Health Highlights: May 29, 2014

$650 M Settlement Reached in Blood Thinner Lawsuits Insurers Accused of Discriminating Against HIV/AIDS Patients Report Confirms False Waiting Lists at Phoenix VA Medical Center Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86 Youth Sports Concussion Summit at White House U.S. Births Rose in 2013 After Five Years of Declines: Report

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

$650 M Settlement Reached in Blood Thinner Lawsuits

The maker of the blood thinner Pradaxa will pay $650 million to settle thousands of lawsuits over the drug, which is prescribed to prevent blood clots.

About 4,000 lawsuits filed in state and federal courts allege that Boehringer Ingelheim failed to properly warn patients and their families that Pradaxa could sometimes cause life-threatening bleeding that could not easily be reversed, The New York Times reported.

The first case was scheduled to go to trial in September, but the settlement is likely to resolve most of the lawsuits.

While Boehringer Ingelheim believes Pradaxa is safe and that the lawsuits lacked merit, it decided to reach a settlement so that it could move on, the company said in a statement, The Times reported.


Insurers Accused of Discriminating Against HIV/AIDS Patients

Four companies offering plans in the new U.S. health insurance marketplace have been accused of discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS.

Health care advocates said the insurers -- CoventryOne, Cigna, Humana and Preferred Medical -- set high out-of-pocket costs for both brand name and generic drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, The New York Times reported.

On Thursday, the AIDS Institute and the National Health Law Program filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Service's Office for Civil Rights. The groups charge that the insurers violated the new health care law's rule that forbids discrimination against consumers due to medical conditions.

"The companies are going out of their way to discourage people with HIV and AIDS from enrolling in their plans -- a blatantly illegal practice," Wayne Turner, a staff attorney with the National Health Law Program, said in a statement, The Times reported.

Most HIV/AIDS patients need to take medications daily in order to keep the virus under control.


Report Confirms False Waiting Lists at Phoenix VA Medical Center

About 1,700 patients at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix who were waiting to see a doctor were never placed on the official waiting list and may never have received care, according to a preliminary report from the VA Inspector General's office.

The document provides the first confirmation of allegations that VA officials manipulated data at the medical center in order to hide long waiting times for veterans seeking care, The New York Times reported.

In Phoenix, veterans waited an average of 115 days for initial primary care appointments, which was nearly five times longer than the 24 days claimed by hospital administrators, according to Richard Griffin, the VA's acting inspector general.

The false claims about waiting times may have helped some medical center personnel get more favorable job performance reviews, said Griffin, who added that some cases of potentially manipulated data had been referred to the Justice Department, The Times reported.

Similar kinds of efforts to conceal long waiting times were "systemic throughout" the VA health care system, and practices 42 VA medical facilities are being reviewed, Griffin said.

The final report is expected by August. The preliminary document did not deal with allegations that as many as 40 veterans who were never put on the official waiting list for medical appointments may have died while waiting for care, The Times reported.

Any conclusions about those charges could be made only after an examination of autopsy reports and other documents that were still under review, Griffin said. After a previous review of 17 of those cases, Griffin said he found no indication that any of those deaths were linked with delays in receiving health care.

The preliminary report did not closely examine the reasons for concealing long waiting times and did not identify any employees or administrators at the Phoenix VA medical center. However, the document did note that patient waiting times was a factor when considering bonuses and salary increases for medical center leaders in the 2013 fiscal year, The Times reported.

There were several types of improper scheduling practices at the Phoenix facility, the inspector general's report said. For example, investigators discovered multiple waiting lists in addition to the official electronic waiting list, and "these additional lists may be the basis for allegations of creating 'secret' wait lists," the report said.

Allegations of wrongdoing at the Phoenix site go beyond secret waiting lists. There have been "numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility," Griffin said.

After the preliminary report was released Wednesday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki released a statement calling the findings "reprehensible to me," and ordered the VA to "immediately" assess all of the 1,700 veterans who may never have received care and provide them with any needed treatment, The Times reported.

The release of the interim findings led more lawmakers to call for Shinseki's resignation. President Barack Obama found the report "extremely troubling," according to White House press secretary Jay Carney. But he did not divulge whether Shinseki had lost the confidence of the White House.


Maya Angelou Dies at Age 86

Renowned American poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou died Wednesday.

The 86-year-old died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She had been "frail" and suffering from heart problems, according to her literary agent Helen Brann, CNN reported.

Angelou had many notable achievements, including the book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." It was an international bestseller and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.

Angelou received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, delivered a poem at a presidential inauguration, was friends with Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired many people worldwide, CNN reported.


Youth Sports Concussion Summit at White House

A summit on youth sports concussions is being held Thursday at the White House and hosted by President Barack Obama.

He will make note of millions of dollars in pledges and other support from the National Institutes of Health and others to conduct research that could help reduce concussion risk in young athletes, the Associated Press reported.

The summit includes researchers, representatives of professional sports leagues, young athletes, parents and coaches. Too little is known about how concussion may affect the still-developing brains of young people, according to an Institute of Medicine and National Research Council report released last fall.

Obama's two daughters are involved in sports and the issue of youth sports concussions concerns him. The president once said that the risk of head injury would make him "think long and hard" before allowing a son to play football, CNN reported.

"He, as a parent, is concerned about the safety of his own daughters," White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri said.


U.S. Births Rose in 2013 After Five Years of Declines: Report

After five years of declines, the number of babies born in the United States rose slightly in 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The agency said there were about 4,700 more babies born last year than in 2012, the first annual increase since 2007, the Associated Press reported.

The total number of babies born in 2013 was slightly under 4 million. The number of births began a steady rise in the late 1990s and reached an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007.

The number of births then fell dramatically through 2010, and experts believe that was due to the struggling economy. The declines in the number births became smaller in 2011 and 2012, the AP reported.

Consumer News