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Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:00 AM

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

No Cause Given for Ongoing Salmonella Outbreak

The salmonella bacterium continues to sicken hundreds of Americans, and the latest strain has caused an outbreak in 42 states during the past three months, with a reported 388 cases.

USA Today reports that officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have become concerned enough about the latest incidences to form a task force to find the cause.

This can be a daunting task. For example, more than 1,400 people in the United States suffered from salmonella poisoning in 2008 before the source was found -- peppers imported from Mexico. And another 401 cases in 41 states were reported in November, caused by the bacterium in microwaveable pot pies.

Infectious disease specialists don't yet know the source of the current illnesses, if there is indeed a single source.

The CDC says salmonella symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever, and it usually is spread by fecal matter coming in contact with food people eat, whether animal or vegetable.

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Fewer Than Half of Distressed Adults Sought Treatment

Of the 24.3 million adults who had serious psychological distress (SPD) in 2006, fewer than half (44.6 percent) sought treatment, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said Wednesday.

"This report shows that mental health problems affect almost 10 percent of people over age 18 years old, but less than half receive services that could help improve their situation," SAMHSA Acting Administrator Eric Broderick said in a news release.

The SPD rate was highest among adults aged 18 to 25 (17.9 percent), followed by those aged 26 to 49 (12.2 percent) and 50 or older (7 percent). Of adults 18 to 25, 29.4 percent received mental health services, compared to 47.2 percent among people 26 to 49 and 53.8 percent of those 50 and older.

Slightly more than half (50.9 percent) of whites availed themselves of mental health services, compared to fewer than 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics, the agency said.

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Millions Purchasing Individual Health Insurance Policies

About 10.9 million Americans under age 65 bought individual health insurance policies in 2006, but just 7 million of them were covered for the entire year, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Those who were covered for only part of 2006 -- the most recent year for which statistics are available -- were covered for an average of six months, the agency said in a news release.

Most individual health policies are bought because purchasers can't get insurance from their employers, or they are unemployed, or they don't qualify for Medicaid or other public insurance plans, the AHRQ said.

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Agency: Medicare Change Should Mean Lower Drug Costs

A change that begins next year in Medicare's Part D regulations should translate to lower costs for Medicare participants at the pharmacy counter, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a news release.

The change, effective Jan. 1, 2010, revises the way pharmacies report negotiated drug prices under Part D. It distinguishes between administrative costs and the actual price of a drug paid to a pharmacy by a pharmacy benefit manager. This change should create a uniform standard of drug costs for all Part D sponsors and result in lower negotiated prices for drugs, the agency said.

The rule also allows the agency to impose a penalty of up to $25,000 for each Medicare enrollee who has been adversely affected when the agency determines that a Part D contract has been violated.

The rule change will be of particular help to beneficiaries with high drug costs, since it should slow the beneficiaries' movement toward Medicare's drug coverage limits, the agency said.

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