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Health Highlights: Sept. 27, 2012

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

Companies Take New Approach to Worker Health Coverage

Two large U.S. companies are making major changes in the way they provide health benefits to their workers.

Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants, owner of Red Lobster, will give employees a fixed sum of money and allow them to select their medical coverage and insurer from an online marketplace, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The change isn't designed to make workers pay a higher share of health coverage costs, but is instead meant to give them more control over their health benefits, the companies said.

"It's a fundamental change the employer is saying, 'Here's a pot of money, go shop,' " Paul Fronstin, director of health research at the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, told the WSJ.

The concern for workers is that "the money may not be sufficient and it may not keep up with premium inflation," Fronstin noted.

The new approach to worker health coverage will be closely watched by businesses around the country, the newspaper reported.

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U.S. Army Holds Suicide Prevention Day

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to set aside their usual duties Thursday and spend the day on suicide prevention training.

The goal is to make sure that troops know what behavioral health programs are available to them and to help them overcome the embarrassment that many feel when seeking help for mental health issues, the Associated Press reported.

The stand-down directive comes as the military struggles with an increase in the number of suicides. In the first seven months of this year, the Army recorded 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers. If that pace continues through to the end of the year, there would be a total of nearly 200 suicides in 2012, compared with 167 last year.

"The Army has decided that this issue is so important to us that we're going to devote an entire day ... that was otherwise devoted to something else and say, 'That's not as important as this,' " the Army's top enlisted man, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, said at a news conference Wednesday, the AP reported.

Exceptions to the stand-down directive include troops on combat operations in Afghanistan and those on medical duties in Army hospitals. Their suicide prevention training will be scheduled at another time.

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Customers Less Satisfied With Mail-Order Pharmacies: Survey

U.S. consumers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with mail-order pharmacies, which now rank significantly lower in customer satisfaction than traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies, according to a new survey.

The 2012 U.S. Pharmacy Study included more than 12,700 pharmacy customers who filled a new prescription or refilled a prescription during the three months prior to the survey conducted in July and August. They were asked to rate their satisfaction with the pharmacies on a 1,000-point scale.

Overall satisfaction with mail-order pharmacies averaged 792, which is 14 points lower than in 2011 and 22 points lower than the average overall satisfaction with traditional pharmacies, according to the J.D. Power and Associates' study.

It's the second consecutive year of significant declines in customer satisfaction with mail-order pharmacies. On the other hand, overall satisfaction with traditional pharmacies has held steady in recent years, with an score of 814 this year and 818 in 2011, the survey found.

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