Sleep Apps, Myths and More: Strategies for A Good Night’s Rest

(Flood G./Flickr)

(Flood G./Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

If you go to Apple’s App Store and search “sleep,” you’ll net over 2,000 results. Many of these apps play soothing white noise for a set period of time to help you fall asleep; others are simply alarm clocks. But many track your sleep, providing you with data about your nightly sleep quality, your average sleep time and more.

I must admit, I use Sleep Cycle to track my sleep, and my mom uses FitBit. So when sleep experts answered questions on KQED’s Forum Wednesday, I was more than happy to listen in.

Stanford’s famous sleep scientist, Professor William Dement, joined the panel and described one discovery of his original research that apparently led to the technology to track sleep: “During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body is completely paralyzed except the eyes and the diaphragm.” Continue reading

Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Continue reading

High-Priced Drug Sovaldi Coming to California Prisoners with Hepatitis C

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By George Lauer, California Healthline

It’s the drug that can cure most people with hepatitis C in 12 weeks — but comes at a high cost: $1,000 a pill. Now, California Correctional Health Care Services, which oversees clinical care and drug prescriptions for 125,000 inmates at 34 prisons across the state, began using Sovaldi last month.

Made by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, Sovaldi has become part of the “community standard” for medical professionals treating patients with hepatitis C, according to prison officials. A full course of treatment runs about $84,000.

Hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to liver failure, cancer or other health problems, is often associated with intravenous drug use. Many of the estimated 3.2 million Americans living with hepatitis C in the U.S. are poor, imprisoned, elderly or all of the above, giving public systems a disproportionate share of hepatitis C patients. Continue reading

For Some, Medi-Cal Might Mean Ultimately Losing Their Homes

Anne-Louise Vernon in front of her home in Campbell. (Photo: Pauline Bartolone)

Anne-Louise Vernon in front of her home in Campbell. She recently enrolled in Medi-Cal then found out the state could use proceeds from her home to recover costs of her health care. (Photo: Pauline Bartolone)

By Pauline Bartolone, Capital Public Radio

Anne-Louise Vernon had been looking forward to signing up for health insurance under Covered California. She was hoping to save hundreds of dollars a month. But when she called to enroll, she was told her income wasn’t high enough to purchase a subsidized plan.

“It never even occurred to me I might be on Medi-Cal,” she said, in reference to the state’s version of Medicaid, “and I didn’t know anything about it.”

She says she asked whether there were any strings attached.

“And the woman said very cheerfully, “Oh no, no, it’s all free. There’s nothing you have to worry about, this is your lucky day.’” she recounts.

Vernon signed up for Medi-Cal on the phone from her home in Campbell. But months later, she learned online about a state law that allows California to take assets of people who die if they received health care through Medi-Cal after the age of 55. Continue reading

IUD Costs Vary by $600 in Bay Area; What Did You Pay?

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but are relatively underutilized, at least in the United States. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

If you’re one of the 62 million American women of childbearing age, we have a question for you: How much do you pay for birth control? Did you know you might be able to save perhaps hundreds of dollars on your contraceptive method, just by asking?

Let’s back up. We’ve reached the halfway point in our PriceCheck project. We’re shining a light on notoriously opaque and highly variable health care costs. We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid for common procedures including mammograms and back MRIs. We found that both screening mammograms and back MRIs could vary in price ten-fold.

Now we’re moving on to a new health care service: IUDs. We’re asking you to share what you paid for your IUD.

The two most widely-used IUDs are Mirena (a hormonally-based IUD) and ParaGard (a non-hormonal product). Both are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Our PriceCheck partner, ClearHealthCosts.com, has surveyed health care providers and lists cash prices for these IUDs in our PriceCheck database. Continue reading

State Reverses Abortion Coverage Rule for 2 Catholic Universities

Santa Clara University's employee health insurance will stop covering 'elective' abortions next year unless state officials change their minds. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

The two universities affected by the move are Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara University, above. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

By Ted Goldberg and Lisa Aliferis

In a reversal, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is barring two Catholic universities in California from offering health plans to their employees that limit abortion coverage.

