Monthly Archives: May 2012

Quick Read / Video: For the Uninsured, the Wait for Health Care

The independent documentary “The Waiting Room” was shot at Oakland’s Highland Hospital and is now making the rounds at film festivals across the country. Click through to the 5-minute short. It captures the power of what it means to be uninsured and trying to access health care through the emergency room of a large safety-net hospital.

This Op-Doc video, adapted from my feature-length documentary “The Waiting Room,” presents a composite day in the life of patients at Highland Hospital – edited from five months of filming in 2010.

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Poll: What’s It’s Like To Be Sick In America

By Richard Knox and Joe Neel, NPR News and Kaiser Health News

In the lull between the Supreme Court arguments over the federal health overhaul law and the decision expected in June, we thought we’d ask Americans who actually use the health system quite a bit how they view the quality of care and its cost.

Most surveys don’t break it down this way.

Source: NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health Poll. Credit: Alyson Hurt/Nelson Hsu, NPR

Source: NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health Poll. (Image: Alyson Hurt/Nelson Hsu, NPR)

When the results came back, we found that people who have a serious medical condition or who’ve been in the hospital in the past year tended to have more concerns about costs and quality than people who aren’t sick. No big surprise there.

But what was notable: 3 of 4 people who were sick said cost is a very serious problem, and half said quality is a very serious problem.

Nearly half of those with recent serious illness say they felt burdened by what they had to pay out of their own pocket for care.

The recently ill are more likely to say the cost and quality of care have worsened over the past five years, compared to people who weren’t sick.

Among people who’ve recently required a lot of care, significant proportions say their treatment was poorly managed, with nearly a third complaining of poor communication among their caregivers. One in eight believe they got the wrong diagnosis, treatment or test. Continue reading

Proposition 29: First Cigarette Tax Increase in 13 Years. Yes or No?

By Sarah Varney

(Ferran Jorda: Flickr)

(Ferran Jorda: Flickr)

California voters are schizophrenic when it comes to regulating smoking. Polls show broad support for bans on smoking on sidewalks and public parks. Some cities have even outlawed smoking in apartment buildings.

But in 2006, the state’s voters rejected a ballot measure to hike cigarette taxes. While California was once the most aggressive state in taxing cigarettes, the tax rate here is lower than that of 32 other states. At 87 cents a pack, California’s cigarette taxes are 60 cents lower than the national average.

Proposition 29 — on the ballot June 5 — would change that. It would raise the tax on cigarettes to almost $2 a pack.

Jane Warner, president of the American Lung Association of California, hopes voters will be game to raise tobacco taxes when they decide the fate of Prop 29. “We’ve made this initiative very simple,” she says. “It was written by the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. It is very simple, very clear — to save lives.”

The Centers for Disease Control has found increasing the price of cigarettes reduces demand. Teenagers are especially sensitive to price, so if the tax is approved, fewer of them would pick up the habit. Right now about 12 percent of Californians smoke. That rate could drop significantly if Prop 29 is approved.

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A Heart Patient’s Quest for Full Access to His Medical Data

By Eve Harris

X-ray of Hugo Campos' ICD. (Courtesy: Hugo Campos)

X-ray of Hugo Campos' ICD. (Courtesy: Hugo Campos)

Hugo Campos was apologetic about postponing a scheduled interview with me two weeks ago. In a midday email he wrote, “Just had the biggest arrhythmia ever. I’m trying to recover from the scare. I might go into the ER. I’ll keep you posted.”

Arrhythmia is when a heart unpredictably beats in an irregular rhythm. For Campos it’s a symptom of an inherited heart condition. If the arrhythmia goes untreated his heart could stop beating, putting him at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

For many patients, the best treatment for arrhythmia includes an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD. The ICD monitors the heartbeat and can jolt the heart back into a normal rhythm if necessary. Campos got his ICD in 2007 and his device is part pacemaker, part gentler pulses of electricity. The response of the device depends on the type of arrhythmia he experiences. In either case, the day of our cancelled interview, the ICD may well have saved his life.

“You go from feeling fine to thinking you’re going to die.”

The arrhythmia episodes, or “events,” are sporadic and frustratingly unpredictable. When this event came the 46-year-old Oakland resident was working in his home office. The first thing he did — before he called 9-1-1 was tweet his followers. Then he kept tweeting. Dave deBronkart Storified Campos’ dramatic and frustrating E.R visit.

“You go from feeling fine to thinking you’re going to die,” Campos said after the crisis passed. “It’s emotionally exhausting and traumatic.” Continue reading

Candy is Bad for Kids … Because It Might Be Laced with Lead

Yes, a candy named "Toxic Waste" was recalled. (Image: California Department of Public Health)

By Lyssa Rome

Just like that, the number of children at risk for lead poisoning jumped five-fold yesterday as the Centers for Disease Control announced that it cut its threshold for lead poisoning diagnosis in half. The new diagnosis will occur at five micrograms per deciliter of blood. The former threshold was 10.

Health advocates have worked to alert the public to the risks of lead in paint, toys and even jewelry. But lead can also be found in – of all things tempting to children – candy. Candy with high levels of lead may not taste unusual. In fact, some kinds of lead even taste sweet.

