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Health Highlights: May 10, 2010

Limits Placed on Insurance Coverage for Dependents Barbara Walters Scheduled for Heart Valve Surgery Premature Babies More Sensitive to Pain: Study U.S. Should Allow Ritual 'Nick' of Girls' Genitalia: AAP

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

Limits Placed on Insurance Coverage for Dependents

Coverage for young adult dependents by their parents' insurance plans -- a key piece of the Obama administration's health care regulations --may have limits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The provision that health plans permit young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance policy until age 26 "applies only to health insurance plans that offer dependent coverage in the first place," HHS said in a statement released Monday. "While most insurers and employer-sponsored plans offer dependent coverage, there is no requirement to do so," the agency said.

According to HHS, under the rules drafted by the Obama administration, insurers can charge families more for coverage of a young adult to the extent that "similarly situated" individuals must pay, the Washington Post reported. Also, companies must offer the dependents the same benefit packages available to "similarly situated" individuals who did not lose coverage because their dependent status ended, HHS said.

Families can get coverage for dependents even if the young adults live apart from their parents and aren't dependents on the parents' tax return, HHS noted. Also, the policy applies to married and single children, but not to the children's spouses or children.

Insurance companies must make extended coverage available by Sept. 23, but many companies have agreed to do so sooner, the Post said.


Barbara Walters Scheduled for Heart Valve Surgery

Barbara Walters, creator of "The View," announced on the TV show Monday morning that she is having heart surgery "later this week."

"I'm going to have surgery to replace one faulty heart valve," Walters, 80, told viewers, according to ABC News. And she said she plans to come "roaring back in September."

The faulty valve was discovered during an echocardiogram a while ago, Walters said.

"You kept it secret very well, Barbara," co-host Joy Behar said.

Walters responded, "I thought it best not to talk about it too far in advance."

Recovery can be anywhere from a month to three months, she said. "Since the summer is coming up, I can take a nice vacation," she noted, ABC News said.


Premature Babies More Sensitive to Pain: Study

Premature babies would benefit from better pain relief while in intensive care, report researchers who say invasive hospital procedures make preemies pain-sensitive.

Injections, blood tests, tube feeding and other treatments make preterm babies feel pain more acutely than healthy newborns, says a team from University College London, BBC News reported.

"Our study shows that being born prematurely and undergoing intensive care affects pain processing in the infant brain," said Dr. Rebeccah Slater, lead researcher. "Our ability to measure brain responses to painful events will lead to a better and more informed approach to the administration of analgesia, and enable us to define optimal ways of providing pain relief in this vulnerable population."

For the study, the newborns' brain activity was measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG) while they underwent routine heel pricking to obtain blood samples.

The brain activity of preemies hospitalized for 40 days or more was stronger than that of healthy babies of the same age. This indicates that the premature babies are bothered more by pain, the researchers said.

However, the babies are not more sensitive to touch and can benefit from being held or cuddled, the authors said, according to BBC News.

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage.


U.S. Should Allow Ritual 'Nick' of Girls' Genitalia: AAP

U.S. doctors should be allowed to perform a ceremonial pinprick or "nick" on young girls' genitalia in order to keep the girls' families from taking them overseas for full circumcision, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

U.S. law forbids any nonmedical procedure on the genitals of a girl. To get around the law, some parents take their daughters to other countries for what's commonly called female genital mutilation (FGM), The New York Times reported. The practice is common in some African and Asian cultures.

"It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm," said a policy statement released last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics' bioethics committee.

The suggestion triggered harsh criticism.

"I am sure the academy had only good intentions, but what their recommendation has done is only create confusion about whether FGM is acceptable in any form, and it is the wrong step forward on how best to protect young women and girls," Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) told The Times. He recently introduced a bill to make it a crime to take a girl overseas to be circumcised.

"FGM serves no medical purpose, and it is rightfully banned in the U.S.," said Georganne Chapin, executive director of an advocacy group called Intact America. She told The Times she was "astonished that a group of intelligent people did not see the utter slippery slope that we put physicians on" with the new AAP policy statement.

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