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Health Highlights: June 18, 2009

Food Safety Bill Clears House Committee Employers, Employees Face Health Insurance Increases: Report Hillary Clinton Breaks Elbow in Fall Asbestos Contamination Prompts Health Emergency in Montana Town

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

Food Safety Bill Clears House Committee

Legislation to increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's funding and powers to regulate food safety was approved Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Under the bill, the agency would be given the authority to order food recalls, impose new civil penalties and make food companies adhere to food safety standards. In addition, the bill would oblige the FDA to inspect high-risk food facilities at least once a year and would require food makers to keep detailed records to enable quicker tracking of tainted foods, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Funding for the measure would come from an annual $500 registration fee paid by about 378,000 domestic and foreign food facilities. Farms that raise meat and poultry and other facilities regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be exempt.

A House vote on the legislation has not been scheduled. A food safety bill has been introduced in the Senate, but it's not clear when lawmakers will begin discussing it, the Wall Street Journal reported.


Employers, Employees Face Health Insurance Increases: Report

A new report suggests that businesses that provide health insurance coverage for employees may have to deal with a 9 percent cost increase in 2010 and their workers may have to cope with an even larger increase.

The consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said one reason for the rise in costs is because employees concerned about losing their jobs are using their health insurance while it's still available to them, the Associated Press reported. Another factor is increasing medical costs due to rising unemployment.

For its report, PWC surveyed more than 500 employers and health insurers and found that 42 percent of employers would respond to cost increases by passing some of the burden to workers through higher premiums, deductibles or co-payments.

Next year's costs won't be affected by health-care reform legislation currently being debated by lawmakers, said PWC Principal Michael Thompson. However, intense scrutiny of health-care costs may slow price increases, he suggested.

"Nobody wants to be front page news when all the lights are shining on your industry," he told the AP.


Hillary Clinton Breaks Elbow in Fall

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suffered a broken elbow when she fell on her way to the White House on Wednesday.

A statement released by her chief of staff said Clinton was treated at The George Washington University Hospital and then sent home. She's scheduled to have surgery to repair her elbow in the coming week, the Associated Press reported.

"Secretary Clinton appreciates the professionalism and kindness she received from the medical team who treated her this evening and looks forward to resuming her full schedule soon," Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills said in the statement.

Clinton had planned to attend an event Thursday morning to mark World Refugee Day, but that appearance has been removed from her public schedule, the AP reported.


Asbestos Contamination Prompts Health Emergency in Montana Town

A public health emergency has been declared in a Montana town where more than 200 deaths and thousands of illnesses have been linked to asbestos contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

The agency will spend more than $130 million in Libby, Mont., to conduct an extensive, home-by-home cleanup and to provide medical care for people with asbestos-related illnesses. However, the town's 2,600 residents won't be evacuated, the Associated Press reported.

The asbestos contamination is from a vermiculite mine that closed in 1990. Before the closure, mine workers carried asbestos home on their clothes. Previously, some residents in Libby used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens, and vermiculite covered school running tracks in the town, the news service reported.

The federal government and Maryland-based W.R. Grace & Co. have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Libby, the AP reported.

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