Lead is a major environmental health risk. It affects almost every system in the body, including the brain and other organs, but the symptoms aren’t always obvious. For children, exposure to even minute quantities of lead can cause long-term developmental problems, including lower IQ, and the damage may not be reversible.

“It is not entirely clear where the lead in many of the products is coming from.”
California’s Department of Public Health began testing candy for lead in 2007 and has done 5,700 tests since. Over the years, it has issued warnings [PDF] not to eat 188 different sweets.

Most of those candies are imported, mainly from four countries: Mexico, Malaysia, China and India. That’s where the candies come from, but what about the lead itself? Continue reading

Bridge to Health Reform “Undoable” in San Luis Obsipo

By John Gonzales, Center for Health Reporting

San Luis Obispo County. (Steve Wilson: Flickr)

San Luis Obispo County. (Steve Wilson: Flickr)

California’s “Bridge to Reform” program is intended to do exactly that: provide a bridge to the 2014 roll-out of the Affordable Care Act. Right now, 47 of California’s 58 counties have already provided health care to more than 335,000 people. San Luis Obispo is a case study in one county that is not participating.

We have reported on the Bridge to Reform, also known as the Low Income Health Program, since its early phases. I was the reporter on our first piece, which looked at Kern County’s efforts to build the bridge. A follow-up examined the challenges of implementing the program in the far corners of Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

In San Luis Obispo, Health Agency Director Jeff Hamm said he made the decision to withdraw from participation reluctantly. For years, the county has slashed its health budget and outsourced its medical safety net.

It reached the point, Hamm said, of not having the start-up funds, or medical infrastructure, needed to implement the Bridge to Reform.

“We understood it would be good for a lot of people. We didn’t have the money,” said Hamm, whose county joins Fresno as a non-participant. “It was a big paradigm shift, a really big shift in terms of infrastructure, requirements for data collection, and processing. … We’re talking a 150-page contract with the State of California. … It became undoable for us.” Continue reading

Quick Read: Pants on Fire

File this under “freak accidents.” Orange County woman is burned after she picks up rocks on a beach. You know how your mother warned you, “Don’t pick that up! It might be dangerous”? Or, it might ignite in your shorts pocket after you get home. A paramedic says he’s never seen anything like this in his 27 years of service.

SAN CLEMENTE – A 43-year-old woman is undergoing surgery after two rocks that she collected at a South County beach ignited in the pocket of her shorts, officials from Orange County Fire Authority said. The incident happened about 3:30 p.m. Saturday when the woman was standing in her kitchen after returning from an outing to Trestles Beach.

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Richmond Voters Will Decide on “Soda Tax”

(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

The people of Richmond will decide in November whether businesses should have to pay a fee for every ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks they sell. In other words, a soda tax is on the ballot November 6th. If voters approve the measure, Richmond would be the first city in California to impose such a fee.

“The city of Richmond has the opportunity to make history,” Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy told me today, adding that the campaign will be closely watched nationally. “Cities and states will be watching this across the country. … They too want to put a small tax on sugary drinks and use those funds to mitigate the harmful effects that all these sugary drinks are causing.”

Debate stretched more than four hours at last night’s City Council meeting to determine whether to put two related measures on the ballot. In addition to the penny-per-ounce business license fee, a second measure asks voters if they wish the money to be directed to obesity prevention programs. The measure is an advisory one. If voters approve the new fee, the money it generates goes into the general fund. Richmond’s finance director estimates the fee will generate from $4 million to $8 million for city coffers. Continue reading

Quick Read: Obamacare Repeal Would Cost Insurers $1 trillion

Bloomberg Government took a look at what happens if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies would lose $1 trillion in revenue — more than the annual revenue of the five largest American banks. And of that revenue, $175 billion is profit.

Next month, America’s health insurance plans may lose $1 trillion in revenue. It won’t have anything to do with a business deal gone awry, or Americans dropping health coverage during the recession. Instead, $1 trillion is the amount of revenue that health insurance plans can expect to lose if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act.

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More Than a Haircut — Get a Health Check Up Too

By Marnette Federis

Center Stage Salon Oakland's Lakeshore District hosted a health screening event for The Black Barbershop Program. (Photo: Marnette Federis)

Chris Holiday of Oakland has his blood pressure checked at Center Stage Salon in Oakland's Lakeshore District. The salon hosted a health screening as part of The Black Barbershop Program. (Photo: Marnette Federis)

Oakland’s Center Stage Salon was buzzing like any other busy Saturday morning last weekend. But salon clients weren’t there just to get haircuts. They also lined up to get their blood pressure and glucose levels checked.

It was all part of a nationwide effort — The Black Barbershop Program. The goal was to screen African American men for high blood pressure and diabetes by going to the place where you would easily find them – at the barbershop. The screenings are free and volunteers also gave out health information.

“I’d like to live a hundred years,” said James Fulbright, one of the hairstylists at the salon who was screened for high blood pressure and diabetes. “So I just try to keep myself healthy and I needed to be checked.”

According to program organizers, African American men suffer worse health outcomes compared to other racial groups. For starters, 40 percent of black men die prematurely from heart disease compared to 21 percent of white men.

Program organizers say African American men face a number of barriers and access issues when it comes to health including lack of affordable services, poor health education and insufficient services that cater to black men. Continue reading