Health Highlights: Sept. 28, 2015

Health Highlights: Sept. 28, 2015

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

Religious Nonprofits Challenging Birth Control Coverage Rules

Faith-associated nonprofit organizations want the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Affordable Care Act’s rules regarding the provision of birth control to women covered by their health plans.

The religion-focused charities, hospitals and colleges are fighting the Obama administration over an accommodation that permits them to opt out of providing birth control coverage, the Associated Press reported.

The groups claim the accommodation is not sufficient because they still play a role in providing government-approved birth control to women covered by their plans, even though they don’t have to pay for the contraceptives.

Seven courts ruled against the groups, but a recent federal appeals court ruled in their favor. This type of disagreement among lower courts often results in a case being considered by the Supreme Court, the AP reported.

So far, the Supreme Court has heard three cases concerning the Affordable Care Act. The high court sided with the law in two cases, but did allow some for-profit companies with religious objections to refuse to pay for birth control for women.

Religious institutions whose primary mandate is to spread the faith do not have to offer birth control, and the Obama administration says the accommodation gives religious-affiliated nonprofit organizations sufficient moral and financial freedom.

They simply have to say that paying for any or all of the 20 birth control methods and devices approved under the Affordable Care Act violates their religious beliefs, the AP reported.

This requires completing a document or otherwise notifying the federal government so that their insurers or third-party administrators can assume responsibility of paying for the contraceptives.

The organizations do not have to arrange coverage or pay for it. Insurers are reimbursed by the government through credits against fees they owe under other sections of the health law, the AP reported.

However, a number of faith-associated charities, hospitals, colleges and other organizations claim they are still being forced to be involved in providing coverage for birth control.

Groups that do no comply with the accommodation requirements may face fines, the AP reported.


New U.S. Program Seeks to Reduce HIV Infections in Africa

A $300-million program to lower HIV infections in girls and women in 10 African nations was announced by the Obama administration.

The effort in the sub-Saharan nations hardest hit by HIV/AIDS aims to reduce infection rates in females ages 15-24 by 25 percent by the end of next year, and by 40 percent by the end of 2017, the Associated Press reported.

The countries are Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“No greater action is needed right now than empowering adolescent girls and young women to defeat HIV/AIDS,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said, the AP reported.

The program is the next phase in the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It is believed to have saved millions of lives in Africa since it was launched by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Barack Obama.


FDA Approves New Diabetes Treatment

A new diabetes treatment was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

Sold under the brand name Tresiba, the drug is a long-acting insulin product, the agency said in a news release. It is injected once daily and helps control blood sugar levels in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The FDA also approved a related treatment, Ryzodeg, which combines Tresiba and another insulin. Both treatments are made by Novo Nordisk, based in Plainsboro, N.J.

In 2013, the FDA rejected the company’s request for approval of Tresiba because of concerns over heart safety, the Wall Street Journal reported. At the time, the agency requested a trial looking at any possible heart risks in people using Treisba. Last March, the company resubmitted its application for Tresiba after an interim analysis of that trial, the newspaper reported.

The FDA said in its news release Friday that Tresiba’s overall efficacy and safety were evaluated in numerous trials involving more than 3,700 patients with type 1 and type diabetes. The results showed that blood-sugar reduction was comparable to other long-acting insulin products, the agency added.

“Long-acting insulins play an essential role in the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes and in patients with type 2 diabetes with advanced disease,” Dr. Jean-Marc Guettier, director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the news release. “The FDA remains committed to support the development of innovative therapies for the treatment of diabetes.”

Tresiba and Ryzodeg should not be used by diabetes patients who have high levels of ketones in their blood, and some common effects include episodes of low blood sugar, allergic reactions, rashes, itching, swelling and weight gain, the agency noted.