California First in Care of Undocumented, But That’s Not Saying Much

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, CaliforniaHealthline

Undocumented immigrants get better health care in California than the rest of the country — but that’s not saying much, according to a new report released Thursday by UCLA researchers.

“California is in the lead of a very sorry pack.”    

“California is in the lead of a very sorry pack,” said Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and co-author of the report. “For California to stay in the lead, we need to keep innovating.”

It’s unclear how UCLA’s findings will affect SB 4 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill to provide full-scope medical coverage to the undocumented, which cleared the Senate Committee on Health this week and now heads to Senate Appropriations. Continue reading

E-Cigarette Use Triples Among American Teenagers

Nicotine exposure at a young age 'may cause lasting harm to brain development,' warns Dr. Tom Frieden, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Getty Images)

Nicotine exposure at a young age ‘may cause lasting harm to brain development,’ warns Dr. Tom Frieden, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Getty Images)

By Rob Stein, NPR

A national survey confirms earlier indications that e-cigarettes are now more popular among teenage students than traditional cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, federal health officials reported Thursday.

450,000 middle school students now use e-cigarettes.
The findings prompted strong warnings from Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the effects of any form of nicotine on young people.

“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age,” Frieden said.

“Adolescence is a critical time for brain development,” he added, in a written statement. “Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use.” Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Outbreak to be Declared Over

The outbreak sickened 134 Californians. (Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The outbreak sickened 134 Californians. (Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

By Alicia Chang, AP

The state’s measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and reignited debate about vaccinations is nearing an end.

The outbreak will be declared over in California on Friday if no new cases pop up, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Disease investigators worked for months to contain the highly contagious disease that originated at Disney theme parks in December and spread to several other states and countries. In all, 134 people in California were infected.

The outbreak cast a spotlight on the small but vocal anti-vaccine movement. Many who fell ill in the Disneyland outbreak were not immunized or had only one of the two recommended doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Continue reading

Vaccine Exemption Bill Stalls in Sacramento; Vote Next Week

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A bill that would eliminate the vaccine personal belief exemption stalled before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday in Sacramento. Lawmakers were deeply concerned that the bill would bar too many children from school. The bill’s co-author, Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), asked the committee to delay a vote until next Wednesday after the committee chairwoman warned him he did not have enough votes to pass.

Pan said he will use the time to address their concerns, possibly adding amendments to the bill.

Under the bill, SB277, California would no longer permit any vaccine exemptions except a medical one, meaning virtually all children would have to be vaccinated in order to attend public or private school. Even home-schoolers who group together would be affected under the current language, one of the committee’s complaints.

While several committee members expressed their support for vaccines, they were worried that the bill goes too far. “I’m looking for the compelling state interest in doing something (this) draconian,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). “If I’m reading the bill correctly, there’s nothing you can do if you choose not to vaccinate your child,” except home-school and then only with your own children. Continue reading

Hidden Side Effect of Cancer Treatment: Big Bills

Anne Koller closes her eyes as an oncology nurse attaches a line for chemotherapy to a port in her chest. Koller typically spends 3 to 6 hours getting each treatment. (Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN)

Anne Koller closes her eyes as an oncology nurse attaches a line for chemotherapy to a port in her chest. Koller typically spends 3 to 6 hours getting each treatment. (Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN)

By Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News

Anne Koller was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer in 2011 and has been fighting it since.

“We talk about hair loss. Should we also talk about ‘chemotherapy is expensive?'”    

But it’s not just the cancer she’s fighting. It’s the bills.

“Think of those old horror flicks,” she says. “The swamp creature … comes out and is kind of oozy, and it oozes over everything.”

Koller, who just turned 65 years old, is petite, and sports a stylish auburn wig. When she was able to work, Koller was in the corporate world and safely middle-class, with health insurance and plenty of savings.

At first, she was too sick to deal with the bills. They piled up.

“You start looking at these bills,” Koller says, “and, as much as you know it’s expensive, the shock itself is like, ‘What?'” Continue reading

The Hidden Cost of Mammograms: More Testing and Overtreatment

Instead of having mammograms according to age, some doctors think screening should be based on a woman's overall risk for breast cancer. (Getty Images)

Instead of having mammograms according to age, some doctors think screening should be based on a woman’s overall risk for breast cancer. (Getty Images)

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

There’s no question mammograms can save lives by detecting breast cancer early. But they can also result in unnecessary testing and treatment that can be alarming and costly.

