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Living-Today: Issues of modern living

By United Press International   |   Feb. 26, 2002 at 4:45 AM   |   Comments

HEALTH INSURANCE

Employees rank health insurance as the most important benefit, even outranking pay.

That's according to a study released Monday by Hewitt Associates, which also found employees want more control and choice in health care, and are interested in new consumer choice models. Hewitt surveyed 528 U.S. employees.

Fifty-five percent of those currently enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans ranked that as their most important benefit and two-thirds said health care coverage is a primary factor in staying or choosing employment.

"Employees truly value the importance of health care benefits and are making it a top priority for employers," said Jack Bruner, national practice leader for the global outsourcing and consulting firm's health management practice. "It's not surprising that health care is becoming more important to employees as both the economy and the labor market are declining."

Bruner said the survey also found consumers are ready to assume responsibility for their health care decisions, with 49 percent saying they would want to take full responsibility for purchasing their own health care coverage.

In a survey of 700 organizations, Hewitt found 61 percent of employers believe their employees are comfortable with taking more responsibility for evaluating and selecting health plans, coverage, levels, providers and health care services, while 88 percent of employees surveyed expressed comfort with the idea.


THOU SHALL NOT DISPLAY ON PUBLIC PROPERTY

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a lower-court decision banning the Ten Commandments from public property. This time around, the case involved a representation of the commandments that was to be placed on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse.

In March 2000, Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon approved a monument donated by the Indiana Limestone Institute for display on the Statehouse lawn. It featured the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights and the preamble to the 1851 Indiana Constitution. The monument was intended to replace a previous Ten Commandments monument placed on the lawn in 1958 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles -- following a promotional campaign for Cecille B. deMille's 1956 movie, "The Ten Commandments." That earlier monument had been vandalized.

But in May 2000, a group of challengers -- including the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Stephen Schroeder, the man convicted of vandalizing the first monument -- sued in federal court. They argued that the proposed placement of the monument violated the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment.

When a federal judge and a federal appeals judge agreed, Indiana asked the Supreme Court for review, saying the First Amendment should permit "the government to display the Ten Commandments to memorialize the role the commandments have played in the development of the rule of law and of the American legal system."

In a one-line order Monday, the justices let stand the lower-court injunction that blocked the placement of the monument.

Last year, the Supreme Court refused to review another case out of Indiana involving a Ten Commandments monument banned from the lawn of a municipal building. But that rejection in Elkhart vs. Books brought a dissent from Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was joined by fellow conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Rehnquist argued unsuccessfully that the depiction of the commandments in a public place simply recognizes that they "have made a substantial contribution to our secular legal codes."


ICANN

Civil rights and legal experts say they oppose a suggested overhaul of the organization responsible for maintaining the Internet's address system.

M. Stuart Lynn -- president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- has drafted a plan to create a 15-member board of directors, largely made up of people nominated by governmental and technical groups.

ICANN currently has a larger board, which includes representatives elected by general Web users. The proposal would also rework the organization's advisory councils and create positions to handle complaints and public participation. Lynn's plan seeks additional funding, from both governmental and private sources, for the group's domain-name management functions.

Lynn's train of thought starts off fine but quickly leaves the rails, said A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami and a longtime ICANN critic.

"We were hoping for a sort of 'ICANN Lite,' to focus on a few core technical tasks," Froomkin told UPI. "The answer is not to try to bring in governments to force people to sign contracts with ICANN where they agree to pay it and do what it says."

Lynn -- speaking to reporters via telephone Monday -- said the plan would have governmental bodies (not necessarily nations) nominate five board members. An open nominating committee would select another five including ICANN's CEO and the chairs of four advisory councils. The final number of board members is open to discussion, he said.

The proposal, Froomkin said, is the equivalent of trying to regulate the software industry, forcing those companies to pay for participating in the process. The idea runs counter to the spirit of the Internet, which came up with its fundamental protocols in the absence of government intervention, he said.

ICANN is a private company created in 1998 to handle the technical aspects of Internet domain names and numerical addresses. It currently works under an agreement with the U.S. Commerce Department, but is expected to become fully autonomous in the next couple of years.

(Thanks to Scott R. Burnell, UPI Science News)


AIDS DRUGS

Scientists Monday described new drugs that promise AIDS patients more potent, more tolerable and more convenient treatments -- medications that could be available within a couple of years.

"After a lull for two of three years," said Dr. Brian Gazzard, consultant at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, "the news is really quite exciting."

In presentations at the Ninth Conference on Retroviruses in Seattle, researchers described:

-- The first of a new class of drugs, co-receptor attachment inhibitors, which sharply reduces human immunodeficiency virus in the blood. Dr. Mark Laughlin, director of clinical pharmacology at Schering-Plough, Inc., Madison, NJ, said the new drug -- SCH-C -- prevents a crucial connection that HIV must make in order to infect cells. Using SCH-C alone in 12 infected patients for one week, levels of virus were decreased from about 68 percent to more than 96 percent, Laughlin said. However, in clinical use, he said SCH-C, which is directed against the CCR5 co-receptor on certain immune system cells, would most likely be combined with other antiretroviral agents to present a combined attack on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

-- "Remarkable" results of an experimental second-generation drug that produced, by itself, as much of a drop in circulating virus as a potent five-drug cocktail. Dr. Joep Lange, professor of internal medicine at the Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, compared results from the study of the five-drug cocktail with a 12-person study in which patients received only TMC125 -- a new non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor. This class of drugs prevents HIV from creating viable copies of itself. "Not only were the drops in virus similar in both groups, but there was a remarkable increase in CD4-positive cells as well in patients taking TMC125," Lange said. CD4-positive cell counts provide an indication of the health of the immune system, a key element in the prognosis of HIV-infected people. Increases in CD4-positive blood cells show an improving immune function.

-- Fewer side effects without sacrifice of efficacy from another NNRTI called DPC 083, from researchers at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Dr. Nancy Ruiz, a group director for research at the company's Pharmaceutical Research Institute office in Princeton, N.J., said studies showed that DPC 083 appear to carry less risk of central nervous system symptoms -- headache, insomnia and other problems -- than one of the standard NNRTIs, efavirenz. In addition, DPC 083 appears to cause less rash than another NNRTI, nevirapine. Ruiz said the drugs appear to be successful in treating patients whose original therapies are no longer working. Often that occurs because the virus mutates, allowing the pathogen to escape the killing potential of the drug.

"The newer drugs are getting better. They are easier to tolerate. They can be delivered on a once-a-day regimen," said Richard Colonno, vice president of infectious drug discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb. "These new drugs will help people stay on medication longer because they are more convenient and that may also help reduce development of resistance."

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control reported at the conference that as many as 950,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV. About one-third of these people are not aware they have the infection, said Patricia Fleming, a CDC investigator. She said half of the people -- up to 475,000 -- in the United States receive no treatment for their condition.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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