Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College in November. (David McNew/Getty Images)
By Dan Diamond, California Healthline
Anthem Blue Cross had 1,591 people use Covered California to get subsidies and sign up for its health plans in October.
Valley Health Plan had five.
That data point’s taken from a Covered California release that offers some of the first insight into the makeup of early enrollees through the exchange and which plans they’re picking. And while it’s hardly fair to directly compare the two issuers — Anthem has a presence in all 19 of Covered California’s regions, whereas Valley is only offering plans in Santa Clara County — the contrast is eye-catching.
It’s also telling. The biggest players, so far, are getting enormous market share from Covered California’s customers. The smaller plans are seeing a trickle.
So Far, Exchange Strengthens Market Position of Large Plans Continue reading
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Over at the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal continues her terrific series on the high cost of health care in America. Tuesday’s installment is a deeply-reported look into the murky world of hospital prices, where a “stitch tops $500,” says the headline.
The lowest-cost silver-tier plan costs 26 percent more in Alameda County vs. Orange County.
But it’s where Rosenthal sets most of her reporting that makes the story a must-read for anyone in the Bay Area. She profiles patients receiving care at California Pacific Medical Center, a Sutter Health hospital — and her piece indirectly brings up the question of higher health insurance premiums here.
These higher premiums were made evident when Covered California released its plans for all the 19 “rating regions” of the state. In Alameda County, for example, the “silver tier” premiums for a 40-year-old range from $317 to $365. In Orange County, the range is $252 to $290 and Kaiser coming in at a high of $332. In other words, the lowest-cost silver-tier plan is 26 percent more expensive in Alameda County vs. Orange County.
Glenn Melnick, a health economist at USC, is quoted throughout the Times piece, and I called him Tuesday morning to talk about this NorCal vs. SoCal difference. “I would say that hospital prices represent a disproportionate share of that differential,” he said, and added that premiums are higher in the Bay Area even after accounting for the higher cost of living here. Continue reading
(David McNew/Getty Images)
David Gorn, California Healthline
The Department of Health Care Services released enrollment numbers last week for Medi-Cal-eligible Californians who initially contacted the Covered California health benefit exchange.
The department said 143,608 people will likely receive Medi-Cal coverage as a result of contacting Covered California.
That’s about 40 percent of all applications completed through the exchange, said Anthony Cava, a spokesperson for DHCS.
“We are very pleased with this surge of interest and the momentum we are seeing in consumer awareness,” Cava said in a written statement. Continue reading
San Francisco City Hall is lit red on World AIDS Day in 2009. (Steve Jennings/Getty Images)
By Jim Bunn
It was the summer of 1983 and my first day on the job at KPIX — San Francisco’s CBS television affiliate. My assignment: cover a news conference at the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank. It was about the new and mysterious disease, AIDS, and the blood supply.
“We need a day. Like ‘Cold-Turkey’ in the States where people quit smoking for a day.”
Sitting in the car to return to the station, my head was reeling. I had heard about AIDS in my previous job on the east coast, but nothing more than that. Clearly this had all the earmarks of a tremendously important story. It was a fearful time. People were dying. The nation’s blood supply was somehow at risk. There was an international race to find the cause and, hopefully, some way to treat this terrible disease and save countless lives.
The kind of story a reporter yearns to cover.
But at the center of it was science. Significant, because not too many years earlier I was the stupidest high school biology student in the history of public education. No joke. Two weeks before graduation I still had an “incomplete” for sophomore biology. Only through the good graces of my biology teacher, who gave me an oral exam, during which he fed me the answers to his questions, was I able to graduate.
So the science of the AIDS “story” stared me in the face –- and scared me. Continue reading
By Dan Diamond, California Healthline
Search Covered California’s website, and you’ll find a list of 33 “frequently asked questions.”