In fact, each year the U.S. spends $4 billion on follow-up tests and treatments that result from inaccurate mammograms, scientists report in the current issue of Health Affairs.

That’s a “stunning number,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Kenneth Mandl, at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Biomedical Informatics.

Mandl and a colleague analyzed the insurance records of more than 700,000 women from 2011 to 2013. The women were between the ages of 40 and 59, and they all had routine mammograms to screen for breast cancer during that time period. Continue reading

Panel Votes To End Vaccine Exemption in California

By David Gorn, California Healthline

Lawmakers took step toward passage of a bill that would end the personal-belief exemption for childhood immunizations in California. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library)

Lawmakers took step toward passage of a bill that would end the personal-belief exemption for childhood immunizations in California. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library)

On Wednesday, lawmakers took the first step toward passage of a bill that would end the personal-belief exemption for childhood immunizations in California.

The Senate Committee on Health on Wednesday voted to approve SB 277 by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). It would stop California parents from opting out of immunizations for their schoolchildren unless there is a medical reason to refuse vaccination.

“There is no scientific controversy about vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness. This is not open to dispute among mainstream doctors and scientists.”

Pan, a pediatrician, said the recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough could be prevented if a higher percentage of children were immunized against the diseases.

“I’ve personally witnessed the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases,” Pan said. “All children deserve to be safe at school. The personal belief exemption is now putting other schoolchildren and people in our community in danger.”

Continue reading

More Californians Visiting ER For Chronic Medical Conditions

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related  health problems -- and that number is rising.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising.

Traditionally people think of a hospital emergency room as a place to go for injuries: someone gets in a car accident, has a heart attack, or falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. But the ER also plays a large role in treating medical patients.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising, according to a study recently published in the April edition of Health Affairs.

“The study gives you kind of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in the health care system overall.”

The study, led by the University of California, San Francisco, shows the rate of emergency room visits for non-injury related problems rose 13.4 percent in the state, from 10.1 million visits in 2005 to 11.9 million visits in 2011. The largest increase in non-injury related ER visits were for gastrointestinal diseases, abdominal pain and nervous system disorders.

Renee Hsia is a professor of Emergency Medicine and Health Policy Studies at UCSF, and the lead author of the study. She says hospital admissions rates are a window into California’s health care system.
Continue reading

Uninsured? Here Are Alternative Options for Medical Care

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Millions of still Californians remain uninsured, either by choice or immigration status. (Getty Images)

Millions of still Californians remain uninsured, either by choice or immigration status. (Getty Images)

About 5 million Californians have new health coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), both through the Covered California health insurance exchange and the expansion of Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for low-income residents.

But millions of others remain uninsured – by circumstance or by choice.

Up to half of California’s uninsured population is made up of immigrants who are not in the country legally, and therefore are excluded from health insurance exchanges, tax credits and most Medi-Cal coverage. Others can’t afford coverage (even if it’s subsidized), choose not to buy insurance, or are unaware that they qualify for free or subsidized insurance.

No matter who they are or what their circumstances, they get sick, too.

Q: I’m uninsured but need medical care. What are my options?

A: It’s hard to pin down exactly how many Californians remain uninsured, but Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, believes there are roughly 3 million of you.

The good news is that more than a third of you are actually eligible for coverage, either Medi-Cal or subsidized insurance through Covered California, says Laurel Lucia, an ACA expert at UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Continue reading

Cow’s Milk Found in Breast Milk Sold Online

A recent study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with traces of cow’s milk.

A new study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Most doctors agree that ‘breast is best.’ Breastfed babies have lower rates of respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, digestive problems, childhood obesity, asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The public health message is being heard: in 2011 almost 80 percent of newborn U.S. infants were initially breastfed.

But sometimes mothers can’t breastfeed. They may not have sufficient milk production, or maybe their child is allergic to the ingredients in infant formula, so they seek an alternative: buying breast milk on the Internet.

“For an infant who is allergic to cow’s milk or failing to thrive because of formula, this is a huge public health problem.”

The FDA doesn’t approve. Breast milk purchased online isn’t always properly screened for infectious diseases, and it has a chance of being contaminated — with things like cow’s milk.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics reveals 10 percent of breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. A team at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio anonymously purchased 102 samples of milk advertised as breast milk online. They found 10 percent of bovine DNA in 10 of the samples.

Continue reading