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Health Highlights: July 12, 2005

Medicare Drug Plan No Bargain for Some: Report Smaller Technology Makes Home Dialysis Possible Cobblestone Walking May Improve Your Health Weight Loss Product Makers Agree to $1 Million Fine Fires Killed 3,900 People in U.S. Last Year

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

Medicare Drug Plan No Bargain for Some: Report

Medicare's new prescription drug program will cover less than 50 percent of the annual costs for enrollees who have high or catastrophic drug bills, says a study in the July/August issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The study said this would be the case during the program's first three years because of the way the benefit is structured.

The new plan goes into effect Jan. 1, 2006, and researchers estimated that the average enrollee who spends more than $2,250 a year on prescription drugs will accumulate almost $11,000 in out-of-pocket costs between 2006 and 2008.

Those enrollees who average more than $5,100 a year in prescription drug spending in 2006 will have to contend with $12,300 in out-of-pocket expenses over that same period, the study said.

Averaged over the three years from 2006 to 2008, high spenders in the Part D program will have to pay 67 percent of their drug costs out-of-pocket, while catastrophic spenders will have to pay 51 percent of their drug costs out-of-pocket, the study said.

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Smaller Technology Makes Home Dialysis Possible

Most of the 400,000 Americans with kidney failure have their blood cleansed by dialysis machines three times a week. Typically, this procedure is done at often-crowded dialysis centers, where the machines are the size of a refrigerator.

Now, reports the Associated Press, home dialysis machines are being produced that are closer to the size of a suitcase. And the ability to get dialysis at home means the patient can be hooked up daily, rather than only three times a week. Growing research, the wire service says, suggests that daily dialysis will keep patients healthier.

An expert with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California cited his firm's statistics that home dialysis users require less hospitalization, potentially saving up to $20,000 annually per patient, the AP said.

But at-home dialysis isn't for everyone, the wire service warns. A spouse, partner or friend is required in case there's a problem, and the patient or a significant other must be willing to insert a hypodermic needle. Nor are enough home-dialysis machines available yet for all qualified patients that might want one, the AP said.

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Cobblestone Walking May Improve Your Health

Walking on cobblestones may put you on the path to better health, according to an Oregon Research Institute study.

The study of 108 people over age 60 found that walking on a mat of smooth, rounded cobblestones for 30 minutes a day for four months significantly lowered blood pressure and improved balance, the Associated Press reported.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers decided to study how walking on cobblestones may affect health after they saw people in China exercising and walking back and forth on cobblestone paths.

"We noticed in several cities we visited that people were walking on cobblestone paths, and people were standing on them, and sometimes dancing on them, doing weight-shifting," study leader John Fisher told the AP.

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Weight Loss Product Makers Agree to $1 Million Fine

A company has agreed to pay New Jersey almost $1 million to settle a lawsuit charging that it exaggerated the benefits and downplayed the risks of some of its products, including a weight-loss product implicated in the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in 2003.

The settlement involves Nutraquest Inc. and three related companies. Nutriquest is a successor of Cytodyne Technologies, which made the ephedra-based weight loss product Xenadrine RFA-1, which was found to have contributed to Bechler's death, the Associated Press reported.

The company stopped selling ephedra-based products in 2003, claiming that they were no longer profitable.

As part of the settlement, Nutraquest and the three related companies have agreed not to make unsubstantiated claims in their advertising, the AP reported.

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Fires Killed 3,900 People in U.S. Last Year

Some 3,900 people in the United States died last year in fires, a decrease of 0.6 percent from 2003, the National Fire Protection Association said Monday.

As in previous years, most fire fatalities in 2004 (82 percent) occurred in homes. Nationwide, the NFPA said, there was a fire death every 135 minutes.

An estimated 17,785 people suffered non-fatal injuries last year, a drop of 1.4 percent from the prior year. Property damage from fires declined 20.2 percent to $9,794,000,000.

In 2004, public fire departments responded to more than 1.5 billion fires, a drop of 2.2 percent from the prior year.

The NFPA recommends better public fire safety education efforts, increased use and maintenance of smoke alarms, wider use of residential sprinklers, and increased implementation of family escape plans.

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