Health Highlights: April 4, 2016

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

DEET Safe for Pregnant Women: Experts

With the growing threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States, health officials are urging the use of insect repellants with DEET, even by pregnant women.

There is increasing evidence of a strong link between the Zika virus and birth defects, but many women wonder about the safety of using insect repellants with DEET when they’re pregnant, The New York Times reported.

While there are few published studies about the effects of DEET in pregnant women and their children, most experts say it is safe to use the chemical during pregnancy, as long as women avoid using too much.

“DEET is safe, including for pregnant women at any stage,” according to a statement from Jack Housenger, director, Office of Pesticides Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Times reported.

About 104 million Americans use DEET every year and reports of harmful side effects are “relatively small by comparison,” according to an EPA safety review.

Only tiny amounts of DEET get into a pregnant woman’s bloodstream, which suggests that their fetuses are exposed to very little of the chemical, The Times reported.

Despite the fact there is not “a lot of” research, “it makes sense to use DEET to protect yourself from something we know is truly unsafe, like Zika,” Dr. Laura Riley, a high-risk pregnancy and infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Times.

Pregnant women can use a repellent with a lower concentration of DEET to limit how much gets in their blood, Dr. Sarah G. Obican, a maternal fetal specialist and part of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, suggested.

“Using a 6 percent DEET product will last you two hours, and 20 percent one will last close to four hours,” she told The Times. “Why not use the lower concentration and apply more often?”

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Medicare Being Overcharged for Hospice Care: Report

Higher-than-necessary hospice care for dying patients costs Medicare more than $260 million a year, according to federal investigators.

They found that Medicare paid hospices nearly four times as much as it should have for patients who received inpatient care when all they required was less-costly routine care in their homes, The New York Times reported.

Currently, Medicare pays hospices an all-inclusive rate of $720 a day for inpatient care and a maximum of $187 a day for routine home care.

“Many hospices have been billing far more than they should have,” according to investigation leader Nancy Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.

In response to the findings, top Medicare officials Andrew Slavitt said supervision of hospices is being increased due to his concerns about “care being billed for but not provided, long lengths of stay and beneficiaries receiving unnecessary care,” The Times reported.

“There are no real objective standards to determine when people need inpatient care. Some hospices tend to use it much more than others,” William Dombi, a vice president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, a trade group, said in response to the federal government report.

Hospice care was used by 48 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2014, compared with 23 percent in 2000, according to the Medicare payment commission, The Times reported.

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