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Health Care Reform Bill Price Tag is $849 Billion

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (UPI) — A healthcare package unveiled Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans, Reid said.

The price tag would be $849 billion over 10 years, covered by a number of new taxes and cuts in Medicare costs, Reid said during a presentation on Capitol Hill.

That would reduce predicted budget deficits by $127 billion by 2019, the largest saving of any of the plans currently being offered by congressional Democrats, The Washington Post reported.

Reid plans to file the legislation formally Friday evening. A procedural vote to place the measure on the Senate floor probably would occur Saturday, his office said.

The plan would provide coverage to 94 percent of Americans by dramatically expanding Medicaid and create options for people without access to affordable coverage, Reid said.

One of those options, Reid said, would be a government-run “public” option that liberals have demanded, although states could “opt out” of the public plan.

Republicans plan to fight the legislation, which they call a government takeover of healthcare that will increase taxes and healthcare costs for individuals, The New York Times reported.

“It’s going to be a Holy War,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

President Barack Obama called the development “another critical milestone in the health reform effort.”

“I was particularly pleased to see that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill will reduce the deficit by $127 billion over the next ten years and as much as $650 billion in the decade following, saving hundreds of billions while extending coverage to 31 million more Americans,” the president said in a statement released by the White House.

“Just yesterday, a bipartisan group of more than 20 leading health economists released a letter urging passage of meaningful reform and praising four key provisions that are in the Senate legislation: a fee on insurance companies offering high-premium plans, the establishment of an independent Medicare commission, reforms to the health care delivery system, and overall deficit neutrality,” Obama said. “The economists said that these provisions ‘will reduce long-term deficits, improve the quality of care, and put the nation on a firm fiscal footing.’ Those are precisely the goals we should be seeking to attain.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Human Health & Wellness, Office, People0 Comments

Secondhand Smoke Concerns Grow for Outdoor Smoking Areas

ATHENS, Ga., Nov. 19 (UPI) — Indoor smoking bans resulted in outdoor smoking areas but they may be creating a new health hazard, U.S. researchers suggest.

“Indoor smoking bans have helped to create more of these outdoor environments where people are exposed to secondhand smoke,” study co-author Luke Naeher, associate professor in the University of Georgia College of Public Health, says in a statement. “We know from our previous study that there are measurable airborne levels of secondhand smoke in these environments, and we know from this study that we can measure internal exposure.”

Naeher and colleagues recruited 20 non-smoking adults and placed them in outside bars, outside restaurants and, for the control group, outside the main library at University of Georgia. The county enacted an indoor smoking ban in 2005.

The team found an average increase of 162 percent in cotinine — a metabolite of nicotine — for the volunteers stationed at outdoor seating and standing areas at bars. There was a 102 percent increase for those outside of restaurants and a 16 percent increase for the control group near the library.

The study is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Human Health & Wellness, People, Smoking0 Comments

U.S. Senators Believe that Road to Climate Change Rumbles Through Coal Rich States

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 (UPI) — Several U.S. senators have a message for their chamber’s leaders: The road to a climate change rumbles through their coal-rich states.

Last week in a letter, a group of 14 coal-state members told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the climate change bill needs to include more protections for coal-dependent utilities, Politico reported Tuesday.

“They don’t have a deal until they get the coal-state senators, and they are a long way from doing it,” Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. “They’re going to need us to pass a bill.”

Coal is a driver for economic activity in 34 states, government data indicate. Department of Energy studies in 2007 indicated coal supplied about half of all U.S. power and employed more than 80,000 people. Each of those mining jobs spiders into 3 1/2 more jobs in associated industries, the National Mining Association said.

If Democratic senators want a climate change bill, “they are going to have to accept concessions to the coal industry,” Peter Gray, chairman of the environmental law practice at McKenna Long and Aldridge, told the Washington publication.

Even Senate liberals concede coal state senators constitute a voting bloc.

“You are not going to have 60 votes in the Senate to shut down coal,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a liberal who supports stronger environmental and accountability standards for coal plants, told Politico.

But while the coal industry and its backers try to chip away at the bill Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sponsored and which passed the Environment and Public Works Committee that she leads, a weaker emissions target could be a no-vote for liberal Democrats.

