In Berkeley, Soda Tax Measure Is New Front in Social Activism

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. The protest is considered the birth of the Free Speech Movement. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

By Erika Kelly

Berkeley, the originator of movements ranging from Free Speech to Health Eating has a new cause: taking on the soft drink industry. On November 4th, the city’s voters will decide whether to tax sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

“My entire family has been a part of activism around Berkeley.”

No such tax has ever passed anywhere in the nation.

The effort is bringing out progressives in Berkeley who have lobbied for social change for decades. Berkeley city leaders and health advocates have joined a coalition to support the measure, in hopes of igniting a nationwide fight against soda consumption. Meanwhile, the beverage industry is spending big to defeat the measure. Continue reading

Notices Sent: Covered California Commences 2015 Renewal

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

David Gorn, California Healthline

Covered California officially began mailing renewal notices for its 1.1 million enrollees who signed up during the first open enrollment period, officials announced Thursday.

People who want to keep their current plan will be automatically renewed. All they need do is pay their premium by Dec. 15 to continue their coverage beginning Jan 1, said Peter Lee, executive director of the exchange. People who want to make changes have until Dec. 15 to do so.

“If you’re happy with your plan, you don’t need to do a thing, you just pay the bill, you’re good,” Lee said. “If you want to shop around, we have the tools available online or with assisters to do that. Stability and consistency are good things, but we encourage you to shop for a better policy.” Continue reading

Poll: More Than Half of Americans Worry About Ebola Outbreak in U.S.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where two health care workers. Two nurses there have tested positive for Ebola.  (Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where two health nurses have tested positive for Ebola. (Stewart F. House/Getty Images)

By Scott Hensley, NPR

A Harvard School of Public Health poll finds that more than a third of Americans (38 percent) are worried that Ebola will infect them or a family member over the next year.

I think the public has received Ebola 101, but not Ebola 102.”

Most (81 percent) believe Ebola can spread from someone who is sick and has symptoms. And that’s correct.

Body fluids, such as blood, urine and feces, can carry the virus from one person to another. And almost all the poll respondents (95 percent) agreed that direct contact with body fluids from a person with Ebola symptoms was likely to cause infection.

A large proportion (85 percent) of people believes the virus can be transmitted by a sneeze or cough. That’s highly unlikely. “Common sense and observation tell us that spread of the virus via coughing or sneezing is rare, if it happens at all,” the World Health Organization says. Continue reading

Election 2014: San Francisco, Berkeley Consider Soda Taxes

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When it comes to the 2014 election, the Bay Area is ground zero on a fight being watched across the country. Both Berkeley and San Francisco voters are considering soda taxes.

They’re not the first cities to try to slap a tax on sugary beverages. In California alone Richmond and El Monte tried similar measures in 2012 — and failed. New York City tried to ban large servings — and failed.

If either one of the current measures passes it will be first in the country. The two proposals are similar, yet key differences might make one or the other more likely to be passed. Continue reading

Spike in ER, Hospitalization Use Short-Lived After Medicaid Expansion

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

While the Medicaid expansion may lead to a dramatic rise in emergency room use and hospitalizations for many of the previously uninsured, that increase is largely temporary and should not lead to a dramatic impact on state budgets, according to a new analysis from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released Wednesday.

Researchers reviewed two years of claims data from nearly 200,000 Californians who had enrolled in public programs in advance of the expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, in January. These programs were designed to ease the expansion of Medicaid by providing insurance to low-income adults who were not eligible for Medi-Cal at that point but would be when the health law’s expansion went into effect earlier this year.

Researchers then divided the group into four categories, based on the researchers’ assessment of each group’s pent-up demand for health care.

In July, 2011, after being enrolled in California’s Low Income Health Program, the so-called “bridge to reform,” the group with the highest pent-up demand had a rate of costly emergency room visits triple — or more — that of the other groups. But from 2011 to 2013, that high rate dropped by more than two-thirds and has remained “relatively constant,” according to the analysis. Continue reading

Ebola Now an Issue in Nurses’ Contract Bargaining

(Centers for Disease Control via Getty Images)

(Centers for Disease Control via Getty Images)

Nurses’ calls for better hospital preparation around Ebola have landed on the bargaining table. California’s powerful nurses’ union has been bargaining with Kaiser Permanente for months over a new contract, and is now adding to its list of demands better training, protection, and insurance coverage for nurses who may treat patients infected with Ebola.

