Monthly Archives: July 2012

Carrying Condoms Brings Arrest Risk for Sex Workers

Report presented at International AIDS Conference shows “chilling effect” of police policies

By Alvin Tran

Condoms with a political message, handed out at the International AIDS Conference by St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco health clinic for sex workers. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Condoms with a political message, handed out at the International AIDS Conference by St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco health clinic for sex workers. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Police officers in San Francisco and Los Angeles may be undermining public health efforts to prevent the spread of HIV among sex workers.

That’s according to the findings of a new Human Rights Watch report “Sex Workers at Risk,” presented at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

Researchers interviewed more than 300 people, including current and former sex workers in four major U.S. cities — San Francisco, L.A., Washington, DC and New York. They found that police officers were either confiscating or taking photographs of sex workers’ condoms as evidence of prostitution, putting sex workers at risk.

“Sex workers on the street are telling us that they are having unprotected sex with clients as a result of this practice,” said Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In L.A., New York and Washington, police confiscated the condoms and used them as evidence, but San Francisco police instead photographed the condoms before giving them back to sex workers.  Continue reading

What Do ‘Engaged’ Patients Do?

(Seattle Municipal Archives: Flickr)

(Seattle Municipal Archives: Flickr)

Desiree Basila was 52 when her stage zero breast cancer — also called ductal carcinoma in situ —  was diagnosed. While her cancer was found very early, she was ultimately diagnosed with the disease in both breasts. In addition, it was found in several locations. For Basila, doctors said her only realistic treatment option was double mastectomy — which Basila opposed. “If I die at 75 instead of 95 I think I can live with that,” she told me recently. “I did not really want to have a double mastectomy.”

Basila is strong evidence that individuals react differently to their treatment choices. The new healthcare buzzword is the engaged patient, generally referring to someone who is collaborating with doctors in the decision-making process and, conversely, where a patient’s individual preferences are respected.

Basila became just such an engaged patient. After a cancer diagnosis, people usually have a few weeks to investigate treatment options, options that may be life altering. While Basila had little prior experience with cancer, she had been a science teacher and put her skills to use, digging into the research. She sought a second opinion at UC San Francisco and discovered a new Continue reading

Insurance Marketplace Taking Shape: Will It Meet Needs of Latinos?

(Adrian Clark: Flickr)

(Adrian Clark: Flickr)

It’s off to the races now.

With the health overhaul (mostly) upheld by the Supreme Court, the January 1, 2014 deadline for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act is looming — in particular for the board of the Health Benefit Exchange. That’s the group tasked with developing an online marketplace where Californians will be able to buy health insurance. Yesterday, KQED’s Mina Kim attended the board’s first meeting since the ACA was upheld. Today I went to a meeting of the Latino Coalition for a Health California. It was sort of a point-counterpoint experience.

First, from Mina Kim. As she detailed on The California Report:

Hundreds of people packed the auditorium in Oakland yesterday where the Board meeting was held. At issue for many people was that health plans have a standard format so that it’s easy for consumers to compare costs and benefits.

Betsy Imholz, with the advocacy group Consumers Union, told Kim that this is a critical time for the exchange. “It’s where the rubber meets the road … figuring out what plans will be part of the exchange.” Continue reading

2012 AIDS Conference: How Much Do You Know?

The 2012 International AIDS Conference starts Sunday in Washington, D.C. More than 25,000 people from around the world will gather to discuss all aspects of the pandemic. The non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation (not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente) has put together this 10 question quiz for you to test your knowledge.

Once you’ve completed the quiz, the Foundation gives a short summary of each topic and links for more information.

Bill Frist To GOP Governors: Get Cracking On Exchanges

By Marilyn Werber Serafini, Kaiser Health News

Former Senator Bill Frist in 2009. (Tracy Russo: Flickr)

Former Senator Bill Frist in 2009. (Tracy Russo: Flickr)

A former GOP power player is urging Republicans to rethink their rejection of the health law and to implement state insurance exchanges –- and to do it now.

Bill Frist, a former Republican Senate majority leader and a heart transplant surgeon, today argued in a column that state officials should not pass up the opportunity to build the insurance exchanges that are right for them. Under the law, if a state that doesn’t create its own exchange, the federal government will parachute in to do the job.

“Originally a Republican idea, the state insurance exchanges mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will offer a menu of private insurance plans to pick and choose from, all with a required set of minimum benefits, to those without employer-sponsored health insurance,” Frist wrote. “These exchanges are expected to bring health insurance to an additional 16 million Americans. Unlike the Medicaid expansion, these Americans will gain private insurance, and can choose the plan that’s right for them.

