Health Highlights: Oct. 7, 2010

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

Obama Health Care Law Gets Boost From Michigan Ruling

A constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care reform package suffered a setback Thursday, with a Michigan judge ruling that Congress did not overstep its authority in passing legislation requiring people to purchase health insurance, CBS News reported.

In his ruling, Federal Judge George Caram Steeh rejected claims put forward by the Thomas More Law Center and a number of Michigan residents who said they should not have to purchase a health plan that could fund abortions. The decision hinged on two constitutional issues: whether the legislation contravened the Commerce Clause because it outstripped Congressional authority, and whether it could be considered an unconstitutional tax.

According to CBS, Steeh rejected both arguments, saying that Congress did have the power to pass the law since it had an effect on interstate commerce and was an ingredient in broader regulatory action.


California Whooping Cough Cases Most Since 1955

California’s whooping cough epidemic has reached 5,270 cases, the highest number since the 4,949 cases reported in 1955, the state’s health department said this week.

The epidemic of the highly contagious bacterial infection has claimed the lives of nine infants this year. All of them were too young to be fully immunized against the illness, the Associated Press reported.

Typically, babies receive a series of whooping cough vaccinations, followed by booster shots between the ages of 4 and 6 and again after they’re 10 years old. Booster shots are recommended every 10 years for adults.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will require all junior and high school students in the state to get booster shots against whooping cough before the start of school in 2011. That requirement will be extended to students entering grade 7 in the fall of 2012, the AP reported.


U.S. Lags In Life Expectancy Gains: Study

The United States is falling behind other nations when it comes to gains in life expectancy, finds a new study.

For example, even though life expectancy in the U.S. rose between 1975 and 2005, the life expectancy ranking for a 45-year-old man in the U.S. fell from third place to 12th during that time, while 45-year-old American women were in last place, United Press International reported.

The researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York analyzed data from the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The study, which appears in the journal Health Affairs, was conducted for the Commonwealth Fund.

The researchers said the U.S. decline in life expectancy ranking may be due to reasons such as unregulated fee-for-service health care payments and a reliance on specialty care, UPI reported.


White House Didn’t Reveal Oil Spill Worst-Case Scenario: Panel

Preliminary reports from a presidential commission say the White House failed to act upon or fully inform Americans about its worst-case estimates of the amount of oil spewing from the blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico.

These failures slowed response efforts and meant that the public went weeks without being fully informed about the extent of the disaster, said the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, The New York Times reported.

“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem,” said one of the reports, which were released Wednesday.

The Obama administration defended itself, saying it never tried to hide its most serious estimates of the spill and that it directed all available resources to tackle the disaster, the Times reported.

The commission’s final report will be submitted to the White House early next year.


Ban Food Stamp Use for Sugary Drinks: NYC Mayor

A proposal to prohibit New York City residents to use food stamps on sugar-sweetened drinks will be announced Thursday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson.

They’ll ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to add sugary drinks to the list of prohibited goods for the 1.7 million city residents receiving food stamps, the Associated Press reported. The USDA administers the nation’s food stamp program.

The effectiveness of the temporary two-year program would be studied by officials.

“This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment,” Bloomberg said in a news release, the AP reported.


30 Companies Given Health Coverage Waivers

McDonald’s and Jack in the Box are among the 30 U.S. employers that have been given health coverage waivers in order to protect coverage for nearly one million workers, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The waivers mean the companies won’t have to raise the minimum annual benefit included in low-cost plans typically used to provide coverage for part-time or low-wage workers, Bloomberg News reported.

The waivers were granted in September so that workers with these types of plans wouldn’t lose coverage if an employer decided to drop health insurance altogether due to increasing coverage levels, government officials said.

“The big political issue here is the president promised no one would lose the coverage they’ve got,” Robert Laszewski, chief executive officer of consulting company Health Policy and Strategy Associates, told Bloomberg. “Here we are a month before the election, and these companies represent 1 million people who would lose the coverage they’ve got.”