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News Briefs 2

New Finding May Stall Parkinson's


Parkinson's disease may be caused by a genetic defect in the body's energy-producing cells, a finding that could lead to treatments to stall or prevent the debilitating disorder, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Virginia are defying conventional genetic wisdom, suggesting that a mutation in mitochondrial DNA, rather than in the DNA that makes up chromosomes, can lead to common medical disorders like Parkinson's.

The disease leaves people with tremors and rigidity. Dr. W. Davis Parker, a professor of neurology and senior author of the Parkinson's study, to be published Friday in the Annals of Neurology, said his team is looking at a variety of common illnesses that could be triggered by mitochondrial mutations. Parker's team has also identified a similar genetic process in patients with Alzheimer's.

"This is the best scientific proof available that suggests that a genetic mutation leads to Parkinson's," said Dr. Flint Beal, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Parkinson's disease affects about 2 million Americans. It has long been a puzzle because it did not seem to run in families.

Mitochondria are the thousands of thread-like bodies in each cell that contain enzymes that control the production of energy. It's the cells' breathing machine, gathering oxygen to use as energy. Mitochondria has its own DNA, inherited solely from the mother.

U.S. District Judge Orders INS To Reopen Deportation Proceedings

Los Angeles Times

In a ruling that affects thousands of immigrants across the United States, a federal judge in Seattle has ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to reopen deportation proceedings in cases where the the INS failed to adequately inform individuals of their right to a hearing prior to deportation.

U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour, a President Reagan appointee, ruled that the INS violated the Fifth Amendment's due process clause by failing to properly inform about 5,000 individuals charged with using false documents that they have a right to a hearing in order to rebut those charges.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Coughenour found that the INS had been using forms and procedures that were "highly technical," "legalistic," and "confusing." He said that the forms did not adequately apprise immigrants of their rights to hearings.

The judge also said that since many of the individuals charged with document fraud are Spanish-speaking it was "simply unacceptable" for the INS not to have provided forms in a language other than English. He rejected the INS' claims that the defendants had knowingly forfeited their right to a hearing.

HMO to Pay $12 Million To Resolve Claims of Overcharging

The Washington Post

A health maintenance organization serving more than 150,000 federal employees has agreed to pay the government $12 million to resolve claims that it overcharged the employees for their health-care benefits between the years 1987 and 1991.

FHP Inc., the HMO, charged the Office of Personnel Management higher rates for the health benefits than it charged other subscribers, according to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. and OPM Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland.

The $12 million settlement is the largest civil recovery this year by the U.S. attorney's office here in an ongoing initiative against health-care overbilling, fraud and other abuses, the statement said.

The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which is administered by OPM, requires insurance companies to provide a certification that the rate provided to the government is equal to the lowest rate charged to other subscribers for the same contract period for the same level of benefits. An audit by the OPM inspector general's office discovered FHP charged higher rates in five regions - Arizona, Guam, California, New Mexico and Utah.

Ria Carlson, a spokeswoman for FHP, said the HMO disagreed with the government "over what the actual rate would be." Rates are influenced by demographics, geographic locations and price competition in a local health-care market, she said.

Study Finds Parents Not Consumed By Family Values' Worries

Los Angeles Times

Politicians who believe that welfare cheats, gay marriages or even abortion are high-priority concerns for U.S. parents are seriously off the mark, a new study has shown.

Rather than espousing the abstract, ideological "family values" agenda that has figured prominently on all sides of the political debate, U.S. mothers and fathers want to ban handguns, protect their kids from violence and improve the quality of public education, according to a study to be released Friday.

What's more, the survey conducted by an independent, international polling company, shows a startling consensus among parents that crosses class, racial and gender lines.

Nearly unanimously, parents said they wanted less rhetoric from government and business institutions, and more practical help. They also expressed widespread concern about the strain of balancing work with being a parent. Eighty-four percent of the parents surveyed said they are having a tougher time balancing work and family responsibilities than their own parents did.

But despite heavy demands from work and family, parents also demonstrated a strong commitment to activities in their communities. Rather than joining civic organizations in large numbers, however, many parents said they volunteer in their communities on an ad hoc basis - coaching soccer, collecting money for wildlife protection, shelving books at the library and so forth.

The nationwide telephone survey of 500 mothers and fathers was conducted in mid-September. In hopes of attaining a mainstream sampling, welfare recipients were excluded. Income levels among survey respondents ranged from $20,000 to $100,000 per year.