“I’ll do everything I can to oppose that,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Coal, Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, People0 Comments

Massive Chinese Landslide Kills at Least 3, Leaves 20 Missing

LULIANG, China, Nov. 17 (UPI) — A massive landslide in northern China killed at least three people and left about 20 others missing, officials said Tuesday.

About 300 rescuers in a village in north China’s Shanxi province recovered three bodies from the debris in Luliang and two people were pulled out alive, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Officials said the landslide occurred about 10:40 a.m. Many of the victims reportedly were migrant workers employed at a nearby coal mine, as well as their families. Xinhua said the workers are all natives of Yunnan province in southwest China.

Local work safety watchdog and police authorities are investigating the accident, the news service said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Coal, People0 Comments

Drought Hurting South Australia Farmers

ADELAIDE, Australia, Nov. 13 (UPI) — Farmers in southern Australia say a major drought caused by an ongoing heat wave is threatening their crops.

Dairy farmer Don Llewelyn, one of those struggling through the heat wave, said farmers are struggling to make due with declining water supplies from the Murray River, which ends near Adelaide in the state of South Australia, Britain’s Sky News reported Friday.

“Everybody else gets their share as it comes down, we’re at the back end,” Llewelyn said, referring to the upstream use of the river’s water by residents of Queensland and New South Wales.

Richard Reedy, a leader in the surrounding community, said the dwindling water supplies and intense temperatures have resulted in farmers going out of business.

“We’ve actually got pressure growing from the banking system that they can’t see any end in sight, so maybe it’s time for people to think about alternative farming away from these regions,” Reedy said.

Temperatures in the Australian state have topped 95 degrees for five straight days, Sky News said Friday.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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CDC Estimates 22 Million Had H1N1 Swine Flu and 3,900 Died

ATLANTA, Nov. 12 (UPI) — An estimated 22 million people in the United States have become ill from H1N1 influenza and some 3,900 people have died, health officials said Thursday.

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the CDC has been providing H1N1 fatality rates from laboratory confirmed cases until now but the new estimates cover April, when the virus emerged, through Oct. 17 — the first six months of the pandemic.

“Our estimates, we believe, give us a better estimate of how much disease, hospitalization and death there is than we would get by just counting individual laboratory confirmed cases,” Schuchat said at a media briefing in Atlanta. “Our estimates derive from our emerging infections probing network — a collaboration with 10 states, 62 counties in those 10 states that collect extensive information on hospitalizations from influenza including details about laboratory testing and age and so forth.”

The CDC are using data from aggregate state reporting of laboratory hospitalizations and death. Schuchat emphasized the increase in numbers was not from any jump in H1N1 in the last week, but estimates for the first six months of H1N1.

“With those two surveillance symptoms, we are then extrapolating to the whole United States and the entire period of this first six months,” Schuchat said.

The CDC estimates 63,000-153,000 people were hospitalized up until Oct. 17. Schuchat said the CDC estimates there were 3,900 fatalities in the first six months of the pandemic but the number could range from 2,500-6,100.

As of Nov. 6, national pediatric death notification system data indicated 129 children had died but Schuchat said the CDC now estimates 540 children died from the pandemic in the first six months.

“We know that a number of the deaths that we’re seeing are occurring outside the hospital where testing is not possible,” Schuchat said. “We know that not every patient with influenza gets a diagnosis of flu. We think our 540 number is a better estimate.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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11 Vulnerable Nations for Climate Change form "V11" Alliance in Global Fight Against Climate Change and Globarl Warming

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Nov. 11 (UPI) — Leaders of 11 nations vulnerable to climate change called on the developed world Tuesday to pledge 1.5 percent of their gross national product annually for climate action in the developed world.

The new 11-nation group — referred to as V11 — adopted a declaration for a low-carbon future to be presented at the U.N. climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.

The declaration also calls for cuts that will ensure global temperatures stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and for atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to be returned below the safe threshold of 350 parts per million. The current level of carbon concentrations is 387 parts per million.

The declaration further states that global greenhouse emissions should peak by 2015 and be reduced by 85 percent by 2050.

