Health Highlights: March 16, 2011

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

Radiation Fears Lead to Shortage of Potassium Iodide in U.S.

Fears that radiation from Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants could reach the United States have led to a shortage of potassium iodide in the U.S., according to companies that supply the product.

Potassium iodide protects against radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland. Virginia-based Anbex Inc. sold out of its supply of more than 10,000 14-tablet packages on Saturday, company president Alan Morris told the Wall Street Journal.

The company was getting about three orders a minute, compared with as few as three a week normally. “Those who don’t get it are crying. They’re terrified,” Morris said.

“It’s actually been insanity here,” Deborah Fleming, co-owner of Fleming Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis County, told the Wall Street Journal. She estimates the company is getting dozens of calls an hour, along with emails, from people seeking potassium iodide.

But government officials say there’s no cause for alarm. For example, no harmful levels of radiation have been detected in California and Washington state and no dangerous levels are expected to occur.

“Japan has an evacuation area of about 12 miles from the nuclear plants. Washington state is 5,000 to 6,000 miles away from Japan,” Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health, told the Wall Street Journal.


State Medical Boards Often Fail to Take Action: Study

A new study says that state medical boards failed to discipline 55 percent of U.S. doctors punished by hospitals between 1990 and 2009.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen examined the National Practitioner Data Bank to find cases of disciplinary action and medical malpractice payments against doctors during the 20-year period, the Washington Post reported.

Of the 10,672 physicians who had their clinical privileges restricted or revoked by hospitals during that time, 5,887 did not face any licensing action by state medical boards, said the study.

It also found that 2,071 of the 5,887 physicians who faced no action from state medical boards were punished by hospitals for serious violations such as: posing an immediate threat to health or safety; being incompetent or negligent; or providing substandard care, the Post reported.


Medicare Paid Millions for Erectile Dysfunction Drugs

Medicare spent $3.1 million in 2007 and 2008 to buy erectile dysfunction drugs for senior citizens, even though the drugs are not covered by the health program, say U.S. government investigators.

Of that amount, more than $3 million was paid for Viagra. Other erectile dysfunction drugs included Cialis, according to the report released Tuesday by George Reeb, acting director inspector general for audit services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bloomberg News reported.

A software error was to blame for the spending on erectile dysfunction drugs, said Medicare administrators. They added that they will try to recover payments to private drug insurers who administer Medicare’s drug plans.

Reeb also said that Medicare paid an undetermined amount for erectile dysfunction drugs in 2009 and 2010, Bloomberg reported.


Gay, Lesbian Families More Accepted Than Single Moms: Survey

Americans appear to be more accepting of gay and lesbian families than single mothers, suggests a new survey.

The Pew Research Center poll of 2,691 people found that one-third of respondents are comfortable with a wide range of family situations (acceptors), one-third consider non-traditional family structures a threat to the country’s moral fabric (rejectors), and another third have mixed views (skeptics), reported.

Most acceptors and skeptics believe gay and lesbian families are at least OK and may even offer something positive to society. But single mothers don’t have the same level of acceptance.

The survey found that 98 percent of acceptors believe there’s nothing wrong with women raising their children alone, but 99 percent of skeptics and 98 percent of rejectors believe this type of family unit is bad for society, reported. The poll only asked about single mothers, not single fathers.


White House Pushes to Slow Challenge to Health Care Law

The U.S. Supreme Court should not allow Virginia to bypass a federal appeals court in the state’s challenge to the new federal health care law, the Obama administration said in court papers filed with the justices Monday.

The federal government says there is no reason to take the rare step of “short-circuiting” review by appellate judges, a process that has already been accelerated, the Associated Press reported.

The health care law’s requirement that all citizens must buy health insurance or face a penalty was struck down by a federal judge in Virginia. The Obama administration says the requirement is within Congress’ powers and asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. to reverse that ruling.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli then petitioned the Supreme Court in an effort to sidestep the appeals court, the AP reported.