“State exchanges are the solution.”

Fifteen states have taken the first steps to set up exchanges, basically online insurance marketplaces. The health law has received withering criticism from many Republican governors, and some have refused to establish exchanges.  Some were waiting for a decision on the law from the Supreme Court, and are now moving forward. Still others are holding out hope that Republicans will win big in November and repeal the entire law. Continue reading

Bridging the Gap: Disparities in Mental Health Care for African-Americans

(Courtesy: African American Health Institute San Bernardino County)

(Courtesy: African American Health Institute San Bernardino County)

African-Americans in California are less likely than white people to get the mental health care they need. State public health officials have lacked a good road map on how to change those disparities, until now. A statewide study released today looks at ways to reduce disparities in mental health care for black Californians.

The report, commissioned by the California Department of Mental Health, sifted through more than a decade of literature on why African-Americans in California aren’t getting adequate mental health care. A major reason is poverty and all of the barriers to getting health care that come with it.

Diane Woods is the lead author of the study and the founding president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County.

“It is unpleasant to admit, but some people do not receive appropriate services,” Woods said.

The Northern California city of Richmond is nearly 27 percent African American, and has many pockets of low-income neighborhoods. Anne Cevallos is a therapist at Rubicon, a nonprofit in Richmond that offers treatment and housing for people mental illnesses. She says her clients face multiple barriers to treatment.

“From a mental health perspective there could be triggers,” Cevallos said. “Not having enough to eat, domestic violence, neighborhood violence, never learning to cope.”

Continue reading

Quick Read: Truvada For HIV-Negative People Raises Questions

KQED’s Joshua Johnson talks with Dr. Andrew Zolopa, director of the Positive Care Clinic at Stanford about the benefits — and risks — of a drug that can help prevent people from acquiring HIV.


Peninsula-based drugmaker Gilead Sciences received permission from the FDA on Monday to sell its landmark daily pill, Truvada, to HIV-negative people as a way of protecting them from getting infected. Some researchers call it a step toward eradicating AIDS, while others fear it may be a step back from years of encouraging safer sex habits.

Read more at: www.kqed.org

Health Insurance Prices for Women Set to Drop

One of the many requirements of the Affordable Care Act

By Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

Any woman who has bought health insurance on her own probably didn’t find herself humming the old show tune, “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” That’s because more than 90 percent of individual plans charge women higher premiums than men for the same coverage, a practice known as gender rating.

Women spend $1 billion more annually on their health insurance premiums than they would if they were men because of gender rating, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center.

Under the health care overhaul, the practice is banned starting in 2014. But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s April health tracking poll, only 35 percent of people are aware of this fact. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Like or loathe the recent Supreme Court decision that the law is constitutional, most people support leveling the premium playing field for women and men. Overall, six in 10 people have a favorable view of that provision, according to the poll, including 74 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans. Continue reading

FDA Approves First Drug to Help Prevent HIV Infection

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Truvada, the first drug shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Truvada was already approved as a medication for treatment of people already infected with HIV.

Truvada is to be taken twice a day in what is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.

From the FDA’s press release:

As part of PrEP, HIV-uninfected individuals who are at high risk will take Truvada daily to lower their chances of becoming infected with HIV should they be exposed to the virus. A PrEP indication means Truvada is approved for use as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy that includes other prevention methods, such as safe sex practices, risk reduction counseling, and regular HIV testing. Continue reading

Alameda County Takes On Drug Companies Over Medication Disposal

By: Katharine MieszkowskiThe Bay Citizen

Alameda County is poised to make drug companies pay for the safe collection and disposal of residents’ unused medications.

The measure would apply to prescription drugs like penicillin as well as tightly controlled substances like OxyContin.

Supporters say the ordinance would help prevent overdoses and accidental poisonings and reduce water pollution – claims the pharmaceutical industry insists are not true.

Public agencies currently pay for 25 drug disposal sites in the county. (To see locations, click here.) The ordinance would require drug manufacturers and producers to pay for the disposal of their products or face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

Industry representatives countered that the ordinance will do little to prevent either water pollution or accidental overdoses.

“The county should not be responsible for continuing to bear the financial burden alone,” said Nate Miley, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and sponsor of the ordinance.

The measure also requires drug manufacturers to fund any efforts by Alameda County law enforcement agencies to collect controlled substances. Federal law requires that officers be present when such drugs, like Adderall, are returned. Continue reading