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Health Highlights: June 21, 2005

U.S. Health Costs Continue to Grow: Report AMA Won't Support Limits on Drug Ads Mondale's Daughter Has Brain Cancer Marijuana-Based MS Drug Selling in Canada Schiavo Buried; Family Dispute Continues

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

U.S. Health Costs Continue to Grow: Report

Health care costs continue to outpace the growth of wages and the economy in the United States, says a study released Tuesday by the non-partisan Center for Studying Health System Change.

The study found that in 2004 there was an 8.2 percent increase in the cost of providing healthcare to privately insured Americans. That's about the same as the increase in 2003. Those costs grew by 11.3 percent in 2001, the most recent peak year.

"The implications for affordability of health insurance are very negative," economist Paul Ginsburg, one of the study authors, told USA Today.

The study did contain some good news for workers. It said that in 2005, employers are passing on a smaller portion of rising health insurance costs to their workers than in each of the previous three years.

The findings were published Tuesday on the Web site of the journal Health Affairs.

Increases in spending on hospital care accounted for 54 percent of the growth in health care spending in 2004, the report said. And for the fifth consecutive year, spending on drugs grew more slowly -- 7.2 percent in 2004 compared with 8.9 percent in 2003, USA Today reported.

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AMA Won't Support Limits on Drug Ads

The American Medical Association refused to support a campaign by some doctors to curtail drug advertisements that suggest patients ask their physicians about certain heavily marketed medicines, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Critics of these ads complain that the "Ask your doctor about" theme leads patients to request antidepressants, painkillers and other drugs that they don't necessarily need, according to the wire service. Supporters of the ads say a ban would violate drugmakers' rights to free speech.

At the AMA's annual meeting in Chicago, delegates voted to shelve the matter for further study, the wire service reported.

Delegates also voted to urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to evaluate how recent changes to antidepressant labels are affecting patient use. Last year, the FDA added its most serious "black box" warning to most antidepressant labels and began requiring pharmacies to dispense information describing the drugs' risks and possible side effects. Recent studies have shown that antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may increase suicidal thoughts and behavior among teens and younger users.

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Mondale's Daughter Has Brain Cancer

The daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale is battling brain cancer, she told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Eleanor Mondale, 45, said she had been bothered with blurred vision recently, but dismissed the notion of a major problem. It wasn't until a May camping trip on which she suffered two seizures that she realized something was seriously wrong, she told the newspaper.

Mondale was later diagnosed with two cancerous tumors on her brain's frontal lobe, the Star-Tribune said.

Less than a week ago, Mondale married local rock star Chan Poling, hours before undergoing her first session of radiation and chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the newspaper said.

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Marijuana-Based MS Drug Selling in Canada

A painkiller derived from marijuana went on sale Monday in Canada, the first country to approve the spray designed for multiple sclerosis patients.

Many people who have the painful nervous system disease smoke marijuana, but the drug is difficult to regulate and often hard to obtain, the Associated Press reported. Some 2.5 million people worldwide are believed to have MS, of which about 50,000 are Canadian, the wire service said.

Bayer's Sativex can now be obtained with a doctor's prescription at pharmacies in Canada, the first country to adopt a system allowing marijuana use among people with certain terminal or chronic conditions.

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that federal drug laws supersede medical marijuana laws in the 11 states that have them. The court said medical marijuana users could not be protected from prosecution if the federal government decided to take action.

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Schiavo Buried; Family Dispute Continues

Terri Schiavo's remains were buried at Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park in Clearwater, Fla., Monday, according to an announcement by George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo's husband.

The announcement angered Terri Schiavo's family, who weren't informed about the burial beforehand. Michael Schiavo had previously said his wife's ashes would be buried at a family plot in Pennsylvania.

Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were also upset by the wording of their daughter's grave marker. Michael Schiavo had it inscribed with the words "I kept my promise," the Associated Press reported.

During his lengthy, years-long fight to have his brain-damaged wife's feeding tube removed, Michael Schiavo said he'd promised her he would not keep her alive artificially.

The grave marker also lists Feb. 25, 1990, as the day she "Departed this Earth." That's the day that Schiavo collapsed and went into an irreversible vegetative state. She died March 31, two weeks after a court ordered the removal of her feeding tube.

The grave marker lists March 31, 2005 as the date that Terri was "at peace."

David Gibbs, an attorney for the Schindlers, criticized the grave marker inscriptions. "Obviously, that's a real shot and another unkind act toward a grieving mom and dad," Gibbs told the AP.

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