The 33rd and final question — below questions like “Why should I buy health insurance?” and “I’m pregnant and do not have insurance. What health coverage is available for me?” — is this one: “Will patients be able to keep their same doctor when they purchase health insurance through Covered California?”
The question may be last on Covered California’s list, but it’s top-of-mind for many consumers. About one million Californians, and millions of other Americans, are losing their health plans through the individual market and turning to Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges to shop for replacement coverage. And in many cases, it’s still unclear if the family doctor will be coming with them.
The Mechanics Behind Narrow Networks Continue reading
(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)
By Chris Richard
Studies have linked air pollution exposure, especially exposure to pollution from congested roadways, with serious health conditions ranging from asthma, to heart disease, to cancer, to low birth weight.
Now a research team at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine has received funding to investigate whether children living near busy roadways are more prone to obesity.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded $7.8 million to the medical school’s Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center to fund research by over the next five years.
Scientists will conduct new studies and analyze existing data on whether and how roadway pollution may make children obese. They’ll also study metabolic abnormalities linked to air pollution from roads that might increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Continue reading
So maybe that headline needs a bit of clarification: This new research has to do with postmenopausal women and their levels of estrogen. (Still, if you’re a pre-menopausal woman, you should read this, too. Men, if you know any women, please read on.)
After a woman goes through menopause, her estrogen levels drop. This study, led by a Stanford School of Medicine researcher, was the first to look at associations between estrogen decline and cognition — both in women who went through menopause more recently (less than 6 years) and longer ago (more than 10 years). The research team wanted to know if the time from menopause made a difference in cognitive ability. And so we return to the headline: They found no connection.
“There were no differences between women close to the time of menopause and further from the time of menopause,” said Stanford neurologist Victor Henderson, lead author of the study. The women were given a battery of neurological tests, not just “a short screening instrument,” the authors wrote. Continue reading
Jane Bradford and her family will save more than $400 a month on premiums, she says. (Photo Courtesy of Bradford Family)
By Stephanie O’Neill, KPCC and Kaiser Health News
Barbara Neff of Santa Monica is one of the roughly 1 million Californians who recently got word that their health insurance coverage would be expiring soon. The canceled plans sparked a political firestorm as people realized President Barack Obama’s promise – “If you like your plan, you can keep it” — didn’t apply to everyone.
But Neff, a 46-year-old self-employed writer, isn’t outraged. She’s relieved. Even though she makes too much money to receive a subsidy to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the policy cancellation was good news for her.
Neff says she’s been stuck in a bad plan because treatment for a back problem years ago red-flagged her with a preexisting condition.
“The deductible has ranged anywhere from $3,000 to as high as $5,000, which means I have to spend that much each year before the insurance even kicks in,” she says. “I was rejected [from a more affordable policy] because I’d had a bout of sciatica five years previously that has never returned.” Continue reading
Children under age 2 can reason abstractly, UC Berkeley researchers show. (Getty Images)
By Nancy Shute, NPR
Parents, does your 18-month-old seem wise beyond her years? Science says you’re not fooling yourself.
Very small children can reason abstractly, researchers say, and are able to infer the relationships between objects that elude older children who get caught up on the concreteness of things.
In experiments at the U.C. Berkeley, children as young as 18 months were able to figure out the relationship between colored blocks.
The child would watch a researcher put two blocks on top of a box. If the blocks were identical, the box would play music. The majority of children were able to figure out the pattern after they were shown it just three times. They would then help the researcher pick the correct block. Continue reading
Two-thirds of children between the ages of two to five years old eat fast-food at least once a week in California, according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
The study gathered data from the 2007 and 2009 California Health Interview Survey and found that 60 percent of children are eating fast food at least once a week, and one in 10 is eating three fast food meals a week.
“That’s too high for me,” says Susan Holtby, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Public Health Institute in Oakland. “To have that many children that young eating fast food every week calls for attention. Those are the years where you really set the pace and set the tone for what a child’s diet will be like going forward to teens years.” Continue reading