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Health & Fitness (239)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An experimental drug has shown encouraging results in treating advanced breast cancer in an early clinical trial, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer reported Sunday.

Pfizer, the world's second largest drugmaker, said the drug prevented breast cancer from worsening for 20.2 months in a trial involving 165 patients. Current medications do so for 10.2 months. The drug, known as palbociclib, is among a new class of cancer drugs that target specific proteins to block tumors.

The outcome wasn't as positive as some initial results reported earlier in the tests, said University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon, who studies the biomedical industry but isn't affiliated with the trial.

But, he added, "there's been a lot of hope surrounding this class of cancer drugs, and this keeps that hope alive."

Wall Street analysts have been closely watching the tests given the potential market for palbociclib. Breast cancer is the most common cancer to strike women.

"It's good news, but some investors are disappointed, because they expected more," Gordon said. In earlier results, the drug had kept the cancer from worsening for 18 additional months, rather than 10.

The results were presented by the lead researcher, Dr. Richard S. Finn, associate professor of medicine at UCLA, during the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in San Diego.

The drug will likely need to undergo broader testing with more patients before the Food and Drug Administration will approve it. The FDA sometimes accelerates approval for drugs that show promise.

Other companies, including Eli Lilly and Novartis, have similar medications that are also in clinical trials.

Pfizer's fledgling cancer drug business has been a recent bright spot for the company, which has many older drugs that will soon lose patent protection.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 07 April 2014 06:54
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Here's more fallout from the health care law: Until now, customers could walk into an insurance office or go online to buy standard health care coverage any time of year. Not anymore.
 
Many people who didn't sign up during the government's open enrollment period that ended Monday will soon find it difficult or impossible to get insured this year, even if they go directly to a private company and money is no object. For some it's already too late.
 
With limited exceptions, insurers are refusing to sell to individuals after the enrollment period for HealthCare.gov and the state marketplaces. They will lock out the young and healthy as well as the sick or injured. Those who want to switch plans also are affected. The next wide-open chance to enroll comes in November for coverage in 2015.
 
It's a little-noted consequence of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which requires nearly all Americans to be insured or pay a fine and requires insurers to accept people with health problems.
 
"I have people that can buy insurance, but the companies shut them down. They won't take the applications," insurance broker Steve Bobiak of Frackville, Pa., said. "We're a free country. You should be able to buy anything anytime you want."
 
Those who act now may still be able to get in, depending on where they live. Following the lead of the government marketplaces, some companies are extending off-marketplace sales for a week or a month to help people who hit snags trying to enroll by this week's deadline. Rules vary from state to state.
 
After those extensions, eligibility for coverage during 2014 is guaranteed only for people who experience certain qualifying life events, such as losing a job that provided insurance, moving to a new state, getting married, having a baby or losing coverage under a parent's health plan.
 
The federal law doesn't prevent companies from selling policies to everyone all year. But insurers consider it too risky now that the law prohibits them from rejecting people in poor health.
 
"If you didn't have an open enrollment period, you would have people who would potentially enroll when they get sick and dis-enroll when they get better," said Chris Stenrud, spokesman for insurer Kaiser Permanente. "The only insured people would be sick people, which would make insurance unaffordable for everyone."
 
Bobiak, whose NICA Benefits company helps people buy insurance in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, said he learned only a couple of weeks ago that insurers were cutting off new policies.
 
"It's lousy communication out there," he said. "If we don't know, my God, how do they expect other people to know? It's terrible."
 
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in mid-March found that 6 out of 10 people without insurance weren't aware of the marketplace deadline on March 31. The Obama administration, insurance companies and nonprofit groups scrambled to spread the word, often with messages that focused on the cost savings available to many people through the government marketplaces.
 
There wasn't much public discussion about people who prefer to buy policies outside the marketplaces, sometimes finding better deals or options more to their liking.
 
Health and Human Services spokesman Aaron Albright pointed to a cryptic note on the HealthCare.gov website: It says "in some limited cases some insurance companies may sell private health plans outside the marketplace and outside open enrollment" that satisfy the law's coverage mandate. It doesn't say how to find any companies doing that. Albright had no further comment.
 
Gary Claxton, a health law expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it's "highly unlikely" that companies will offer such coverage after the deadline window fully closes. Some do still offer temporary plans, lasting from a month to a year. But those plans don't cover pre-existing conditions and don't get buyers off the hook for the law's tax penalty.
 
Nate Purpura, spokesman for eHealthInsurance.com, which sells policies from 200 companies across the nation, said at this point he knows of none planning to offer major medical insurance after this month, except to people with qualifying life events.
 
For people trying to get an off-marketplace plan through an open enrollment extension, some insurers are selling them through April 15, and others through the end of the month. Purpura said eHealth will offer such plans in at least some areas of these states: Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington state.
 
