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Health Highlights: June 25, 2007

Corporate America Creating Health Safety Net for Early Retirees Millions of Americans Still Lack Health Insurance Video Games Addictive? AMA May Defer to Psychiatrists Alzheimer's Drug Battle Ends Up in U.K. Court Echinacea May Be Beneficial, After All

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

Corporate America Creating Health Safety Net for Early Retirees

Thousands of early retirees are hoping that corporate America will help rescue them from the ranks of the uninsured, The New York Times reported Monday.

Many people aged 55 to 64 are jobless as a result of layoffs, employee buyouts, and the loss of American jobs overseas. They're also too young for Medicare and can't afford private insurance.

So the HR Policy Association (HRPA), a group representing 250 corporate giants including General Electric, IBM, and Sears, has devised a program to create affordable insurance plans for HRPA-member retirees. Premiums would be cheaper than traditional private plans, and no one who qualifies could be turned down for a medical condition, the newspaper said.

Details of each plan would vary by employer, including whether the company would help subsidize the plan.

The HRPA told the newspaper it doesn't know how many early retirees are among its members, but the Times said there are some 800,000 middle-age Americans who are uninsured and are too young for Medicare.

New accounting rules implemented in the 1990s prompted many companies to stop providing some or all insurance for early retirees. Only 18 percent of large employers still contribute to health benefits for retirees younger than 65, the newspaper said.


Millions of Americans Still Lack Health Insurance

Some 43.6 million Americans lacked health insurance coverage in 2006, which amounts to 14.8 percent of the population, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Among working-age Americans between ages 18 and 64, 19.8 percent didn't have insurance in 2006, a slight rise from 18.9 percent in 2005, the CDC report found.

On a positive note, fewer children under age 18 were uninsured last year (9.3 percent) than in 1997 (13.9 percent), the agency said.

In 2006, the percentage of uninsured in the 20 largest states ranged from a high of 23.8 percent in Texas to 7.7 percent in Michigan.


Video Games Addictive? AMA May Defer to Psychiatrists

The American Medical Association appears unlikely to tackle a controversial proposal to brand video game playing an addiction, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

An advisory committee to the AMA, meeting in Chicago this past weekend, had floated a proposal to add excessive video game play to a mental illness handbook as addictive behavior, the newspaper said.

But Sunday's testimony at the AMA annual meeting seemed to favor deferring judgment to the American Psychiatric Association, the Tribune reported.

No quick decision is expected on whether to include video game play in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the newspaper said.

Classifying the behavior as an addiction could influence whether insurance firms or employers reimburse claimants, as they would for alcohol or drug dependency, the Tribune said.


Alzheimer's Drug Battle Ends Up in U.K. Court

A pair of pharmaceutical firms and an advocacy group for Alzheimer's patients have taken Britain's drug watchdog to court, hoping to overturn the government's decision to deny many Alzheimer's patients access to a three-drug regimen designed to inhibit the disease, BBC News reported.

The government's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has ruled that the three medicines -- donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine -- were not cost effective for people with mild Alzheimer's, the BBC said.

Drug companies Eisai and Pfizer, with support from the Alzheimer's Society, want Britain's High Court to reverse the ruling. NICE guidelines published in 2006 stated that the drugs should only be prescribed to people with moderate forms of the disease.

NICE has ruled that the drugs, which cost about £2.50 ($5 US) a day would not be effective enough to recommend for all patients, and were not good value for the money, the BBC reported.


Echinacea May Be Beneficial, After All

The latest in series of conflicting studies of the herbal supplement echinacea finds that it may actually help reduce a person's chances of catching a cold by up to 58 percent, University of Connecticut researchers said Monday.

In a study published in the online version of The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal, the scientists wrote that echinacea might cut down on the length of the average cold by about 1.4 days, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Other studies of the herbal supplement have yielded conflicting results. In 2005, research on more than 400 people published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that echinacea had no effect on colds, the newspaper said.

In the most recent study, Dr. Craig Coleman's team at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy analyzed the results of 14 independent research projects involving a combined 1,600 patients.

However, critics of the UConn study noted that some study participants were taking other vitamins and herbs -- including vitamin C, rosemary, and thyme -- so that it wasn't clear which of any of these supplements was actually providing a health benefit, the newspaper reported.

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