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New Cigarette to Target Women

The planned launch of a new pink cigarette pack has many health organizations seeing red. The American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids recently condemned Philip Morris for its plan to repackage its Virginia Slims cigarettes in small, pink purse packs in early 2009. The planned marketing push shows that the company is aggressively marketing cigarettes to women and girls, the coalition said in a statement. “The Virginia Slims pink purse pack is yet another tobacco industry slap in the face to women,” the coalition said. “Far from making a fashion statement, the pink purse pack will encourage smoking by women and girls and expose them to its lethal effects.” The coalition called on Philip Morris to stop the marketing effort and urged Congress to pass legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products.

U.S. Gets 'D' on Prematurity Rate

The United States received a “D” on the Premature Birth Report Card issued recently by the March of Dimes. The report card compares actual preterm birth rates in each state with the national Healthy People 2010 objectives set by the federal government. The Healthy People 2010 goal is to lower preterm birth to 7.6% of all live births, while data from 2005 show that the national preterm birth rate is 12.7%. No state earned an “A” and only one state—Vermont—earned a grade of “B.” Eight states received a “C,” 23 received a “D,” and 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia received failing grades. “It is unacceptable that our nation is failing so many preterm babies,” Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., president of the March of Dimes, said in a statement. “We are determined to find and implement solutions to prevent preterm birth, based on research, best clinical practices, and improved education for moms.” This is the first year that the March of Dimes has issued the prematurity report card, but it is expected to continue on an annual basis. In addition to rating state performance, the report card also calls on hospital officials to review all births by cesarean section and inductions of labor that occur before 39 weeks' gestation as a strategy to help curb preterm births.

Feds Finalize New Rules on FMLA

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a final regulation updating the Family and Medical Leave Act, including the establishment of new rights for miliary families. The final rule will allow family members caring for a military service member with a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty to take up to 26 work weeks of leave during a 12-month period. The rule also allows families of National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty to take leave to manage their affairs without risking their jobs. The final rule also clarifies some definitions. For example, the rule defines “periodic visits to a health care provider” for a chronic serious health condition as at least two visits to a health care provider per year. But the rule has been criticized by some unions and women's organizations for making it harder for workers to access benefits under the FMLA. Specifically, the groups object to provisions of the final rule that give workers less time to give notice that they will take leave and give employers more time to approve the request, Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

HIPAA Enforcement 'Limited'

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not provided effective oversight and has taken only “limited actions” to ensure that covered entities adequately implement patient privacy regulations contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, according to a report from the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Inspector General. The OIG found that the CMS had not conducted any compliance reviews of covered entities, and instead relied on complaints to target investigations. However, the CMS has received very few complaints about violations, the report said. “As a result, the CMS had no effective mechanism to ensure that covered entities were complying with the HIPAA security rule” or that electronic health information was being adequately protected, the report concluded. The CMS has taken steps to begin conducting compliance reviews in an effort to identify security problems and vulnerabilities under HIPAA, the OIG said.

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