U.S. Tries Threats to Weaken U.N. Breast-Feeding Resolution Latest Trump Administration Obamacare Change Will Lead to Higher Premiums: Insurers U.S. Nursing Homes Overstated Staffing Levels
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Tries Threats to Weaken U.N. Breast-Feeding Resolution
American officials issued threats in an attempt to weaken an international resolution to encourage breast-feeding.
The resolution at the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly in Geneva earlier this year was expected to be given quick and easy passage, The New York Times reported.
It states that mother's milk is healthiest for children and countries should try to limit misleading promotion of formula and other baby food products.
But U.S. officials tried to weaken the resolution by removing sections encouraging governments to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" and to restrict marketing of food products that many experts say can harm young children, The Times reported.
That attempt failed, so U.S. officials targeted Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the resolution. Specifically, the Americans said if Ecuador introduced the resolution, it would be hit with severe trade measures and lose important military aid. Ecuador yielded to the American demands.
The events were described by more than a dozen participants from several countries, and many requested anonymity because they feared reprisals from the U.S., The Times reported.
"We were astonished, appalled and also saddened," said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action.
"What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health," she told The Times.
At least a dozen other countries that were asked to sponsor the resolution refused because they were afraid of the U.S. response. Most of those nations were poor countries in Africa and Latin America.
The resolution was finally introduced by the Russians.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was the lead agency in the effort to change the breast-feeding resolution. It said it was not involved in the threats against Ecuador.
"The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children," a U.S. Health and Human Services spokesman said in an email, The Times reported.
"We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so," said the email.
The U.S. State Department refused to answer questions about the incident, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations, The Times reported.
Lobbyists from the baby food industry were at the meetings in Geneva. The $70 billion baby food industry is controlled by a few American and European companies.
Latest Trump Administration Obamacare Change Will Lead to Higher Premiums: Insurers
Another action likely to weaken the Affordable Care Act has been introduced by the Trump administration.
It's freezing a program that takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to insurers with sicker customers, in order to protect those insurers from financial losses, the Associated Press reported.
Payments for 2017 are $10.4 billion. The program does not use any taxpayer dollars.
The change, which is expected to add to premium increases next year, was slammed by major insurance groups, who said the program is working well, the Associated Press reported.
America's Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance industry trade group, released a statement saying it is "very discouraged" by the Trump administration's decision.
"Costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies," the group said.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said it was "extremely disappointed." The move "will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices," association president Scott Serota said in a statement, the AP reported.
"It will undermine Americans' access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most," he warned.
U.S. Nursing Homes Overstated Staffing Levels
Most U.S. nursing homes had fewer nurses and care providers than they reported to federal officials for years, government records reveal.
The data show frequent and large differences in day-to-day staffing of nursing homes, with significant shortages on weekends, The New York Times reported.
On the lowest-staffed days at an average nursing home, employees cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did on fully-staffed days.
The data from daily payroll records from more than 14,000 nursing homes was analyzed by Kaiser Health News.
Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing the data, as required by the Affordable Care Act, The Times reported.
"It's not like the day-to-day life of nursing home residents and their needs vary substantially on a weekend and a weekday. They need to get dressed, to bathe and to eat every single day," David Stevenson, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, told The Times.
There are legitimate reasons for varying staffing levels in nursing homes, according to David Gifford, a senior vice president at the nursing home trade group American Health Care Association.
For example, there are fewer activities for residents and more family members around on weekends.
"While staffing is important, what really matters is what the overall outcomes are," he told The Times.