Health Highlights: March 5, 2014

Health Highlights: March 5, 2014

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

Another Delay in Full Implementation of Obamacare

Another delay in the full implementation of the new health care law will be announced by the Obama administration, according to a news report.

The Hill said Tuesday that the White House will allow insurers to continue offering health plans that don’t meet the minimum coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act, the New York Daily News reported.

It’s the second time in recent months that the Obama administration has taken this type of action. Without the delay, there would have been another round of policy cancellations.

It’s not known how long the latest delay will last, but sources told The Hill that it might extend until the end of Obama’s second term, according to the Daily News.

The first delay was announced last November and came after insurers cancelled a large number of health policies that did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as Obamacare.

In promoting the new health care law, Obama had promised that nobody would lose health insurance plans that they wanted to keep, the Daily News reported.

Since it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has been plagued be a number of problems, including website malfunctions that stalled enrollment.


Program to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Germs Proposed in White House Budget

A new program to combat the growing threat of dangerous antibiotic-resistant superbugs in hospitals was proposed in the federal budget released Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants $30 million to establish laboratories in five regions of the country to improve hospitals’ abilities to rapidly diagnose and fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, the Associated Press reported.

Antibiotic-resistant infections kill more than 23,000 Americans a year, according to the CDC.

If the program receives $30 million a year for five years, it could greatly reduce that toll. For example, the program could halve the number of cases of infection with a particularly dangerous intestinal bug called Clostridium difficile, thereby preventing at least 20,000 deaths, 168,000 hospitalizations and $1 billion in health care costs, the AP reported.

In a separate announcement Tuesday, the CDC said that every hospital needs to develop a program to track and improve antibiotic prescribing. The agency noted that overuse and misuse of these drugs helps bacteria develop resistance. For example, doctors in some hospitals prescribe antibiotics three times more often than those in other hospitals.


Author of Book on Dying Dies at Age 83

An American medical ethicist who wrote an award-winning book about death died Monday.

Dr. Sherwin Nuland, 83, died of prostate cancer at his home in Hamden, Conn., according to his daughter Amelia Nuland. She said her father told her he wasn’t ready to die because he loved life.

“He told me, `I’m not scared of dying, but I’ve built such a beautiful life, and I’m not ready to leave it,'” she told the Associated Press.

In 1994, Dr. Nuland wrote a book called “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter,” which contributed to national discussion about end-of-life decisions and doctor-assisted suicide. The book won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was a best-seller in many countries.

Nuland opposed efforts to prolong life when it was clear that further treatment was pointless, and was also against doctor-assisted suicide, the AP reported.


U.S. Travelers to Phillipines Need Measles Vaccinations: CDC

Many of the 54 measles cases reported in the United States so far this year originated in the Philippines, federal health officials say.

Eighteen cases involved unvaccinated Americans and four cases involved visitors from other countries. A dozen of those 22 cases originated in the Philippines and 10 in other countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported.

The remaining 32 cases of measles were in people who were infected by U.S. travelers to, or visitors from, other countries, or in people who didn’t know how they became infected.

Of the 54 reported cases of measles in the U.S. so far this year, 21 were in California, Dr. Jane Seward, the CDC’s deputy director for the division of viral diseases, told NBC News.

The CDC said that people traveling to the Philippines need to be vaccinated against the measles. There were 1,163 cases of measles reported there in early January.

On average, the U.S. has about 60 cases of measles a year, but there were 189 cases last year, NBC News reported.


Rare Mutation Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes: Study

Scientitsts who identified a rare mutation that protects people from developing type 2 diabetes say the finding may lead to the development of new drugs that can prevent the disease.

The mutation — which shields even overweight people from diabetes — was pinpointed by the researchers after they conducted genetic tests on 150,000 people, The New York Times reported.

The mutation wipes out a gene used by cells in the pancreas, where insulin is produced. People with the mutation appear to make a bit more insulin and have somewhat lower blood sugar levels than others.

The findings from the study, which began four years ago, were published in the journal Nature Genetics.

“The study is a tour de force, and the authors are the top people in the field,” Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the center for human nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine, told The Times. He was not involved in the study.

Drug makers Pfizer and Amgen were associated with the study and have launched efforts to develop drugs that mimic the mutation. However, it can take 10 to 20 years for a discovery about genetics and disease to lead to the introduction of a new drug, noted Timothy Rolph, a Pfizer vice president.

The mutation is so rare that it could only be identified by analyzing data from a huge number of people, according to scientists.

This is the first time in diabetes research that investigators have found a gene-destroying mutation that is beneficial, Louis Philipson, director of the Kovler Diabetes Center at the University of Chicago, told The Times.

The research team — led by Dr. David Altshuler, deputy director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT — is now trying to determine if the mutation has any harmful effects. So far, there appear to be none.