Diane McClure, a nurse at Kaiser’s South Sacramento facility, says nurses still had no meaningful training more than a month after a patient was admitted to the hospital for a potential Ebola infection, though he later tested negative for the virus.

“Kaiser felt all they had to do was pull up some CDC flyers and put them on the lunchroom tables or up in the bathrooms,” she says. Continue reading

Prop. 45 Fight Worthy of Television Drama

Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series "House of Cards." (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards.” (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The power play behind Proposition 45 could be fodder for an episode of House of Cards:

Dave Jones might not like this comparison, but he’s the Frank Underwood in this fight.

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value,” so goes protagonist Frank Underwood, who plays the menacing House majority whip scheming to get closer to the president.

You’d never think there’d be such positioning over who gets to regulate health insurance.

But this is California. And no less than three state agencies want to have a say in this one. Continue reading

32 Myths — and Plenty of Facts — About the Flu Vaccine

KQED News social media editor Olivia Hubert-Allen gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

KQED News social media editor Olivia Allen-Price gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

By Tara Haelle, NPR

Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming. And along with the coughing, fevers and aches you can expect a lot of unreliable or downright wrong information about the flu vaccine.

Flu kills more people in a year in the U.S. than Ebola has killed in the history of the world.

Many people underestimate the health risks from flu. Thousands of Americans die from flu-related complications in a typical year, and last season’s H1N1 strain hit young adults particularly hard.

Flu and pneumonia combined consistently rank among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was ranked eighth in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. Continue reading

Darrell Steinberg, Termed Out, Leaves Health Care Legacy in California

Sen. Darrel Steinberg has served in the California legislature for 14 years. (Lorie Shelley, Senate Photographer)

Sen. Darrell Steinberg has served in the California legislature for 14 years, including six years as president pro tem. (Lorie Shelley, Senate Photographer)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

It only seems like Darrell Steinberg (D) has been in the California Legislature forever. Really, forever has just been 14 years.

The senator had made mental health issues a priority.

For health care advocates, Steinberg’s presence has cast the longest shadow in the 21st century, helping advance health causes on multiple fronts — including autism care, mental health services, foster care and homeless services.

Steinberg was elected to the Assembly in 1998, the Senate in 2006 and became Senate President Pro Tempore in 2008. In that 16-year span, he took a two-year break from the Legislature, from 2004 to 2006. He built a reputation as a deal-maker, a horse trader, a broker of political compromises.

Along the way, he helped shape and muscle into existence some of the cornerstone mental health laws in the state. In 2004, Steinberg wrote and backed the voter-approved California Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004 as Proposition 63. Continue reading

My Pain Was Well-Treated in the ER; Its Cause Harder to Find

Joshua Johnson is KQED Public Radio's morning news anchor.  (KQED News photo)

Joshua Johnson is KQED Public Radio’s morning news anchor. (KQED News photo

By Joshua Johnson

“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
–Sherlock Holmes, admonishing Watson, in “The Sign of the Four” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My back hurt like hell.

I thought I’d slept on it funny — twisted my body into a pretzel in my sleep and woke up with a stinging pain in the left side of my back — and I even hit the gym that day, training through the pain.

But even a big, tough guy like me couldn’t endure a night of restless sleep, writhing in pain. By Friday morning wonder had turned to fear: the stabbing spasms sat right above my kidney – and just a few weeks ago my doctor had told me of some lab results about kidney function that he had said we should keep an eye on.

I contacted my doctor’s office, but they couldn’t get me in.

Midway through my shift, I completed a newscast, grabbed my bags and drove myself to the ER at UC San Francisco.

The doctors and nurses there treated me with kid gloves: easy, since there was no one waiting at the ER early on Friday morning. I told them I had severe back pain — eight on a scale of one-to-ten — and suspected my kidneys were the culprit. Continue reading