Kaiser Permanente will offer extensions that mirror the state or federal marketplace in the area where a plan is sold, Stenrud said. The federal marketplace extension for online enrollment is April 15. But Oregon, for example, is giving marketplace buyers until April 30.
 
After that, Stenrud said, without a qualifying life event, the door closes until Nov. 15.
 
---
 
Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/CONNIECASS
 
© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Friday, 04 April 2014 08:41
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Wednesday, 02 April 2014 10:20
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A blizzard, jammed phone lines and unreliable websites failed to stop throngs of procrastinating Americans from trying to sign up for health coverage by the midnight Monday deadline for President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy initiative.

In Louisiana, wait times for callers lasted up to two hours. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee received nearly 1,900 calls by midday compared with about 800 the previous Monday. And in California, where enrollments surged toward the Obama administration's original projection of 1.3 million, the deadline day volume forced the state exchange to switch off a key function on its website and encourage people to finish their applications in the days ahead.

Across the nation, the interest in getting health insurance and avoiding a federal tax penalty was made clear in interviews with enrollment counselors and consumers.

"I have not had a physical in over 15 years," said Dionne Gilbert, a 51-year-old uninsured woman from Denver who waited in a 90-minute line to get enrollment assistance. "I told myself, `You need to do this. Your daughter loves you and needs you.'"

The last-minute rush was expected to significantly boost the number of Americans gaining coverage under the new law, and government officials told The Associated Press late Monday that they were on track to sign up more than 7 million Americans for health insurance by the deadline. But the months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.

The administration has not said how many of those who already have signed up closed the deal by paying their first month's premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured - the real test of Obama's health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.

In Washington, the law's supporters already have their sights on Version 2.0 - fixes for the next open enrollment season commencing Nov. 15.

The advocacy group Families USA, which has backed Obama's overhaul from its inception, plans to release a 10-point package of improvements Tuesday that it says the administration can carry out without the approval of Congress. Among the recommendations: more face-to-face sign-ups, coordinating enrollment with tax-filing season to better show the consequences of remaining uninsured, eliminating penalties for smokers as California has done and improving coordination between the exchanges and state Medicaid programs.

"Clearly, the first enrollment period also informed us about different areas where improvements can be made," said Ron Pollack, the group's executive director.

On Monday, supporters of the health care law fanned out across the country in a final dash to sign up uninsured Americans. The HealthCare.gov website, which was receiving 1.5 million visitors a day last week, had recorded about 1.2 million through noon Monday.

At times, more than 125,000 people were simultaneously using the system, straining it beyond its previously estimated capacity. People not signed up for health insurance by the deadline, either through their jobs or on their own, were subject to IRS fines - a threat that helped drive the rush.

The federal website operating in 36 states stumbled early - out of service for nearly four hours as technicians patched a software bug. An afternoon hiccup temporarily kept new applicants from signing up, and the process slowed further as the day wore on. Overwhelmed by computer problems when launched last fall, the system has been working much better in recent months, but independent testers say it still runs slowly.

The administration announced last week that people who started applying for health insurance but were not able to finish before Monday's enrollment deadline will get extra time. A variety of issues led people to seek this extension.

Health insurers and advocates in South Dakota encouraged residents to try to start the process on their own or leave a message at a federal hotline should they have to cancel an appointment with an insurance counselor because of a spring blizzard that dumped up to a foot of snow.

Those who showed up at enrollment events in other states found long lines and technical delays. Even those providing assistance were sometimes stymied.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., navigator Allie Stern waited 90 minutes to talk to an operator on a federal hotline. Patty Gumpee, 50, walked away without completing her application because of problems with the website. She made an appointment to try again next week.

"I need the health insurance. I need it for doctors' appointments," said Gumpee, who hasn't had insurance in years and goes to the emergency room when she's sick.

Braxton Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Topeka, Kan., resident, left an enrollment event at the city library frustrated. He was unable to verify an online identification after two weeks of trying. A part-time Wal-Mart worker, he didn't have health insurance and wanted to avoid the tax penalty.

"I'm not impressed with it at all," Rodriguez said of the federal government's website.

At a Houston community center, there were immigrants from Ethiopia, Nepal, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and other conflict-torn areas, many trying anew after failing to complete applications previously. In addition to needing enrollment help, many needed to wait for interpreters.

Others found the process more bearable.

Michael Carradine, a 20-year-old Sacramento State University student, arrived early at a registration hosted by a union and got subsidized health care in about 45 minutes. Carradine said it was important, but admits it was his mother who got him out of bed and encouraged him to get signed up.

"She was like, `We don't want to be fined,'" said Carradine, who enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross plan with a monthly premium of $106 after subsidies.

Allison Webb hadn't had been insured since 2005 before signing up over the weekend at a Community Health Network clinic in Long Island City, N.Y.

