Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2014

By on January 27, 2014

Health Highlights: Jan. 27, 2014

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

Marlboro Man Actor Dies From Lung Disease

An actor who portrayed the Marlboro Man in cigarette ads more than 30 years ago died earlier this month from respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Eric Lawson, 72, died Jan. 10 at his California home, his wife Susan announced Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

The actor, who posed as the smoking cowboy in Marlboro print ads from 1978 to 1981, was a smoker since age 14. Later in life, Lawson took part in an anti-smoking commercial that mocked the Marlboro Man, and appeared on “Entertainment Tonight” to talk about the harmful impact of smoking.

Lawson also had small roles on TV shows such as “Charlie’s Angels” and “Baretta” before his acting career was ended by injuries he suffered on the set of a Western film, the AP reported.


Government Cracking Down on Doctors Who Abuse Medicare

Fines and being excluded from Medicare and other federal health programs are among the penalties that could be imposed on doctors who repeatedly overcharge Medicare patients, White House officials say.

New measures to identify and punish such doctors were ordered in a directive released Jan. 15. And for the first time in more than 30 years, the federal government may reveal how much is paid to individual doctors who treat Medicare patients, The New York Times reported.

The directive defined a habitual offender as one who is “abusing the program and not changing inappropriate behavior even after extensive education to address these behaviors.”

Officials will refer cases to the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, who has the power to levy civil fines and ban physicians from Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs, The Times reported.

About 10 percent ($6 billion a year) of payments in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program are improper, federal officials estimate. But some experts believe the losses could be much higher.


Hold on Part of Health Care Law’s Birth Control Requirement Extended by U.S. Supreme Court

A hold on part of the new health law’s birth control requirement that applies to groups with religious links was extended Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the ruling, employers who inform the government in writing that they are non-profit, religious organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for birth control services do not have to fill out a form stating that providing such coverage violates their religious beliefs and do not have to provide the coverage, NBC News reported.

Friday’s decision extends a ruling made New Year’s Eve by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor. They are Catholic nuns who operate nursing homes in Baltimore and Denver and launched a lawsuit over the health care law’s requirement that employers provide coverage for birth control.

The Supreme Court’s order issued Friday will apply while the case in on appeal in the lower courts, NBC News reported.


Don’t Rely on Quick Flu Tests: CDC

Doctors should not rely entirely on quick flu tests when determining if patients have the flu, U.S. health officials say.

For unknown reasons, the rapid flu tests used in many clinics are showing that patients do not have the flu when in fact they do (false negative), according to Dr. Angela Campbell, a medical officer in the respiratory diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NBC News reported.

Flu is now widespread in 41 states and the H1N1 swine flu is causing 99 percent of the cases that are being tested, the CDC said in its weekly flu report. The false negative results from quick flu tests are cause for concern because H1N1 often targets younger adults, who don’t usually get the sickest with the flu.

The CDC said health care workers need to be ready to treat patients for the flu even if the first test is negative, NBC News reported.


U.S. Health Officials Investigate Possible Norovirus Outbreak on Cruise Ship

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship will be inspected Sunday by U.S. health officials as they investigate a possible norovirus outbreak that has sickened about 300 of the more than 3,000 passengers and crew aboard.

Known as the Explorer of the Seas, the ship was on a 10-day cruise that had departed from Cape Liberty, N.J., the cruise line and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NBC News.

The ship will be inspected by officials in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The ship had stopped earlier in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a sanitizing regimen following reports of vomiting and diarrhea by both passengers and crew members, NBC News reported.

“During its sailing, Explorer of the Seas has experienced an elevated number of persons with a gastrointestinal illness,” cruise line officials said in a statement, NBC News reported. “Those affected by the short-lived illness have responded well to over-the-counter medication being administered on board the ship.”

Typically spread very easily by infected people or contaminated food or water, norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastrointestinal illness in the United States, according to the CDC.

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