Health Highlights: Feb. 17, 2017

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

Experts Warn of Health Threats from Climate Change

More deadly heat waves, catastrophic food shortages, and the rapid spread of some infectious diseases are all in the world’s future due to climate change, experts warned Thursday at the Climate & Health Meeting.

The meeting, held at the Carter Center in Atlanta, was organized to replace a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention climate change conference that was canceled in January, ahead of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, CNN reported.

Climate change will lead to an increase in deadly health threats, experts said at the meeting.

For example, the World Health Organizations says climate change is projected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths a year from heat stress, malnutrition and the spread of infectious diseases like malaria, CNN reported.

“The extreme weather events calculated by the insurance industry have obviously been increasing,” former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said in a keynote speech at the meeting. “As I’ve said on other occasions, every night on the television news now is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.”

Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and largely the result of human-made pollution, CNN reported.


Trump Nominee Says Medicaid Needs Overhaul

Medicaid requires an overhaul but Medicare should not be turned into a voucher plan, Seema Verma, the president’s nominee to head the programs, told the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

At the nomination hearing, the Indiana health care consultant provided some answers but also deflected many questions, the Associated Press reported.

The hearing was “a missed opportunity for the nominee,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the panel. Most Republicans praised Verma’s performance, but two GOP senators expressed concern that overhauling Medicaid could leave tens of thousands of people in their states uninsured.

Verma designed a Medicaid expansion plan for Indiana when Vice President Mike Pence was governor of the state.

If confirmed to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Verma would be in charge of an $1 trillion agency with nearly 6,500 staff that provides coverage for more than 70 million low-income people, or about 1 in 3 Americans, the AP reported.

Republicans want to cap federal financing and give control of Medicaid to the states. When asked whether she supported capping the program and turning it into a block grant, Verma stopped just short of endorsement, the AP reported.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” she said of Medicaid. “We can do a better job … we know we are not delivering great health outcomes.”

Even though prominent Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and health secretary Tom Price advocate a voucher program for Medicare, Verma said she does not support such a plan.

She evaded questions on some other topics, such as whether she is in favor of Medicare negotiating drug prices directly with manufacturers, the AP reported.


D.C. Zika Tests Were Flawed

Two women in Washington, D.C. were incorrectly found to be negative for Zika virus last year due to flawed testing, health officials said Thursday.

The women have given birth, but the outcomes of their pregnancies are unknown. Their doctors have been contacted, NBC News reported.

D.C. health officials said all 409 specimens that tested negative between July and December will be retested by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs. Of the 62 specimens retested so far, two came back positive for Zika.

Of the 409 specimens, 294 were from pregnant women and 115 were from non-pregnant women or men. Retesting all of the specimens could take up to four weeks, NBC News reported.

One of the problems with the test, which was suspended Dec. 14, was a mathematical error. The district’s Public Health Laboratory is working with the CDC to correct the test and start using it again, NBC News reported.

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