Health Highlights: Nov. 26, 2013

Health Highlights: Nov. 26, 2013

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

Obamacare Contraception Fight Goes to Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require companies of a certain size to offer employees insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.

The court will examine whether non-profit organizations and private companies can snub the requirement by claiming it violates their religious beliefs. Oral arguments will likely be heard in March and a ruling issued by late June, CNN reported.

Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the contraception coverage provision. Three federal appeals courts have struck down the birth control rule, while two others have upheld it.

Companies that refuse to provide the coverage could be fined up to $1.3 million a day, CNN reported.

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the case is an "important fight for Americans' religious liberty," according to Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby, one of the companies challenging the birth control provision.

The owners of Hobby Lobby say there is a clash between their Christian beliefs and the fact that some of the drugs that would be provided under the rule prevent human embryos from being implanted in the womb, which they equate to abortion. They do not object to providing other forms of contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms, for their employees, CNN reported.

Federal government officials say their are rules that exempt certain nonprofit groups and religiously-affiliated organizations from the contraceptives coverage requirement. In such cases, women would receive coverage from another company at no cost.

Supporters of the law note it does not require individual company owners to personally provide coverage they might find objectionable, but instead puts that responsibility on the corporate entity, CNN reported.

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Whooping Cough Shot May Halt Illness But Not Transmission, Animal Study Suggests

Baboons that were recently vaccinated against whooping cough don't get sick but still carry the infection in their throats and can spread the disease to unvaccinated baboons, according to a new study.

Researchers say the finding may help explain the recent dramatic rise in cases of whooping cough across the United States, which reached a 50-year high in 2012, The New York Times reported.

The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"When you're newly vaccinated you are an asymptomatic carrier, which is good for you, but not for the population," said study leader author Dr. Tod Merkel, a researcher in the Office of Vaccines Research and Review in the Food and Drug Administration, The Times reported.

The study finding was surprising and could be important as scientists try to improve whooping cough vaccines for people, experts say.

Current whooping cough vaccines were introduced in the 1990s after an older version was found to cause side effects. However, the new vaccines begin to lose effectiveness after about five years, The Times reported.

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European Morning-After Pill Ineffective in Heavier Women

The label on a "morning-after" emergency contraceptive sold in Europe will be changed to alert consumers that it is not effective in women who weigh more than 176 pounds.

The new warning on the label of Norlevo will also caution that the pill starts to lose its effectiveness in women heavier than 165 pounds, and is not recommended for anyone over this weight, CBS News reported.

"When we became aware that there appeared to be an impact on efficacy (linked to weight), we felt it was our ethical duty as a drug manufacturer to report it and be transparent," Erin Gainer, CEO of HRA Pharma, the French manufacturer of Norlevo, told the New York Daily News.

Norlevo is identical in formula to the over-the-counter Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive sold in the United States. The U.S. maker of Plan B One-Step, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, declined to comment on the issue when asked about it by the Daily News and Mother Jones, CBS News reported.

 
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