Health Highlights: June 18, 2015
Hundreds Arrested Nationwide for Medicare/Medicaid Fraud Thousands of Air Force Vets Exposed to Agent Orange Will Get Disability Benefits Football Legend Bart Starr Undergoing Stem Cell Treatment for Stroke Experimental Drug Improved Growth in Children With Dwarfism, Maker Says Study Will Examine Long-Term Effects of Ebola in Survivors
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Hundreds Arrested Nationwide for Medicare/Medicaid Fraud
Hundreds of people have been charged after health care fraud sweeps were made across the United States, the federal government said Thursday.
The 243 doctors, nurses, pharmacy owners and others who were arrested are accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid of about $712 million, the Associated Press reported.
The crackdown ranged from Dallas to Brooklyn, N.Y. and from Miami to Los Angeles, with the arrests made earlier this week.
Prescription fraud was a main focus of the investigation. More than 40 of those arrested were alleged to be involved in scams focused on Medicare's drug benefit, the AP reported.
Some of the accused also billed for care that wasn't needed, services that weren't rendered, and equipment that wasn't provided.
The sweeps included the Health and Human Services inspector general's office, the FBI, U.S. attorneys' offices across the country, and state Medicaid fraud units, the AP reported.
Thousands of Air Force Vets Exposed to Agent Orange Will Get Disability Benefits
Thousands of former U.S. Air Force personnel exposed to Agent Orange residue on aircraft will be able to apply for disability benefits, the U.S. government said Thursday.
The new rule covers as many as 2,100 Air Force reservists and active-duty members. The expected cost is $47.5 million over 10 years, with separate health care coverage boosting the total, the Associated Press reported.
The new rule covers former Air Force members who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986 and were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange residue in the aircraft, which had been used to spray millions of gallons of the chemical herbicide during the Vietnam War.
This the first time the VA has created a special category of Agent Orange exposure for veterans who didn't serve on the ground or on inland waterways in Vietnam. It expands the VA's Agent Orange-related file, which already accounts for 1 in 6 disability checks issued by the department, the AP reported.
Eligible Air Force veterans can submit applications for benefits immediately, and processing will begin Friday. They must show they worked on a contaminated plane and later developed any of 14 medical conditions that have been linked with Agent Orange, such as diabetes, leukemia and prostate cancer.
Thursday's announcement ends years of waiting for this group of Air Force veterans. However, the VA said there is not enough scientific evidence for it to offer disability benefits to about 200,000 "Blue Water" veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard deep water naval vessels off the coast of Vietnam, the AP reported.
Football Legend Bart Starr Undergoing Stem Cell Treatment for Stroke
Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr is taking part in a clinical trial that's testing stem cells as a possible treatment for stroke, his family announced Wednesday.
The 81-year-old former Green Bay Packer suffered two strokes and a mild heart attack last September, the Associated Press reported.
"Following Bart's strokes, our family began to investigate numerous therapy options," the family said in a statement released by the Packers. "Several months ago we applied for and were accepted into a clinical trial using stem cells.
"Friday we safely returned home from the first of the two treatments," they added, the AP reported.
Further information about Starr's participation in the clinical trial will be released "at an appropriate time in the future," the family stated. They said they want to give Starr the opportunity to fully participate in the study and "let the results, if any, speak for themselves."
Starr played for the Packers from 1956 to 1971, and coached the team from 1975 to 1983.
Hockey legend Gordie Howe, 87, underwent an experimental stem cell treatment in Mexico after a stroke left him unable to walk and barely able to speak, the AP reported. His family said he has had a "life-changing" turnaround and underwent another round of treatment last week.
Starr's family made contact with Howe's family earlier this year. It's not clear where Starr was receiving his treatment.
"We are working hard toward the one goal he most cherishes: a return to Green Bay for a Packers game," Starr's family said, the AP reported.
Experimental Drug Improved Growth in Children With Dwarfism, Maker Says
An experimental drug boosted growth in children with dwarfism, according to drug developer BioMarin Pharmaceutical.
The 10 children who received the highest dose of the drug grew an average of 6.1 centimeters (2.4 inches) a year, compared with four centimeters a year before they began taking the drug, according to the preliminary study, The New York Times reported.
BioMarin said the children's growth rate while taking the drug -- called BMN 111 or vosoritide -- was similar to that of children without dwarfism.
The drug is meant to treat children with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. It would not be expected to work in adults because they have stopped growing, The Times reported.
Study Will Examine Long-Term Effects of Ebola in Survivors
A study of Ebola survivors is being launched in Liberia to assess the long-term effects of the virus and whether they contribute to outbreaks, the U.S. government says.
The researchers will seek to learn whether Ebola remains in the eyes of survivors, if the virus can be spread through semen, and why it causes joint pain, NBC News reported.
"To unravel the many unknowns, we have expanded the focus of our partnership with Liberia's Ministry of Health to include research on the long-term health effects of Ebola virus disease, in addition to our ongoing efforts to find an effective preventive and treatments for Ebola virus disease," Dr. Tony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said.
NIAID and Liberia health ministry researchers will follow 1,500 Ebola survivors and 6,000 people in close contact with them for as long as five years. The investigators will look at semen, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids in the survivors, NBC News reported.