Health Highlights: April 15, 2015

Health Highlights: April 15, 2015

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

Medicare Payment Bill Passed by Senate

A bill that changes the way Medicare pays doctors was passed by the Senate in a 92-8 vote Tuesday and now goes to President Barack Obama for final approval. The bill was passed by the House last month.

Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it “could help slow health care cost growth,” The New York Times reported.

Without the bill, doctors would have faced a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on Wednesday or Thursday. The bill also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, through 2017.

Last year, Medicare spent $70 billion under the fee schedule used to pay doctors and some other health care professionals, which is about 12 percent of all Medicare spending, The Times reported.

The new bill moves to base payments to doctor on the quality and value of care, rather than just the volume of services. The American Medical Association strongly supported the bill, telling Congress to “fix Medicare now.”

Since 2003, Congress has passed 17 short-term bills to block cuts in Medicare doctors’ fees that were called for under the existing law. There were concerns that such cuts would cause some doctors to accept fewer Medicare patients.

The current formula for paying doctors was “horrendously flawed,” and the new bill is a “milestone for Medicare,” according to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee.

Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said the bill is “a solution to a broken Medicare payment system that has vexed congressional leaders of both parties for years,” The Times reported.

“It would mean an end to the annual exercise of Congress passing a temporary fix to the problem one year and then coming right up to the very same cliff the next year, without actually solving the underlying problem,” McConnell said.


Sierra Leone Schools Re-Open

Schools in Sierra Leone re-opened Tuesday after being close for nine months because of the Ebola outbreak.

About 1.8 million students returned to more than 8,000 schools. Government officials and the U.N. children’s agency said students’ temperatures will be checked regularly and hand washing will be promoted in order to reduce the risk of Ebola spreading in the schools, the Associated Press reported.

The education ministry said it hopes the school year’s curriculum can still be covered.

“This marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone,” said Roeland Monasch, Sierra Leone UNICEF Representative, the AP reported. “Education for all is a key part of the recovery process for the country.”


Diabetes Drugs Onglyza and Kombiglyze Should Carry Heart Failure Warning: FDA Panel

The diabetes drugs’ Onglyza and Kombiglyze should carry a new warning that they may increase the risk of heart failure and death, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel says.

In a 14-1 vote Tuesday, the panel said the drugs’ prescribing labeling should warn that they can increase the risk of hospitalization for heart failure and the risk of death from all causes, the Associated Press reported.

The panel also decided — in a 13-1 vote with one abstention — that the drugs had an acceptable heart safety profile.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the panel reviewed data from a 16,000-patient study that examined the heart safety of the two diabetes drugs, the AP reported. The FDA typically follows the advice of its advisory panels.


Kind Told to Remove Word ‘Healthy’ From Some Granola Bars

The word “healthy” should be removed from the labels of four types of Kind granola bars because they contain higher levels of saturated fat than is acceptable under regulatory standards for the term, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The FDA made the request in a letter that was sent to Kind and made public Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In a statement on its website, Kind said it is changing the labeling for the four products, including its Almond & Coconut and its Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidant granola bars, in response to the FDA letter.

However, the company said the fat content in nuts, one of the main ingredients in the bars, isn’t unhealthy, WSJ reported.

“This is similar to other foods that do not meet the standard for use of the term healthy, but are generally considered to be good for you like avocados, salmon and eggs,” according to Kind.


Tobacco Companies Sue FDA Over Label Rules

Large tobacco companies have launched legal action against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over labels on tobacco products.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday claims the FDA is violating the Tobacco Control Act by forcing them to submit labels for approval, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The tobacco companies argue that that FDA’s authority is limited to labels that make a “modified risk” claim and that they should be free to change the color and look of their packaging as they wish.

“We disagree that FDA’s new requirements that manufacturers must obtain agency authorization before changing certain product labels when the actual physical tobacco product remains exactly the same,” said Brian May, an Altria Group Inc. spokesman, WSJ reported.

“We’re asking the court to resolve these issues so that we and other manufacturers know how to proceed,” he added.