Health Highlights: April 7, 2010

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

Con Artists Using New Health Law to Sell Bogus Policies

American consumers are being warned about scam artists trying to use the new health insurance law to sell fake policies.

Since the health reform bill was signed March 23 by President Barack Obama, some hustlers have been going door-to-door misleadingly telling people there's a limited open-enrollment period to purchase health insurance, while others have set up toll-free lines to sell phony policies, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged state insurance commissioners and attorneys general to investigate and prosecute such scams to the fullest.

The issue is also on the radar of federal health-care fraud investigators.

"Unfortunately, scam artists and criminals may be using the passage of these historic reforms as an opportunity to confuse and defraud the public," Sebelius wrote in the letter, the AP reported.


Young Adults Struggle After Leaving Foster Care: Study

A new study finds that young adults who grew up in foster care struggle to find jobs and stay out of trouble.

Researchers tracked 602 youths in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin who were required to leave foster care when they were 18 or 21 and found that only half of them were employed by their mid-20s, The New York Times reported.

The study also found that six in 10 men had been convicted of a crime and three in four women, many with children of their own, were receiving some form of public assistance. Only six in 100 of the former foster children had completed a college degree.

"We took them away from their parents on the assumption that we as a society would do a better job of raising them," said study leader Mark Courtney, a sociologist at the University of Washington, the Times reported. "We've invested a lot money and time in their care, and by many measures they're still doing very poorly."

Each year in the United States, about 30,000 young adults are "aged out" of foster care. This long-term study is the largest to follow these people over many years.


EPA Proposes Adding 16 Chemicals to Toxics List

In the first expansion of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) in more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing adding 16 chemicals to the list.

The publicly available database contains information about toxic chemical releases and waste management activities reported each year by certain industries and federal facilities.

Based on a review of available studies, the EPA concluded that the 16 chemicals can cause cancer in humans. Public comment on the proposed inclusion of these 16 chemicals will be accepted for 60 days after the proposal appears in the Federal Register.

According to an EPA news release, four of the chemicals fall under the polycyclic aromatic compounds category. This category includes chemicals that are "persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic and are likely to remain in the environment for a very long time. These chemicals are not readily destroyed and may build up or accumulate in body tissue," the news release said.

Currently, the TRI contains information on nearly 650 chemicals and chemical groups from about 22,000 industrial facilities across the country.


Anti-Psychotics Boost Pneumonia Risk in Elderly: Study

Anti-psychotic drugs are associated with a nearly two-fold increased risk of potentially deadly pneumonia in elderly people, says a Dutch study that included nearly 2,000 patients over age 65.

The increased risk of pneumonia begins soon after the start of treatment, said the researchers. Of the patients with pneumonia, one-quarter died within a month, BBC News reported.

"Clinicians who start treatment with anti-psychotic drugs should closely monitor patients, particularly at the start of therapy and if high doses are given," wrote the researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.

The study appears in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Anti-psychotic drugs are often given to dementia patients to manage aggression.

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