Answers to Five Common Measles Questions

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Amanda Stupi

An outbreak of measles and a new report that identified clusters of vaccine refusals in Northern California have become this week’s hot topics. As such, KQED’s daily talk show Forum devoted an hour to the outbreak, and opened up the phones to listeners’ questions. The result: the sharing of some very good information. Here are answers to five common questions:

1. Can people who have been vaccinated against the measles still get it? 

Of the confirmed measles cases in California, at least five are people who were fully vaccinated. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case.

“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. The measles vaccine comes close — it protects 99 out of 100 people, but that’s “one percent of a lot of people,” she said. Continue reading

Judge Rules on Medi-Cal Backlog, Orders Timely Access to Benefits

(s_falkow: Flickr)

(s_falkow: Flickr)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Thursday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to adhere to a 45-day limit for processing Medi-Cal applications.

The ruling by Judge Evelio Grillo was a victory for health care advocates in a lawsuit over the state’s extensive backlog in processing Medi-Cal applications. The Medi-Cal expansion and the first open enrollment period for Covered California brought millions of applications to the door of the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal.

Computer issues hampered the processing of many of those applications, and in March 2014 the backlog of unprocessed claims peaked at more than 900,000 applications. It took many months to clear the bulk of those applications. Some of them are still hanging fire almost a year later, said Jen Flory, senior attorney in the Sacramento office of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Continue reading

California Bill Would Allow Terminally Ill to End Their Own Lives

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014. (Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014.
(Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

By April Dembosky

State lawmakers are renewing a call to give terminally ill patients more say over how and when they die. Senators Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Santa Cruz introduced the “End of Life Option Act” on Wednesday. The bill would allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to patients who request it.

If the bill passes, California would become one of six states that allow ‘aid in dying.’
“Seeing a daughter suffer and die slowly is torture,” said Robert Olvera, whose daughter, Emily Rose, died of leukemia last year at age 25.

The last four months of her life, she was bedridden, blind, and plagued by excruciating headaches that no medicine would alleviate. Olvera, a doctor, says his daughter wished she’d had the option to end her own life. Continue reading

State Measles Cases Now at 68; Expect More

Five Disney staff members are among California's cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Five Disneyland staff members are among California’s cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Update, Friday, 1/23: The California Department of Public Health said Friday that 68 Californians have confirmed cases of measles.

Original post, Wed. 1/21:

State health officials report 59 confirmed cases of measles in nine counties. The patients range in age from 7 months to 70 years. The California Department of Public Health has linked 42 of these cases to people who visited Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure Park. Initially, cases were linked to people who visited the parks in mid-December, but there are more confirmed cases who visited the parks in January while infectious.

The outbreak has spread beyond California with seven cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. Mexico has also confirmed a case.

Vaccination status is known for 34 of the California patients. State officials say that 28 were not vaccinated at all, one was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated. (Six of the unvaccinated were babies, too young to be vaccinated.)

“Devastating Consequences”

“Measles is not a trivial illness,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. “It can be very serious with devastating consequences.”  Those consequences include pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 500 people a year died of the disease nationwide. In the current outbreak, 25 percent of people with measles have been hospitalized. Continue reading

For Greater Happiness, Avoid the ‘Busy-Ness’ Trap

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jill Suttie, Berkeleyside

In 2009, Christine Carter felt like she had it all. Working her dream job at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she was helping further the study and dissemination of the science of happiness. She had two wonderful kids, a best-selling book called Raising Happiness, a popular blog, and frequent requests for speaking engagements.

“Researchers call busyness ‘cognitive overload’ — which makes us worse at everything.”

Then she got sick. At first, it seemed like no big deal—just a little strep throat. But she took a round of antibiotics and didn’t recover; then she took more. Nine courses of antibiotics later, she still hadn’t healed. Instead, she ended up in a hospital with a severe kidney infection. The diagnosis?

“Exhaustion,” says Carter. “My body had basically lost the ability to heal itself.“

That’s when she realized something was really wrong. Her life had become completely out of whack, and it was taking its toll. Continue reading

Some Employers Say Same-Sex Couples Must Get Married

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

Will companies eliminate benefit programs for unmarried partners?

With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits. Continue reading

Bay Area Communities Are Home to Clusters of People Refusing Vaccines

(Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

By Liza Gross

Although vaccines are among the safest, most effective ways to protect children from major communicable diseases, many parents, for reasons that range from ill-informed to infuriating, still doubt this. As a result, many choose immunization schedules that defy science or refuse to vaccinate altogether.

“These kinds of clusters can be associated with later epidemics.”
If these parents were distributed randomly, their decisions would be less likely to harm others, especially babies too young for vaccination. But as previous studies have shown, parents who use “personal belief exemptions” to avoid school vaccination requirements often live in the same communities.

Now, in a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers have (perhaps not surprisingly) found the same phenomenon among parents of infants and toddlers. These younger children face the highest risk of dying from whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The study has come out as the state is grappling with a measles outbreak linked to people who visited Disneyland in mid-December. Continue reading

Kaiser Nurses Reach Agreement, Call Off Strike

Nurses carry signs as they strike outside of Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco last week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Kaiser nurses staged a two-day strike in November, citing concerns about Ebola preparedness. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The California Nurses’ Association has called off a two-day strike scheduled to begin Wednesday after reaching a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente on a new three-year contract.

The nurses’ bargaining team is recommending ratification of the proposed contract that would affect 18,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at 86 Kaiser sites throughout Northern and Central California.

“It’s really, really a good deal,” said Diane McClure, a nurse at Kaiser’s South Sacramento facility and a member of the bargaining team, adding that the strike threat strengthened the nurses’ position with Kaiser. “They saw the momentum the nurses had. They didn’t want us out in the public, because they knew the public was behind us.”

Kaiser issued a statement saying it was pleased with the economic priorities accomplished by the agreement, including “slowing the growth of our long-term liabilities,” and offering benefits to nurses that are “consistent with our commitment to affordability.” Continue reading

Blue Shield, Sutter Impasse About More Than Money

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Contract breakdowns between insurance companies and health care providers are nothing new and often blow over after public posturing. But the current failure of Blue Shield and Sutter Health to come to terms on a new contract may be harder to resolve. That’s because the main issues appear to be about much more than money.

To the average patient, a request to arbitrate disputes doesn’t sound like a big deal. But this is different.
While the negotiations grind on, more than 250,000 people in individual and family plans are waiting to see what happens. The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter terminated on Dec. 31.

To be sure, money is a factor. Sutter says that Blue Shield is “demanding reductions in what they pay our organization … that would have a devastating impact,” said Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sutter. He says Sutter has asked for “less than a 1 percent increase.”

But Blue Shield claims Sutter is pushing the insurer to accept “new and unprecedented contractual provisions,” says Steven Shivinsky, spokesman for Blue Shield. Continue reading

Latino Obamacare Enrollment Keeping Pace

Screenshot from the Covered California website.

Screenshot from the Covered California website.

By April Dembosky

California’s health insurance marketplace is holding steady in signing Latinos up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act: 28 percent of people who have enrolled in a plan so far this season are Latino, according to data released at Covered California’s board meeting on Thursday.

That’s exactly the same breakdown as last year, when the first open enrollment period closed. Latinos make up more than 60 percent of the uninsured population in California.

However, of the people who have started an application but haven’t picked a plan, 50 percent are Latino. Continue reading