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Health Highlights: Nov. 4, 2008

Big Increases Seen in Medicare Drug Plan Premiums, Co-Payments Left-Handed People More Inhibited: Study HIV Vaccine May Have Increased Infection Risk: Report New Guidelines for Common Inner Ear Problem

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

Big Increases Seen in Medicare Drug Plan Premiums, Co-Payments

American consumers can expect to see large increases in Medicare drug-plan premiums next year, along with higher co-payment costs, according to consulting firm Avalere Health.

The firm's analysis predicted premiums at the 10 largest drug plans will rise an average of 31 percent, with some rising more than 60 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported.

For example, the 2.7 million enrollees in the nation's biggest Medicare drug plan -- AARP Medicare Rx Preferred, sponsored by UnitedHealth Group -- are expected to face an average premium increase of 18 percent, to $34.92 a month. The plan will still have the same $7 co-payment for generic drugs, but enrollees who buy brand-name drugs on the insurer's preferred drug list will pay 21 percent more ($36.40) for each purchase.

The 1.4 million enrollees in the third-largest drug plan, Humana Inc.'s PDP Enhanced, will see an average premium hike of 51 percent, to $39.56 a month. Average co-payments for generic drugs will rise 75 percent, to $7, and increase 60 percent, to $40, for preferred brand-name drugs.

For this analysis, Avalere averaged expected prices for plans in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. The actual price consumers pay for premiums, deductibles and co-payments will vary depending on a number of factors, including what drugs they use and what part of the country they live in, the Wall Street Journal reported.


Left-Handed People More Inhibited: Study

Left-handed people are more likely to be inhibited, according to researchers at the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland who compared 46 lefties and 66 right-handers, BBC News reported.

The participants were given a behavioral test that assesses personal restraint and impulsiveness. The results showed that left-handers are more likely to feel anxiety, shyness or embarrassment about doing or saying what they want.

Left-handers were more likely to agree with statements such as "I worry about making mistakes" and "Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit."

The findings could be due to wiring differences between the brains of left- and right-handers, said study leader Dr. Lynn Wright, BBC News reported.

"Left-handers are more likely to hesitate, whereas right-handers tend to jump in a bit more," Wright said. "In left-handers, the right half of the brain is dominant, and it is this side that seems to control negative aspects of emotion. In right-handers, the left brain dominates."

The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.


HIV Vaccine May Have Increased Infection Risk: Report

Clinical trials of a seemingly promising HIV vaccine were halted in 2007 because the vaccine may actually have increased the risk of infection, according to a study by researchers at the Montpellier Institute of Molecular Genetics in France.

The problem with Merck & Co.'s HIV-1 vaccine was discovered during second stage trials, Agence France Presse reported. The vaccine used a modified form of the common Adenovirus 5 (Ad5) cold virus to carry elements of HIV, which were meant to trigger the immune system to fight off HIV infection.

However, more of the vaccine recipients who had prior immunity to the Ad5 virus were infected than clinical trial participants who didn't receive the vaccine. It's possible the presence of long-lasting antibodies generated to fight Ad5 when people caught a cold altered the body's response to the HIV-1 vaccine, the French researchers said, AFP reported.

They noted that HIV infection spread through cell cultures three times faster when Ad5 antibodies were present. The study was published online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.


New Guidelines for Common Inner Ear Problem

New guidelines for treating patients with the common inner ear ailment benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) have been issued by the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

BPPV, which causes feelings of dizziness, vertigo and nausea, can be brought on be abrupt changes in movement. It usually affects people over age 50, but can affect younger people, United Press International reported.

The new guidelines recommend that:

  • Doctors should diagnose posterior semicircular canal BPPV with an office-based diagnostic test.
  • Patients should be tested for a second type of BPPV when initial testing is not conclusive.
  • Doctors should differentiate BPPV from other causes of imbalance, dizziness and vertigo, and should question patients with BPPV for factors that modify management including impaired mobility or balance.

The guidelines appear as a supplement to the November issue of the journal Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

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