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Health Updates 1 May 2012

  • Hospital debt collector draws scrutiny: “Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is calling for a full-scale investigation into the reportedly questionable debt collection practices of a company accused of harassing patients in emergency rooms into paying their bills.  Stark requested that if the practices of Accretive  Health — a company hired by hospitals to collect payments for medical care — are found to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), the federal government should issue a bulletin to hospitals informing them about the illegality of the behavior and of possible enforcement actions.  Stark said that if aggressive debt collectors are demanding payment from patients before they receive care in an emergency room, it may be a violation of EMTALA, the law that requires hospitals to provide care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay….’This is corporate greed at its worst, abuse of patients’ rights to dignity and privacy, and, I believe, a possible violation of several laws,’ said Stark in a press release.  Stark’s call comes after a New York Times story revealed debt collection tactics detailed in a report the paper obtained from Minnesota Attorney General Lori  Swanson.  Those tactics included embedding debt collectors who appeared to be hospital staff in Minnesota emergency rooms.     The collectors allegedly demanded that patients pay before receiving treatment…The tactics may be widespread and implemented by other debt collectors, Swanson told  the New York Times.” (Emily P. Walker, MedPage Today)
  • Teen impulsiveness has different sources in ADHD, substance use: “Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and teens who start using cigarettes, drugs or alcohol tend to share at least one personality trait: impulsiveness, experts say.  But a new brain-imaging study of nearly 1,900 14-year-olds finds that the brain networks associated with impulsivity in teens with ADHD are different compared to those who use drugs or alcohol.  What the finding suggests is that multiple underlying mechanisms drive impulsivity — in other words, the impulsivity that leads kids to blow off their homework and the impulsiveness that drives kids to take a drag off a joint aren’t the same, neurologically speaking.  ‘The behavior of the two groups might look the same, but it’s driven by different brain networks,’ said lead author Robert Whelan, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Vermont.  Moreover, the findings, published in the April 29 online issue of Nature Neuroscience, could suggest that the brain is primed to push some teens – but not others — toward substance abuse.  ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder marked by excessive levels of activity, inattention and impulsiveness beyond what’s normal for a child’s age.  People with ADHD are at higher risk of substance abuse and alcoholism.  The explanation was thought to lie in a lack of self-control or inability to curb impulses…”. (HealthDay)
  • Abuse of opiates soars in pregnant women: “The fast-growing abuse of prescription drugs has reached maternity wards in hospitals across the country, with the number of pregnant women addicted to opiate drugs – and the number of babies born experiencing withdrawal symptoms – rising sharply over the last decade.  A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association has quantified the growth of the problem for the first time, as well as the increase in the costs of treating these newborns.  The study estimated that every hour a baby is born in the United States with symptoms of withdrawal from opiates – roughly 13,500 babies a year.  The condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, can cause seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding, tremors and irritability.  Many infants are hospitalized for several weeks while doctors treat them with methadone or morphine to gradually wean them from their dependence on the drugs that their mothers used.  ‘The incidence has gone crazy and I think it has the potential to become a national or international issue,’ said Marie J. Hayes, a clinical neuroscientist of the University of Maine, and an author of an editorial accompanying the study. ‘People who previously might not have used heroin or the needle are more likely to use prescription opiates.’  It is unclear whether babies exposed to opiates in the womb will experience long-term consequences.” (NY Times)
  • Secondhand smoke permeates many apartment buildings: “A new survey of American apartment dwellers reveals that upwards of a third of nonsmoking residents sniff the stench of secondhand smoke in their building’s public spaces, while almost half smell it within their own homes.  ‘As a pediatrician, I have had a lot of feedback from parents who have been telling me that this is really a significant issue for them,’ said study author Dr. Karen Wilson.  ‘But I do think for many people this is a relatively new concept to think about, in terms of looking at the situation and the potential impact, and then being able to do something about it’.”  Building regulations were reviewed, and only total bans seemed to have an appreciable impact on secondhand smoke.  “‘We clearly saw that a total ban is much more effective than a partial ban,’ Wilson noted.  ‘And with that I would say that while I absolutely support moves to ban smoking in the workplace, at the very least adults have some choice in the matter in terms of their being able to leave a job or go somewhere else if they come into a work environment where smoking is still allowed.  Children in the home, however, do not have that choice….Parents need to advocate and speak up, and say ‘I don’t want my child to be exposed while they’re sleeping, doing their homework or  playing at home,” she added.  ‘And they should ask their landlord about smoking regulations in any apartment building they’re considering before they move in’.” (womenshealth.gov)
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