GAO: More should be done to protect patient privacy

Hospitals could be putting patient details at riskToday’s medical facilities say they are committed to implementing the most hi-tech patient data systems available, but do they really know how to protect your personal information?

The lack of an adequate system to safeguard Americans’ electronic medical records could be putting their privacy at risk, a new report from the Government Accountability Office claims.

It explained that although the Department of Health and Human Services had taken actions to identify data security milestones and outcomes, it has still fallen short of ensuring the security of people’s details.

The GAO’s report determined that the HHS had "fallen short" of meeting its security recommendations and may have difficulty winning the trust of the public as a result.

It is not the first time that the office has raised concerns about the U.S. cabinet department’s systems for guarding Americans’ privacy.

For example, a 2006 GAO report found evidence of several data breaches related to Medicare and Medicaid records. More than 40 percent of contractors and state agencies reported a breach during the previous two years.
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Hospital waste raises health concerns

Are pharmaceuticals in your drinking water?Millions of Americans are consuming minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals that are flushed down the drain each year by hospitals, an Associated Press investigation reveals.

The journalists raise concerns that our drinking water is increasingly being contaminated by chemicals that – even in trace amounts – have been shown to cause health problems in animals and in human cells.

Wastewater tests carried out in various European countries and within the U.S. have revealed quantities of hormones, antibiotics, pain relievers and other medicines, the AP states.

And some tests have linked drugs in the water supply to gene mutations that could potentially lead to cancer. For example, a Swiss study found that one antibiotic could disfigure bacterial DNA, though the significance of this discovery for human health is still unclear.

Pharmacist Boris Jolibois, who has participated in research on the issue, told the AP that hospitals should take action as soon as possible regarding their waste disposal.

"Something should be done now. It’s just common sense," he remarked.

Drug disposal in landfills or in incinerators are two options that are raised by the AP, though there are arguments against each of these methods as well.

The Water Quality Association suggests that home filtering systems could help consumers remove some of these contaminants from their drinking water.
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McCain criticizes bailouts, higher taxes

McCain cautions against bailoutsJohn McCain has spoken out against the Federal Reserve’s plans to bail out troubled financial institutions, saying it should "get back to its core business of responsibly managing our money supply and inflation."

Addressing supporters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Republican presidential nominee explained that the Fed "needs to get out of the business of bailouts" and return to fundamentals.

His comments come as President Bush asked Congress for the power to enact a $700 billion rescue plan to buy bad mortgage assets from banks – a proposal that has angered some taxpayers who wonder why their money should be used to help troubled companies.

In his Wisconsin speech, McCain also criticized vice presidential candidate Joe Biden for saying that wealthy people have a patriotic duty to pay more in taxes.

"Raising taxes in a tough economy isn’t patriotic. It isn’t a badge of honor. It’s just plain dumb," the senator said.

One aspect of McCain’s economic plans for the U.S. is to introduce a system to prevent financial institutions from hiding their bad practices from Washington.
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Spying lawsuit brought against U.S. govt

The government is charged with illegal surveillance.The government’s surveillance of American’s telephone calls and internet use is "massively illegal," a lawsuit filed by a nonprofit privacy group claims.

A class-action suit has been filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the National Security Agency, President George Bush and other members of his administration for authorizing the surveillance of people’s online and telephone communications.

The EFF already filed a similar suit in 2006 against AT&T that alleged that the firm had allowed the NSA to access its network without the proper warrants.

However, earlier this year Congress passed a law that granted retroactive immunity to US telecommunications companies for participating in the surveillance efforts, putting a roadblock in the EFF’s legal proceedings.

Although the NSA is not permitted to engage in domestic spying, it is able to obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which was established to enable wiretapping on U.S. soil.

Some have suggested that this type of activity violates the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects people’s rights against "unreasonable searches and seizures."
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‘Frankenfoods’ for dinner?

Do you know where your food comes from?Genetically engineered (GE) animals could be on their way to a dinner table near you soon, following new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has published proposed rules for how it plans to regulate producers of genetically modified foods – labeled "frankenfoods" by some critics – who are marketing their products for public consumption.

Scientists create GE animals by inserting the gene from one species into the DNA of another. In doing this, they aim to create superior breeds that are resistant to disease, can grow faster or contain more nutrients.

However, some have raised questions about the role of science to interfere with nature – and now there are concerns that the public may not even be aware of where their food comes from.

It came as a surprise to some consumer groups that the FDA is not planning to label many products to differentiate them from conventional meat.

"It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals differently from their conventional counterparts," commented Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union.

She added that people have a "right to know" if they are eating a product derived from "pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes."
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