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Health Highlights: Dec. 20, 2018

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

Obamacare Sign-Ups Higher Than Expected

Despite numerous difficulties, early figures show that sign-ups for health coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") are higher than expected.

As of last Saturday's deadline for open enrollment, 8.5 million people in 39 states had enrolled. Another dozen states, including California and New York, still have to provide their numbers, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, the Associated Press reported.

That initial tally is about 4 percent lower than the previous sign-up, but a much larger decline had been predicted.

Nearly 11.8 million people nationwide signed up last year, and it's possible that number could be reached again this year after all the numbers are in, the AP reported.

One note of concern is that the number of new customers this year was down by 15 percent compared to last year.

While premiums have stabilized and consumers have more choices under the Affordable Care Act, premiums for comprehensive coverage remain too high for many people who don't quality for financial assistance, the AP reported.

Other challenges facing the program include repealing of the requirement for Americans to have health insurance, reduced advertising, and competition from lower-cost insurance that provides less coverage.

Last Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Opponents plan to appeal the decision.

The new sign-up numbers suggest that even with such struggles, there is still strong support for the health care law.

"Despite everything that has been thrown at this market, politically, with premium increases and also regulation changes, there is still a core group of Americans who want this insurance and buy this insurance every year," Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health, told the AP. "They are a hardy group of people."


Trump Administration Lead Plan Could be 'Sham,' Critic

A Trump administration plan to protect children from exposure to lead fails to provide specifics and could be a "sham," critics say.

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward on revising standards for lead in dust and drinking water and be next March will release further measures, including metrics for monitoring progress on lead abatement, acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

However, environmental and public health advocates said the plan lacks deadlines for regulatory or enforcement action.

"It may be a sham of a plan," Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund and a member of a federal advisory committee on childhood health, told the AP.

Lead exposure can cause brain damage and other major health problems.

Children in at least 4 million American households are exposed to high levels of lead, and a half-million children ages 5 or younger have blood lead levels that should lead to public health action, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the AP reported.


Prescribe Overdose Antidote Along With Opioid Painkillers: FDA Advisory Panels

The labels of prescription opioid painkillers should advise doctors to consider simultaneously prescribing the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, two U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panels recommend.

The 12-11 vote during a joint meeting of the committees was described by several members as a message to the federal government to make naloxone more widely available, easier to obtain, and cheaper, the Washington Post reported.

Naloxone can be injected or sprayed into the noses of overdose victims.

Earlier this year, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued an advisory urging opioid users, their families and friends to keep naloxone nearby, the Post reported.

While not required to do so, the FDA often follows the recommendations of its advisory committees.

In 2017, there were a record 70,000 drug overdose deaths, including a record 47,600 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The news stories provided in Health News and our Health-E News Newsletter are a service of the nationally syndicated HealthDay® news and information company. Stories refer to national trends and breaking health news, and are not necessarily indicative of or always supported by our facility and providers. This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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