Health Highlights: Aug. 29, 2013

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

Gay Couples Under Medicare Should Have Equal Access to Same Nursing Home, HHS Says

In what U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius calls her department's first response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian Medicare recipients will now have equal coverage for and access to the nursing home where their spouse already resides.

"Today, Medicare is ensuring that all beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation," Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in an agency news release.

"Prior to this, a beneficiary in a same-sex marriage enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan did not have equal access to such coverage and, as a result, could have faced time away from his or her spouse or higher costs because of the way that marriage was defined for this purpose," Tavenner explained.

In the past, a senior covered by Medicare Advantage who had a same-sex spouse often had to face difficult choices when it came time for nursing home care. According to the HHS news release, some may have had to accept care at a separate nursing home facility from where their loved one was receiving care. Or, if they wanted to reside at the same facility, they might have to drop out of Medicare and pay the cost out-of-pocket.

"HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court's decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs," Sebelius said. "Today's announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court's decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law."

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Men Just as Likely to Suffer Depression as Women: Study

A new study counters the common wisdom that women are more likely to experience depression compared to men. The research finds that when differences in symptoms are factored in, males may suffer from depression even more often than females.

Reporting in the Aug. 28 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, a team from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University tested the usefulness of a symptom "checklist" tailored to both men and women. On top of established symptoms of depression such as sadness, insomnia and feelings of guilt or unworthiness, the team added symptoms more typically seen in men, such as outbursts of anger, substance abuse and "risk-taking behavior."

They used the new diagnostic criteria to assess rates of depression in nearly 5,700 adults who had taken part in a long-term study of mental health.

The researchers found that 30.6 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women had experienced depression at some point in their lives, the Los Angeles Times reported. The researchers then assessed people using the "male symptoms scale" and found that the number of depressed men exceeded that of women, at 26.3 percent and 21.9 percent, respectively.

"These findings could lead to important changes in the way depression is conceptualized and measured," the study authors said.

"When it comes to depression in men, to some extent we have blinders on," Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a psychiatrist who studies depression at UCLA, told the Times. "We have not been asking about and taking into account a range of symptoms that may be gender-specific."

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