Survival of 'Obamacare' Tops List of Biggest Health News in 2012
Other headlines included steroid/meningitis outbreak, demise of the routine PSA test
By E.J. Mundell
MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- With millions of Americans watching and waiting, the U.S. Supreme Court largely upheld the Obama Administration's health care reform legislation, making the survival of "Obamacare" this year's top health news story.
President Barack Obama's election to a second term also solidified the 2010 Affordable Care Act as a fact in American life, with new Congressional moves against the package now deemed unlikely.
But it was the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision in June that "cleared the way for implementation [of reform] to proceed," Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., told HealthDay at the time. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates that the rolls of the uninsured will decline by up to 33 million people by 2016 -- about a 50 percent reduction -- thanks to the legislation.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to legal scholars was that the controversial "individual mandate" -- which requires adults to purchase health insurance or face a penalty -- was upheld by the court, which found it to be a tax. The mandate is now poised to go into effect in 2014, along with other key provisions.
Still, it's not all clear sailing for the Affordable Care Act: As of mid-December, half of the states in the nation had said "no" to the creation of state-based health insurance exchanges, forcing the federal government to implement these key elements of health care reform.
Other health news grabbed headlines in 2012. Perhaps the most disturbing: An outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis linked to tainted steroid injections that began in the summer and by Dec. 17 had sickened 620 and killed 39 people across 19 states.
The steroid shots -- aimed at helping patients with back pain -- were distributed by the New England Compounding Center, a Massachusetts-based "compounding pharmacy."
The scandal focused national attention on these types of pharmacies, largely unregulated firms that combine, mix or alter ingredients to create drugs to meet the specific needs of individual patients. On Dec. 20, health officials from 50 states met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration representatives to discuss proposed regulation to help prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
In cancer news, perhaps the biggest headline was the decision by experts from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force against the routine use of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test for prostate cancer. Long the standard of cancer diagnosis, numerous studies had suggested that the test might actually do more harm than good, spotting too many slow-growing cancers that would never cause harm, and thereby pushing men toward needless worry and treatment.
"I am hoping this [recommendation] shuts down mass screenings, where men are only told that this will help them, which is stretching the truth," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, told HealthDay when the decision was announced in May.
The year also saw sobering news on the ongoing U.S. obesity epidemic and its link to diabetes. In August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 12 states nearly one-third of adults are now obese, bolstering a government-appointed panel's recommendation in June that doctors now routinely screen all adults for obesity.
Americans' widening waistlines could have a devastating impact on public health. One report released by the CDC in November found that rates of obesity-linked type 2 diabetes doubled in 18 states between 1995 and 2010, while in 42 states the rate jumped by at least 50 percent. And in six states and Puerto Rico, one in every 10 adults now has diabetes. "The diabetic epidemic has gone hand-in-hand with the increases in obesity," lead researcher Linda Geiss, a CDC statistician, told HealthDay at the time.
The situation for children may be just as dire: Another CDC report released in November predicted that the rate of type 2 diabetes among American kids could quadruple by 2050.
Among other top health news for 2012:
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