Previously, state health officials had approved plans used by Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles that did not cover any abortion procedures, unless they were “medically necessary” to protect the health of the mother.

But earlier this month, the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) said they were reviewing that approval.

The DMHC is now sending letters to insurance companies for both universities, requiring them to cover all abortions.  Continue reading

Using Disney Movies to Reach A Son with Autism

The family first used a scene from the movie "Aladdin" to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

The family first used a scene from the movie “Aladdin” to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

Owen Suskind was a normal toddler, learning to speak in full sentences and happily playing in the backyard with his older brother, Walt.

Owen wasn’t merely watching these movies, he was hearing them and learning through the characters.

That all changed at age 3, when Owen stopped speaking, and in the space of a single month, his entire vocabulary was reduced to one word: juice. Owen was diagnosed with late-onset regressive autism. Though his developmental trajectory was typical for children with this form of autism, this fact offered no comfort to his parents.

Today, Owen has grown into a relatively self-sufficient young man. He graduated from a college-like program for young adults on the autism spectrum and is now living semi-independently in an apartment. Continue reading

Sacramento Patient Does Not Have Ebola, Officials Report

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

A patient admitted to a Kaiser hospital in South Sacramento has tested negative for the Ebola virus, said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in a brief press conference Thursday evening.

Chapman said the results came in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the day. Chapman, Kaiser officials and Sacramento County health officials refused to answer other questions about the patient, citing privacy laws.

Earlier this week, CDPH called the patient “low risk” and said the testing was occurring out of an “abundance of caution.” Chapman said CDPH and Kaiser made the determination that the patient was low risk by following established CDC assessment tools, available to any health care worker.

Chapman stressed that Ebola is “a very difficult infection to spread.” It does not spread through air, food or water. The virus can only be spread through direct physical contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid, including blood and sweat.

There are no reported cases of Ebola in California. In West Africa, the disease has killed 1,350 people.

In Face of Ebola, California-Trained Doctor Treats Patients in Liberia

Shops remain closed in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Shops remain closed in Monrovia’s West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. A doctor trained in California traveled last week to staff a Monrovia hospital. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

While Californians worry about a single possible case of Ebola, considered low risk, the hot spot for this outbreak remains in West Africa where 1,350 people have died, and another 2,400 people are sick with the illness. But what happens to people who get sick with something that is not Ebola?

Dr. James Appel was trained in the Inland Empire, at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He’s been working for Adventist Health International at hospitals in Chad for the last decade. Last week, Dr. Appel flew to Liberia to keep the doors open at Cooper Adventist, a small hospital in the capital, Monrovia, focusing on remaining available to patients with anything but Ebola. He talked Thursday morning with The California Report’s Rachael Myrow.

Appel described Liberia as “shutting down” around him. “There’s a curfew that’s been initiated. Many businesses are not open; all the schools are closed, government offices are closed,” Appel told Myrow. “So for example our hospital is not getting paid by the insurance companies, because insurance companies are closed. The whole economy is coming to a standstill.” Continue reading

Strong Support for Proposition 45 — Tougher Rules on Health Insurance Rates

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Helen Shen, Kaiser Health News

California voters are showing strong early support for a ballot initiative that would expand the state’s authority to regulate health insurance rates.

Nearly 7 of every 10 respondents indicated that they would vote in favor of Proposition 45, while 16 percent would vote against it, according to a Field poll released Wednesday.

Proposition 45 would give California’s insurance commissioner the power to veto excessive health insurance rate increases.

Health insurance rates in the state are currently overseen by the Department of Managed Health Care and the California Department of Insurance. Insurance companies are required to submit proposed rate increases for review each year by state regulators, who may declare rates unreasonable but cannot block them from going into effect. Continue reading