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Stem Cell Research Fund

Following the example set by California, Connecticut has established a special fund devoted to fostering embryonic stem cell research. Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) last month signed into law a bill to set up a 10-year, $100 million fund. The law bans human cloning and sets guidelines for the donation of embryos, embryonic stem cells, unfertilized eggs, and sperm. A 9-member stem cell research advisory committee will be responsible for administering grants from the fund in consultation with the commissioner of the department of public health and a 5-member stem cell research peer review committee. “This fund is a catalyst, intended to attract other investments and generate opportunities for growth,” Gov. Rell said in a statement.

Abstinence Education

Elementary and middle school children who participated in abstinence education programs were more likely to report being more supportive of abstinence and less supportive of teen sex than were peers who did not receive abstinence education, according to a preliminary report. Mathematica Policy Research Inc. last month announced the results of its 1-year follow-up comparing children in federally funded abstinence education programs with children who received the usual health, family life, and sex education services available in the school and community. The Mathematica study is part of a multiyear evaluation authorized by Congress. The abstinence programs also were linked with increased perceptions about the potential adverse consequences of teen and nonmarital sex. But the program and control groups had similar results related to views on marriage, self-concept, refusal skills, and communication with parents. “Students who are in these programs are recognizing that abstinence is a positive choice,” Michael O'Grady, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for planning and evaluation said in a statement. But Planned Parenthood Federation of America noted that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have not proved effective in delaying sexual activity or reducing the teen pregnancy rate. The preliminary report is available at

http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/05/abstinence

EC for Rape Survivors

Federal lawmakers are proposing legislation that would require federally funded hospitals to offer rape victims information and access to emergency contraception (EC). Sen. Hillary R. Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. Jon S. Corzine (D-N.J.), and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act in the Senate (S. 1264). Companion legislation was introduced in the House (H.R. 2928) by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Rep. Rob R. Simmons (R-Conn.). The bill would also mandate that patients be able to receive postexposure treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. In the meantime, another state has increased access to emergency contraception without a prescription. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) last month signed legislation that authorizes pharmacists to dispense EC without a prescription if they have a collaborative relationship with a physician.

Understanding Pap Tests

Low-income women lack a good understanding of Pap testing, according to a study published in the June issue of the Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Researchers used a questionnaire on Pap testing to evaluate the knowledge of 338 women aged 18–50. More than half of the women answered “don't know” to questions about colposcopy and human papillomavirus. More than 60% gave incorrect answers to questions about the purpose of the Pap test. One-third of the women incorrectly answered that the purpose of the test was to treat cancer.

Medicare Drug Benefit Explained

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is requiring every health plan serving Medicare patients to include all the drugs in six particular categories on their formularies starting in 2006, when the new Medicare drug benefit takes effect. In a document released last month, the agency noted that in earlier guidance on the Medicare drug plan, it stated that “a majority” of drugs in these categories—which include antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anticancer drugs, and HIV/AIDS drugs—would have to be on plan formularies and that beneficiaries should have uninterrupted access to all drugs in that class. But in training sessions and in answering user calls, “CMS has consistently explained that this meant that access to 'all or substantially all' drugs in these specific categories needed to be addressed by plan formularies,” the document stated. “This is because the factors described in our formulary guidance indicated that interruption of therapy in these categories could cause significant negative outcomes to beneficiaries in a short time frame.”

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