- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A busy week is brewing in Congress on the health front.

The Senate Finance Committee, which is taking the lead in drafting a health care reform bill, on Tuesday morning holds the second of three round-table workshops with business groups, labor unions, health care experts and others. The topic — expanding health care coverage — includes the contentious proposal of creating a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

Democrats, led by President Obama, have been pushing for the government-run and -funded public option for health insurance, which they say will lower insurance deductibles and costs by fostering greater competition. Conservatives, however, are leery of such a setup, which they consider an excessive intrusion of the government into the private sector.

Newly minted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday morning to discuss health care. It will be the first post-confirmation Capitol Hill appearance for the former Kansas governor, who was sworn in last week.

On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Mr. Obama’s pick to head the Food and Drug Administration, a key vacancy made all the more glaring during the ongoing swine flu scare.

Nominee Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg is a senior scientist with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a group founded by Ted Turner and former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn. From 1997 to 2001, Ms. Hamburg served as the Health and Human Services assistant secretary for planning and evaluation.

As the swine flu continues to make headlines, two congressional panels have scheduled flu hearings this week. The House Foreign Affairs Africa and Global Health subcommittee will hear from infectious disease experts Wednesday on how the virus has spread. The following morning, the House Education and Labor Committee will discuss how to prepare against the spread of flu viruses at school and the workplace.

Use only as directed

In the wake of the World Health Organization’s declaration last week that it was raising its worldwide flu alert to Level 5 — just below the pandemic level — one of the nation’s largest pharmacist groups has advised the public not to hoard flu medications.

Stockpiling “is counterproductive,” Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy Executive Director Judith A. Cahill said. “If patients begin pressing their physicians or pharmacists for prescriptions and hoarding drugs at home, they may create artificial shortages of these critically needed flu medications, shortchanging those who are most in need of medical services.”

She said her organization backs efforts taken by federal health and emergency agencies, but added that inappropriate preventative use of flu drugs is ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

Mrs. Cahill also said excess quantities of medications in the house are a potential hazard for families with small children or pets.

Discrimination = depression

A new study finds that it is not uncommon for children as young as fifth-grade to feel racial or ethnic discrimination, and that these perceptions of discrimination can lead to mental health disorders.

The study, sponsored by the University of California at Los Angeles and the RAND Corporation found that 15 percent of children surveyed reported experiencing what they perceived as discrimination and that the vast majority of these encounters occurred at school. The study also found that children who reported feeling discrimination were more likely to have symptoms of one or more of four different mental health disorders: depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder.

The study, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data from a 2004 to 2006 study of 5,147 fifth-graders and their parents from public schools in Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham, Ala. The study found that a greater percentage of black children (20 percent), Hispanic children (15 percent) and children identified as “other” (15 percent) reported perceived racial or ethnic discrimination than white children (7 percent).

Sean Lengell covers health care policy and can be reached at [email protected]

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