U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Health Highlights: March 23, 2016

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

Medicare May Soon Cover Program to Help Prevent Diabetes

Medicare could soon pay for a program to prevent people from developing diabetes, Obama administration officials say.

They pointed to a five-year pilot program that showed older people could reduce their diabetes risk by losing weight through lifestyle counseling and regular sessions to encourage healthy eating and exercise, the Washington Post reported.

The more than 7,770 participants in the program -- conducted at YMCAs nationwide -- lost an average of about 5 percent of their body weight.

It's the first experimental preventive health program to meet the standards to become part of Medicare, the Post reported.

Expanding the program within Medicare could save $2,650 over 15 months per beneficiary, compared with current payment models. Those savings would more than cover the program's costs, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

When Medicare coverage for the diabetes prevention program might begin or how it will be funded have not been determined, officials said, the Post reported.


Sleep Apnea Mask Maker Settles Lawsuit

A company that makes breathing masks for sleep apnea patients will pay $34.8 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it paid kickbacks to suppliers that sold the masks, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.

Government officials said Philips Respironics Inc. provided free call center support to suppliers whose customers used the company's masks, while suppliers that sold masks made by other companies were charged for call center services, the Associated Press reported.

Respironics said it had a "good faith belief" it wasn't doing anything illegal.

The lawsuit was launched two years ago by a South Carolina doctor who worked for a medical supply company, and the Justice Department, 29 states and the District of Columbia later joined the legal action, the AP reported.


Supreme Court Hearing on Employer Birth Control Coverage Law May Have Little Effect

It's unclear how an Affordable Care Act regulation that requires many employers to provide free birth control coverage for their employees will be affected when the Supreme Court considers a case challenging it on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, claim the mandate violates a federal law protecting religious freedom, The New York Times reported.

In a related case argued in 2014, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to limit the mandate. The argument in that case was that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for birth control coverage violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, was part of the majority in that case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores. His death means the new case could end in a tie vote, which would fail to resolve conflicting court decisions and leave a national legal patchwork on the issue, The Times reported.

The new case challenges an accommodation offered by the government to nonprofit groups such as schools and hospitals with religious objections to the mandate, allowing them to avoid fines if they tell insurers, plan administrators of the government they want to be exempted from the birth control coverage requirement.

However, many religious groups oppose the accommodation. They argue that filing the required paperwork makes them complicit in conduct that goes against their faith, and want the same outright exemption offered to places of worship such as churches, temples and mosques, The Times reported.


H-E-B Grocery Chain Recalls Canned Tuna

Another recall of potentially undercooked canned tuna was announced by the Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B.

The latest recall is for 224 cases (10,752 cans) of Hill Country Fare brand 5 oz. Chunk Light Tuna in Oil. The tuna could cause life-threatening illness if consumed. To date, no illnesses have been reported, according to the company.

The recalled tuna was sold at H-E-B Texas stores in single cans between Feb. 24, 2016 and March 16, 2016. The UPC code is 0 4122065335 5, the product lot code is 6O9FZ SCEES, and the Best By date (on the bottom of the can) is 2/9/19.

Customers can return the recalled tuna to the store for a full refund.

Similar recent recalls included more than 2,700 cases of Chicken of the Sea tuna and more than 31,500 cases of Bumble Bee tuna.

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