The 11-nation declaration was presented at the conclusion of the Climate Vulnerable Forum organized by Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed said that the low-lying Maldives and other signatory nations of the Climate Vulnerable Forum — Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vietnam — agreed that carbon neutrality and development can go together.

The group of 11 nations also called on world leaders meeting in Copenhagen to create “a legal framework to protect the human rights of those left stateless as a result of climate change.” Currently, those displaced by rising sea levels, droughts or other effects of climate change do not qualify for U.N. refugee status.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, an estimated 20 million people were at least temporarily displaced by climate-related natural disasters last year.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum nations expressed concern over recently voiced pessimism for the Copenhagen talks and called on world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, to personally attend. Representatives from the United States, Europe and China attended the meeting as observers.

Nasheed, a leading voice on global warming who last month held a Maldives Cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention to climate change, said, “I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do any better. Copenhagen is our date with destiny.”

Nasheed has vowed to make the Maldives carbon neutral in a decade by switching to renewable energy where possible.

“We are not responsible for the hundreds of years of carbon emissions, which are cooking the planet,” he said at the forum. “But the dangers climate change poses to our countries means that this crisis can no longer be considered somebody else’s problem.”

Forum participants agreed to hold a second meeting in the Pacific island of Kiribati next year.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Other, People0 Comments

H1N1 and Swine Flu Proves More Challenging to Control in Large Cities Like Mexico City and New York

ATLANTA, Nov. 11 (UPI) — H1N1 flu in Mexico City and New York may have helped health experts understand the challenges posed by disease response in large cities, researchers say.

David M. Bell and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said by 2025, almost three-quarters of the world’s population will live in cities.

“When millions of people are crowded together in huge cities, responses to disease outbreaks that have worked in rural areas or smaller towns may not work as well,” Bell said in a statement Wednesday.

“Several questions emerged. For example, how do you get many overlapping governmental agencies to cooperate? How do you get drugs and vaccines to people who travel, live in slums with no addresses, or are homeless? How do you separate ill family members from well ones in tiny one- or two-room apartments?”

U.S. health experts will need to answer these questions as the H1N1

pandemic continues, Bells said.

The findings are scheduled to be published to appear in the December edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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Lack of Education May Increase H1N1 Risk

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Nov. 11 (UPI) — People without a high school diploma may be more likely to get H1N1 flu and the vaccine might be less effective in them, U.S. researchers suggest.

Researchers looked at the latent virus CMV — a latent virus in the herpes family — in young people, and the body’s ability to control the virus.

Study co-author Jennifer Dowd, who began her research while at the University of Michigan of Public Health, said the finding suggests that lower socioeconomic status may make it tougher for adults of all ages to fight new infections and may make the flu vaccine less effective in some.

Dowd, now an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Hunter College, and co-author Allison Aiello, assistant professor of epidemiology at University of Michigan, say people of lower income and education lose immune control more easily.

Their weakened immune systems, which may be due to increased levels of stress, make them more susceptible to other infections as well, Dowd explains.

“What is going on (is that) the dramatic (downturn) in the economy could actually translate into people’s susceptibility to these diseases,” Dowd says in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Epidemiology, finds a person with less than a high school education had the same level of immune control as someone 15-20 years older with more than a high school education.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Education, Human Health & Wellness, Other, People0 Comments

Human Movement Critical in Dengue Spread

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov. 11 (UPI) — Brazilian researchers say they’ve determined population movement is a key factor in the spread of the dengue virus in Rio de Janeiro.

Scientists at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation said their finding is based on data from a severe 2007-2008 dengue epidemic and contributes a new understanding of the dynamics of dengue fever, a major public health problem in many tropical regions.

The disease, transmitted most often by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, is prevalent in tropical areas of Asia and the Americas, with up to 100 million estimated cases occurring annually.

The new study combines data on dengue fever seroprevalence — a test for the disease based on blood serum — and recent dengue infection and vector density in three neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, specifically urban, suburban and slum areas. Blood serum surveys were conducted before and during the epidemic period, with weekly collections of A. aegypti eggs and adults from traps.

The scientists said their findings, that suggest significantly higher risk within areas of intense people traffic, might provide a basis for new studies that could further identify the higher risk areas and help to develop dengue-control programs.

The research is detailed in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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