"Luckily, I haven't been sick," said Webb, 29, who works full time for a messenger service that does not provide health insurance.

After choosing a comprehensive medical and dental plan that will cost her about $60 per month, Webb can start going to doctors or a dentist in May.

"I'm glad that I don't have to worry about it anymore," she said.

---

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington, D.C., John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., Kelli Kennedy in Miami, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, N.Y., and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 07:00
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration's health care website is stumbling on deadline day for sign-ups.

Visitors to HealthCare.gov on Monday morning saw messages that the site was down for maintenance. At times the visitors were also directed to a virtual waiting room - a feature designed to ease the strain on the site during periods of heavy use.

Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said the website undergoes "regular nightly maintenance" during off-peak hours and that period was extended because of a "technical problem." He did not say what the problem was, but a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services called it "a software bug" unrelated to application volume.

Albright said consumers seeking to sign up will be able to leave their email and "will be invited back when the system is available." Consumers can also call 1-800-318-2596 to complete the application process.

Albright said the website is typically down for maintenance during the period from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. EDT, and that as a result of the technical problems the site was down for at least three additional hours on Monday morning.

The sign-up website had been taken down briefly Friday, with consumer interest surging. Lately the site has been getting about 1.5 million visits a day.

A recent analysis for The Associated Press by the performance-measurement firm Compuware found that the government site runs slow compared with health insurance industry peers.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 31 March 2014 07:23
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Monday is the deadline to sign up for private health insurance in the new online markets created by President Barack Obama's health care law. So far, about 4 out of every 5 people enrolling have qualified for tax credits to reduce the cost of their premiums.

Here's what you need to know:

- The deadline is at midnight EDT for the states where the federal government is running the sign-up website; states running their own exchanges set their own deadlines.

- You can sign up online by going to HealthCare.gov or your state insurance exchange. If you don't know what your state marketplace is called, HealthCare.gov will direct you.

-You can call 1-800-318-2596 to sign up by phone or get help from an enrollment specialist.

-Check online for sign-up centers that may be open locally, offering in-person assistance.

-If you started an application by Monday but didn't finish, perhaps because of errors, missing information or website glitches, you can take advantage of a grace period. The government says it will accept paper applications until April 7 and take as much time as necessary to handle unfinished cases on HealthCare.gov.

-Be prepared for the possibility of long wait times.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Monday, 31 March 2014 07:22
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There's fresh evidence that a lot of young people could be headed for heart trouble. A large study of preteens in Texas found that about one-third of them had borderline or high cholesterol when tested during routine physical exams.

The results seem to support recent guidelines that call for every child to have a cholesterol test between 9 and 11 - the ages of the 13,000 youths in this study. Many doctors and adults have balked at screening all children that young, but researchers say studies like this may convince them it's worthwhile.

"A concerning number of children" are at risk of heart problems later in life, and more needs to be done to prevent this at an earlier age, said Dr. Thomas Seery of Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.

He led the study, which will be presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in Washington this weekend.

Estimates are that by the fourth grade, 10 to 13 percent of U.S. children will have high cholesterol. Half of them will go on to have it as adults, raising their risk for heart attacks, strokes and other problems.

High cholesterol rarely causes symptoms in kids. Many genes and inherited conditions also cause high cholesterol but not obesity, so it can be missed especially in youths who are slim or athletic.

The new study involved children having routine physicals from January 2010 to July 2011 at the largest pediatric primary care network in the nation, more than 45 clinics in the Houston area. One-third were Hispanic, about one-third were white, and 18 percent were black. About one-third were obese.

Unhealthy total cholesterol levels were found in 34 percent. LDL or "bad cholesterol" was borderline or too high in 46 percent, and HDL or "good" cholesterol was borderline or too low in 44 percent. Just over half had normal triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood.

Boys were more likely than girls to have higher total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, Seery said. Hispanics were more likely to have higher cholesterol and triglycerides.

"I would hope that data like these would get the attention of general pediatricians," because many cases of disease are being missed now, said Dr. Elaine Urbina, director of preventive cardiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

She was on the expert panel appointed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that wrote the screening guidelines issued in 2011 and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They call for screening everyone between age 9 to 11 and again 17 to 21.

"Very few people know their entire family history," and many forms of high cholesterol occur in people who are not obese, so screening is needed to catch more cases, she said.

High cholesterol doesn't necessarily mean the child needs medicines like statin drugs, she said. The guidelines stress diet and lifestyle changes as the first step.

---

Online:

Screening guidelines: HTTP://WWW.NHLBI.NIH.GOV/GUIDELINES/CVD-PED/INDEX.HTM

Cholesterol info: HTTP://TINYURL.COM/23DTXVO

---

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MMARCHIONEAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

 

Friday, 28 March 2014 08:10
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