Health Highlights: March 19, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008; 12:00 AM

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

Medicare Cuts Trigger Concerns About Healthcare Access: AMA

Cuts in Medicare payments to doctors have eight out of 10 Americans concerned about access to care for seniors and baby boomers, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Medical Association.

On July 1, there will be a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. Over the next decade those cuts will grow to about 40 percent, while medical practice costs increase by 20 percent, according the AMA.

In response to this year's payment cut, 60 percent of doctors say they'll be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat. Currently, about 30 percent of Medicare patients looking for a new primary care doctor are having difficulty finding one, and the payment cuts will make access even more difficult, the group said.

"As physicians, we are terribly concerned about how these Medicaid cuts will impact our senior patients," AMA board member Dr. William A. Hazel said in a prepared statement. "Seniors and boomers are concerned too; our new poll shows that 88 percent of current Medicare patients are worried about how the cuts will impact their access to health care."

The first wave of baby boomers will be eligible for Medicare in three years when they turn 65.

Nearly three-quarters of the 1,006 telephone survey respondents, aged 18 and older, said they believe Congress should stop the cuts so that doctors can continue to treat Medicare patients, the AMA said.


Carbon Monoxide May Benefit Lung Disease Patients: Study

Extremely low doses of carbon monoxide -- a dangerous gas found in car exhaust and produced by faulty heating equipment -- may help ease symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suggests a study by researchers at the University Medical Center at Groningen in the Netherlands.

The study included 18 people who were given a low dose of carbon monoxide for two hours on four consecutive days. When the researchers checked the level of a certain type of immune cell linked to inflammation in lung mucus, they found it had decreased by about one third, on average, in the participants,BBC Newsreported. In addition, the volunteers' lungs seemed to become more resistant to the effects of an irritating chemical.

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