MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- With millions of Americans
watching and waiting, the U.S. Supreme Court largely upheld the
Obama Administration's health care reform legislation, making the
survival of "Obamacare" this year's top health news story.
President Barack Obama's election to a second term also
solidified the 2010 Affordable Care Act as a fact in American life,
with new Congressional moves against the package now deemed
But it was the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision in June that
"cleared the way for implementation [of reform] to proceed," Karen
Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation in
Washington, D.C., told
HealthDayat the time. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office
estimates that the rolls of the uninsured will decline by up to 33
million people by 2016 -- about a 50 percent reduction -- thanks to
Perhaps the biggest surprise to legal scholars was that the
controversial "individual mandate" -- which requires adults to
purchase health insurance or face a penalty -- was upheld by the
court, which found it to be a tax. The mandate is now poised to go
into effect in 2014, along with other key provisions.
Still, it's not all clear sailing for the Affordable Care Act:
As of mid-December, half of the states in the nation had said "no"
to the creation of state-based health insurance exchanges, forcing
the federal government to implement these key elements of health
Other health news grabbed headlines in 2012. Perhaps the most
disturbing: An outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis linked to
tainted steroid injections that began in the summer and by Dec. 17
had sickened 620 and killed 39 people across 19 states.
The steroid shots -- aimed at helping patients with back pain --
were distributed by the New England Compounding Center, a
Massachusetts-based "compounding pharmacy."
The scandal focused national attention on these types of
pharmacies, largely unregulated firms that combine, mix or alter
ingredients to create drugs to meet the specific needs of
individual patients. On Dec. 20, health officials from 50 states
met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration representatives to
discuss proposed regulation to help prevent such a tragedy from
In cancer news, perhaps the biggest headline was the decision by
experts from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force against the
routine use of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test for
prostate cancer. Long the standard of cancer diagnosis, numerous
studies had suggested that the test might actually do more harm
than good, spotting too many slow-growing cancers that would never
cause harm, and thereby pushing men toward needless worry and
"I am hoping this [recommendation] shuts down mass screenings, where men are only told that this will help them, which is stretching the truth," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, told HealthDaywhen the decision was announced in May.
The year also saw sobering news on the ongoing U.S. obesity
epidemic and its link to diabetes. In August, the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 12 states nearly
one-third of adults are now obese, bolstering a
government-appointed panel's recommendation in June that doctors
now routinely screen all adults for obesity.
Americans' widening waistlines could have a devastating impact
on public health. One report released by the CDC in November found
that rates of obesity-linked type 2 diabetes
doubledin 18 states between 1995 and 2010, while in 42
states the rate jumped by at least 50 percent. And in six states
and Puerto Rico, one in every 10 adults now has diabetes. "The
diabetic epidemic has gone hand-in-hand with the increases in
obesity," lead researcher Linda Geiss, a CDC statistician, told
HealthDayat the time.
The situation for children may be just as dire: Another CDC
report released in November predicted that the rate of type 2
diabetes among American kids could quadruple by 2050.
Among other top health news for 2012:
- A major West Nile virus outbreak. One of the most severe outbreaks of mosquito-borne West Nile virus ever to hit the United States centered on Texas, which was home to a full third of cases. Final 2012 figures from the CDC, posted on Dec. 11, estimated a total of nearly 5,400 cases, including 243 deaths.
- Mixed results on multivitamins' effectiveness.Is the
multivitamin that millions of Americans take each day actually
helping them? If cancer prevention is the aim, there was (modestly)
encouraging news -- an 8 percent decline in cancer deaths for users
versus nonusers. But the same team of American researchers found no
such effect when it came to cardiovascular health.
- Psychiatrists' diagnostic "Bible" gets revised.For the first
time since 1994, the American Psychiatric Association's
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersgot a
major overhaul. Among the most noteworthy (and controversial)
moves: Asperger's syndrome, which formerly had its own designation,
is now folded within "autism spectrum disorders"; a new entry for
"disruptive mood dysregulation disorder" in kids, which critics say
"medicalizes" temper tantrums; and "hypersexual disorder" (known to
the lay public as sex addiction) was
notadded to the
- Autism incidence keeps rising.There was more bad news on the
autism front: In March, the CDC estimated the prevalence of the
disorder at one in every 88 children, up from one in 110 in 2010.
Cases were also five times more common in boys than girls, the
agency found. While changes in how autism is spotted and reported
may have played a role in the new tally, the other factors behind
the surge remain unclear, experts said.
- More good news regarding HIV/AIDS.This year saw two major
milestones in HIV care. In July, the FDA approved OraQuick, the
first at-home HIV test, which enables people to privately assess
their infection status within 20 minutes. The same month the FDA
gave the nod to Truvada, the first pill aimed at preventing HIV
transmission to uninfected, high-risk people.
- Two new diet drugs gain approval. The first new weight-loss drugs to hit U.S. drug stores in 13 years were approved by the FDA in 2012. In June, Belviq was approved for obese adults with high blood pressure, and the diet drug Qsymia was approved for those with a similar patient profile a month later.