Updated 

In Brief | Nation & World | 12-12-13


Health care sign-ups picked up in November but still far short as deadline nears

WASHINGTON — With time running short, the nation’s health care rolls still aren’t filling up fast enough.

New sign-up numbers Wednesday showed progress for President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to guarantee that Americans who want and need coverage by Jan. 1 will be able to get it. Crunch time is now, as people face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up if they are to have coverage by New Year’s.

That means more trouble for the White House, too, after months of repairing a dysfunctional enrollment website. Next year could start with a new round of political recriminations over the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare to its opponents.

The Health and Human Services Department reported that 364,682 people had signed up for private coverage under the law as of Nov. 30. That is more than three times the October figure but still less than one-third of the 1.2 million that officials had projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November. The administration’s overall goal was to sign up 7 million people by next March 31, when open enrollment ends.

Pope Francis selected Person of the Year by Time magazine

NEW YORK — Time magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year on Wednesday, saying the Catholic Church’s new leader has changed the perception of the 2,000-year-old institution in an extraordinary way in a short time.

The pope beat out NSA leaker Edward Snowden for the distinction, which the newsmagazine has been giving each year since 1927.

The former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected in March as the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. Since taking over at the Vatican, he has urged the Catholic Church not to be obsessed with “small-minded rules” and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics such as abortion, gays and contraception.

FDA takes steps to phase out antibiotics in meat

WASHINGTON — Citing a potential threat to public health, the Food and Drug Administration is taking steps toward phasing out the use of some antibiotics in animals processed for meat.

Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their animals antibiotics regularly to ensure that they are healthy and to make the animals grow faster. Now, the agency has announced that it will ask pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for that growth promotion in animals.

If the drug companies sign on — and two major companies have already signaled they will — using those antibiotics to promote growth in animals would be illegal. Prescriptions would be required to use the drugs for animal illnesses.

FDA officials said the move is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans as antibiotic resistance has become a growing public health problem.

India’s top court says law criminalizing homosexuality to stand

NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court struck down a 2009 lower court decision to decriminalize homosexual conduct, dealing a blow Wednesday to gay activists who have fought for years for the chance to live openly in India’s deeply conservative society.

The judges said only lawmakers and not the courts could change a colonial-era law that bans homosexual acts and makes them punishable by up to a decade in prison.

After the ruling, dozens of activists outside the court began crying and hugging each other in consolation.

By wire sources