WASHINGTON — The White House announced Thursday that it was mobilizing key federal agencies to combat a growing, global health threat — bacteria that have evolved an immunity to powerful antibiotic drugs.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States each year, mostly in hospital and nursing home settings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health advocates have long argued that overuse of antibiotics in the health and food industries has continued to make the problem worse.

"It is not just a U.S. problem; antibiotic misuse continues to be rampant around the world," said Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship at Georgetown University Medical Center.

In an executive order signed Thursday, President Barack Obama identified drug-resistant bacteria as a threat to national security and the economy, and directed the creation of a special task force that will be led by the secretaries of Defense, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Among other responsibilities, the task force will oversee public, private and academic efforts to minimize the spread of superbugs by promoting the proper use of antibiotics; the acceleration of scientific research into new antibacterial drugs and novel therapies; and the creation of new diagnostic technologies that will identify drug-resistant bacteria.

Officials estimate that drug-resistant bacteria have cost the nation $20 billion annually in direct health care costs and an additional $35 billion in lost productivity.

The president's action calls on federal agencies, including Veterans Affairs, to review their current use of antibiotics and to formulate new policies for their employment. It also directs the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate use of "medically important antibiotics" for growth-promotion purposes in poultry and livestock.

700,000 have lost health coverage after enrolling

WASHINGTON-Roughly 700,000 of the more than 8 million people who signed up for marketplace health insurance plans have lost their coverage, Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified Thursday.

"Individuals may have either gotten employer-sponsored insurance, they may have found they were eligible for Medicaid instead of the marketplace, and some individuals may have decided not to go forward and pay," she told a House hearing.— McClatchy Newspapers

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