Health Highlights: March 19, 2012

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

Women Still Have Higher Health Insurance Rates

The same health insurance coverage still costs women more than men in most states, even though the new federal health care law will prohibit such “gender rating” starting in 2014.

In states that have not banned gender rating, more than 90 percent of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men, according to a National Women’s Law Center report to be issued this week, The New York Times reported.

Only 14 states have moved to limit or ban gender rating in the individual insurance market.

Insurers say women’s premiums are higher because they’re more likely to visit doctors, to take prescription medicines, to get regular checkups and to have certain chronic illnesses, The Times reported.

But this explanation is “highly questionable” because disparities between women’s and men’s rates can vary greatly in the same state, according to Marcia D. Greenberger, a president of the National Women’s Law Center.

“In Arkansas, for example, one health plan charges 25-year-old women 81 percent more than men, while a similar plan in the same state charges women only 10 percent more,” she told The Times.


HHS Says Health Care Law Cut Seniors’ Drug Costs

Under the new health care law, nearly 4 million American seniors saved about $2.16 billion through discounts for their prescription drugs in 2011, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Officials said making drugs more affordable for seniors should help keep government costs down in the future, USA Today reported.

“Before, many beneficiaries were forced to stop taking the drugs,” said Jonathon Blum, director of the Center for Medicare.

He explained that when Medicare recipients are able to afford their medications, they are hospitalized less often for health problems such as asthma attacks, low blood sugar and heart attacks, USA Today reported.


Use of Meds That Conflict With Cancer Drugs Common: Study

Many patients on targeted cancer drugs also take other medicines that may reduce the cancer treatment’s effectiveness or cause toxic side effects, according to a new study.

Researchers found that 23 percent to 57 percent of patients who received one of nine targeted cancer pills were also prescribed medicines that may limit the effects of the cancer treatment, and 24 percent to 74 percent were given drugs that could cause toxic side effects when used at the same time as the cancer drugs, Bloomberg news reported.

The study was conducted by a team at Medco Healthy Solutions Inc. and presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

“Oncologists are not always aware of other medications prescribed by other doctors and vice-versa, which can pose a real hazard for their patients on oral cancer therapies,” Steven Bowlin, one of the study authors and senior director at Medco’s research division, said in a statement, Bloomberg reported.