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Health Highlights: July 9, 2005

California Suspends Medical Marijuana I.D. Card Program Panel Named to Recommend Medicaid Controls U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Against 'Partial Birth' Abortion Ban Cheney Gets Good News From Pacemaker Exam Johns Hopkins Retains Top Hospital Ranking Screening Program to Gauge Health Effects of Teflon Chemical

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

California Suspends Medical Marijuana I.D. Card Program

As one state giveth, another taketh away

Despite an adverse U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Rhode Island legislature late last month passed a medical marijuana bill. Now, California, which was one of the first states to enact such a law, has suspended a program that issued identification cards to people who could use cannabis for medical reasons.

According to the Associated Press, California's health director Sandra Shewry has asked the state attorney general's office to review the U.S. Supreme Court ruling before her office issues any more I.D. cards. So far, 123 California residents have been given the cards, the wire service reports.

Last month, the Supreme Court said in a 6-3 decision that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it to ease pain or other conditions can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws. The ruling did not strike down laws in California and nine other states that permit medical cannabis use, but said federal drug laws take precedence.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office will review the request, but a spokeswoman told the wire service that the Supreme Court's ruling did not tell California how to deal with the issue. "He has said to law enforcement in some of the bulletins ...that [the ruling] does not impose a mandatory duty to enforce the federal controlled substances act against people who are using medical marijuana legally under California law," the A.P. quotes spokeswoman Teresa Schilling as saying.

The Rhose Island legislation was approved June 29 by the State Senate by a vote of 33 to 1. The bill was passed by the State House by a vote of 52 to 10, Supporters of the bill are confident they have the required three-fifths majority to override an expected veto by the Governor. If they're successful, Rhode Island would become the 11th state to authorize the use of medical marijuana.


Panel Named to Recommend Medicaid Controls

Given a relatively tight deadline, a commission designed to recommend cost savings in Medicaid was named Friday by the Bush administration.

According to the New York Times, the panel, headed by former Tennessee governor and congressman Don Sundquist, has until Sept. 1 to recommend ways to cut spending growth by $10 billion during the next five years.

After making those recommendations, the panel is charged with using 2006 to find ways to initiate major changes, including possible alterations in eligibility for the Medicaid program, the Times reports.

Medicaid is a health care program for low income people, financed by both the federal government and individual states, and the growth in the number of eligible participants in recent years has caused many states to reduce services. According to the Times about 50 million Americans are eligible for the program, which costs more than $320 billion annually.

The newspaper quotes Sundquist as saying, "We are trying to come together in a bipartisan effort to improve Medicaid, not destroy it." The commission will have 13 members.


U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Against 'Partial Birth' Abortion Ban

A federal appeals court in St. Louis on Friday upheld a lower court's ruling that the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a Nebraska district judge's earlier ruling that the law was invalid because it made no exception for the mother's health. Similar rulings were issued in separate cases by federal judges in New York and San Francisco.

In 2003, President Bush signed the law banning intact dilation and extraction, a later-term procedure that opponents refer to as "partial birth" abortion. But the law was never enforced due to a number of legal challenges.

Many legal experts think appeals over the partial birth ban eventually will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the AP said.


Cheney Gets Good News From Pacemaker Exam

Vice President Dick Cheney got good news after Friday's routine inspection of the high-tech pacemaker that was implanted in 2001, the Associated Press reported. The device showed no irregular heartbeat and has never been activated, a spokeswoman said.

Cheney's appointment at George Washington University Medical Center included a physical exam, an electrocardiogram, and a stress test, the spokeswoman said. The pacemaker is designed to activate automatically if a person's heartbeat needs to be shocked back into a regular rhythm.

Cheney has had four heart attacks, though none as vice president. The heart device, called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, also was working fine when last inspected in May 2004, the wire service said.

Cheney is scheduled to undergo a colonoscopy later this month, his spokeswoman said.


Johns Hopkins Retains Top Hospital Ranking

For the 15th straight year, Johns Hopkins University Hospital has retained its spot atop U.S. News and World Report's ranking of the nation's best hospitals.

To make the magazine's 2005 honor roll, hospitals had to rank at or near the top in no fewer than six specialties. The rankings were compiled from votes by board-certified physicians randomly selected from a list of some 811,000 U.S. doctors provided by the American Medical Association.

Here are the magazine's top 10 hospitals for 2005:

  1. Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore
  2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
  3. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  4. Cleveland Clinic
  5. ULCA Medical Center, Los Angeles
  6. Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
  7. New York Presbyterian, New York City
  8. Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
  9. University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle
  10. University of California, San Francisco Medical Center


Screening Program to Gauge Health Effects of Teflon Chemical

A screening program will be launched to check tens of thousands of people in West Virginia and Ohio to determine if their health has been harmed by drinking water containing the chemical ammonium perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), which is used to make Teflon.

The tests will begin this month for people who get their drinking water from public or private water supplies where concentrations of PFOA have been found, the Associated Press reported.

Those water supplies are near DuPont Co.'s Washington Works plant, along the Ohio River near Parkersburg, W. Va. About 80,000 people live in the area. Officials are hoping that at least 60,000 people take part in the screening, which is being paid for by DuPont as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement.

Teflon, a nonstick substance used in a wide variety of products including cookware and clothing, is one of DuPont's most popular products.

Residents who take part in the screening will receive $150 to answer a health questionnaire and an additional $250 if they provide a blood sample, the AP reported.

A federal scientific review board has said the chemical is "likely" to be carcinogenic to humans, but DuPont officials have disputed the draft report.


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