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Health Highlights: June 23, 2010

Health Highlights: June 23, 2010

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

Medicare Proposes New Hospital Visitation Rules

Proposed new rules that would protect hospital patients' rights to choose who visits them were announced Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The initiative was ordered by a presidential memorandum issued in response to reports that some hospitals would not allow visits between same-sex domestic partners.

Under the proposed rules, every Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospital would have to create written policies and procedures detailing patients' visitation rights, as well as instances when the hospital might restrict visitor access to patients for clinical reasons.

"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a government news release. "Today's proposed rules would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing -- whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient's family."

Workers in Small Companies Pay Higher Health Premiums

Americans who work in small businesses are more likely to pay high premiums for health plans, says a federal government report.

An analysis of 2008 data revealed that nearly 13 percent of employees with employer-sponsored health plans who worked in businesses with 10 or fewer employees had premiums of $7,200 or more a year for single-coverage plans, compared to the national average of $4,704 for such plans, according the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings:

  • Only about 4 percent of workers in large companies (1,000 or more employees) had premiums of $7,200 or more for an employer-sponsored single-coverage health plan.
  • About 7 percent of enrolled workers in small businesses paid premiums of at least $19,000 for family coverage, compared with 4.5 percent of enrolled workers in large companies. The national average premium for a family-coverage health plan was $11,650 for workers in small businesses and $12,595 for those in large companies.
  • In businesses of all sizes, 5 percent of workers with single coverage paid premiums of $7,200 or more and 5 percent of workers with family coverage had premiums of $19,000 or more.

Study Faults McDonald's for Happy Meals Side Dishes

French fries are nearly always served with McDonald's kids' Happy Meals because the majority of servers don't ask customers if they want a healthier alternative, according to a new study by the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The other side dish available with Happy Meals is called Apple Dippers, which are apple slices with low-fat caramel dip. Beverage choices include soft drinks, 100 percent juice, and 1 percent low-fat milk.

CSPI researchers ordered 75 Happy Meals at 44 McDonald's across the United States and found that in 93 percent of cases, servers gave french fries as the side dish without asking if the customer would prefer Apple Dippers, USA Today reported.

In 84 percent of cases, a beverage choice was offered, but soda was usually the first option mentioned by servers. The study also found that more than three-quarters of the McDonald's outlets had toy displays for Happy Meals.

"In the past, we've asked them not to promote unhealthy meals with toys and to have the default side dishes and beverages be the healthy choices," said Margo Wootan, CSPI's director of nutrition policy, USA Today reported.

The group said it would sue McDonald's if the company continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals to kids.

McDonald's USA's vice president of communications, William Whitman, said in a statement: "Since 2006, we have been a part of the Council for Better Business Bureau's voluntary initiative to address the importance of children's well-being. In the U.S., McDonald's primarily advertises the four-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip and 1% low-fat white milk.

"We are proud of our Happy Meal, which gives our customers wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety," he added.

Few Substance Abuse Centers Offer Programs for Gays/Lesbians

Only six percent (777 of 13,688) of substance abuse treatment facilities surveyed across the United States offer special programs for gays and lesbians, a federal government study found.

The 2008 survey also found that privately operated for-profit facilities were more than two times as likely as federal facilities to offer specialized gay and lesbian treatment programs (7.0 percent vs. 2.6 percent), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said.

These types of programs were offered at 5.5 percent of state-run facilities and 5.8 percent of private non-profit facilities.

The study also found that 7.1 percent of facilities with a mixed substance abuse and mental health focus offered programs for gays and lesbians, compared with 2.3 percent of facilities with a primary focus on general health care.

"People in substance abuse treatment come from diverse backgrounds and benefit from programs designed to meet their particular needs," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release. "The treatment community needs to work with all segments of our society to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, as well as members of other underserved groups, are afforded more opportunities for this kind of specialized care."