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Health Highlights: June 18, 2014

Many Americans Paying Less Than $100 Monthly for Health Coverage: Government Study Ebola Outbreak Death Toll Reaches 337: WHO Health Warning on Sugary Drinks Rejected by California Lawmakers Dr. Oz Rebuked at Senate Hearing Into Fake Diet Products

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

Many Americans Paying Less Than $100 Monthly for Health Coverage: Government Study

Nearly 70 percent of Americans who bought insurance in federally run marketplaces and who receive tax credits are paying premiums of less than $100 a month, according to a federal government study.

The numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services suggest that insurance purchased under the new government program is affordable for many people, CBS News reported.

The agency's figures don't include data from the 14 states that operate their own insurance marketplaces.

The main way the federal government helps people afford health insurance is through tax credits based on income. The average credit is $264 a month, and the average monthly premium is $82. The study said the tax credits reduce the average per-person premium by 75 percent, CBS News reported.

Overall, 69 percent of people purchasing coverage with tax credits pay less than $100 a month. Average monthly premiums ranged from a low of $15 per month for Mississippi residents to a high of $127 per month for people in New Jersey.

So far, about 5.4 million people have bought insurance through a federally run marketplace. The percentage of Americans without health insurance is at its lowest since 2008, according to Gallup.

The study found that consumers have an average of five issuers and 47 marketplace plans to choose from, but access for 18 percent of people was limited to one or two issuers, CBS News reported.

Having more issuers could lead to lower premiums, according to the HHS.

"The marketplace represents a new market environment that will evolve over time and there are different theories on how competition will work in this setting," the study said. "The simplest view of competition suggests that as the number of issuers increase in a market, premium rates should decline."


Ebola Outbreak Death Toll Reaches 337: WHO

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa claimed 14 more lives over the last week, raising the total number of deaths so far to 337, according to the World Health Organization.

The agency also said there were 47 new cases in the region, boosting the total number of suspected or confirmed cases to more than 500, BBC News reported.

There have been 264 deaths in Guinea, 49 in Sierra Leone and 24 in Liberia since the outbreak began in February.

There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, which is spread by close contact and kills 25 to 90 percent of its victims, depending on the strain of the virus, the WHO said. Symptoms include internal and external bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea, BBC News reported.


Health Warning on Sugary Drinks Rejected by California Lawmakers

California lawmakers defeated a bill that would have made the state the first in the nation to require a health warning label on sodas and other sugary drinks.

The proposed label was developed by public health advocates, who used cigarette and alcohol warnings as a model, the Associated Press reported.

The label would have read: "STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay."

The beverage industry said the label was unfair because it did not apply to other foods and beverages. The bill was defeated because many lawmakers doubted it would change consumer behavior, the AP reported.


Dr. Oz Rebuked at Senate Hearing Into Fake Diet Products

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz was raked over the coals Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing into the marketing of fake diet products.

Senators said Oz -- who often touts the virtues of weight-loss products on his syndicated television show -- bears a large measure of responsibility for the problem. Oz countered by saying he himself was the victim of the scammers, NBC News reported.

However, Oz's claim was dismissed by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection.

"I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true," McCaskill said at the hearing, NBC News reported. "So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?"

She accused Oz of playing a role in perpetuating diet scams.

"When you feature a product on your show it creates what has become known as the 'Dr. Oz Effect' -- dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products," McCaskill said.

"While I understand that your message is occasionally focused on basics like healthy eating and exercise, I am concerned that you are melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers," she added.

Oz acknowledged that he uses "flowery" language on his shows and knows that when he recommends a diet product, scammers use his words to sell bogus products, NBC News reported. The diet products he recommends give hope to people trying to lose weight, according to Oz.

"I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show," he said. "I recognize that oftentimes they don't have the scientific muster to pass as fact. I have given my family these products."

The Senate hearing is a follow-up to January's Federal Trade Commission crackdown on bogus diet products, NBC News reported. Oz has a huge impact on the marketing of such products, the FTC's Mary Koelbel Engle told the hearing.

"For instance, within weeks of an April 2012 Dr. Oz Show touting green coffee bean extract as a miracle fat burning pill that works for everyone, the marketers of the Pure Green Coffee dietary supplement took to the Internet making overblown claims -- like 'lose 20 pounds in four weeks' and 'lose 20 pounds and two to four inches of belly fat in two to three months' -- for their dietary supplement," she said.

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