Monthly Archives: September 2012

Quick Read: Information Makes a Difference to Patients at All Incomes Levels

We know that information makes for greater engagement among patients. The same premise holds for low-income Californians, a new survey shows. Among people surveyed, more than eight in ten who said they were informed about their health also said they understood their provider’s advice and treatment plans. Among people who felt they lacked information, just 55 percent said they play a role in their health care decisions.

Low-income Californians are more likely to feel empowered and engaged in decisions about their health care when they are more informed about their condition and the options available to them, according to a report released Monday.

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Health Insurance Premiums Up 4 Percent, Study Finds

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

Health insurance premiums rose 4 percent for family coverage this year, well below last year’s increase and half the 8 percent average of the previous decade -– largely because people used less health care in an uncertain economy.

Family plan premiums hit $15,745 on average, while premiums for single employees rose to $5,615, according to a survey of employers released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

“We’re seeing people make more consumer-oriented decisions, going for less expensive treatments or deferring surgery,” said Julie Stone, senior consultant at Towers Watson, an employer benefit consulting firm that does its own survey. Still, hospitals and other medical providers “are not agreeing” to lower their prices,  she said. Continue reading

Valley Fever Cases Soar, Harm Remains Hidden

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Just One Breath an initiative on valley fever from reporters with The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. 

By Kellie SchmittRebecca Plevin and Tracy Wood

Dust storm. (Craig Kohlruss: FresnoBee)

A man struggles through heavy winds and dust blowing in downtown Fresno. (Craig Kohlruss: FresnoBee)

Valley fever starts with the simple act of breathing.

The fungal spores, lifted from the dry dirt by the wind, pass through your nostrils or down your throat, so tiny they don’t even trigger a cough. They lodge in your lungs. If you’re fortunate – and most people are – they go no further.

But if you are one of the more than 150,000 people stricken with coccidioidomycosis every year nationwide, it’s because the spores have sent roots into the moist tissue of your lungs.

They start to feed, and, over time, they can rob you of your health. In serious cases, your muscles waste away. Your bones become brittle. Pustules appear on your arms, neck and face and then erupt.

“Valley fever is not occurring in D.C., it’s not occurring in Atlanta, and it’s not occurring in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s invisible to the most important policymakers when it comes to health funding.

Once the fungus takes root, it never leaves you. In about 100 cases every year nationally the fever kills. That’s more deaths than those caused by hantavirus, whooping cough, and salmonella poisoning combined, yet all of these conditions receive far more attention from public health officials and are more widely known.

As horrible as the disease can be, people in Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, Stockton and other parts of California’s San Joaquín Valley have come to accept it as a way of life. Everyone knows somebody who has had valley fever, and most have survived. Continue reading

Quick Read: California’s Prop. 37 — Are GMO Labels a Scarlet Letter?

KQED’s Amy Standen explores both sides of the Proposition 37 debate — should foods made with genetically-modified ingredients be labelled as such? Those opposed to labeling say it would raise consumers’ fears about safety. Those in favor say it’s a simple right to know.

Proposition 37 could make California the first state in the country to require labels on foods made with genetically-modified ingredients. It’s shaping up to be one of the most contentious – and certainly the most expensive – battles on the state’s November ballot.

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Is AIDS Still A Critical Concern to the Gay Community?

Private AIDS funding drops, while new HIV infections among African American men rise dramatically. (Mark Ralston: AFP/Getty Images)

Researchers, doctors, advocates and general attendees at this year’s International AIDS Conference were awash in enthusiasm that a cure to the AIDS epidemic is actually within reach, largely due to advances in treatments and improved prevention.

But to actually reach the cure takes money. And right at this moment, private funding is down.


Funders Concerned About AIDS, a philanthropy dedicated to ensuring the end of the epidemic, says both the number of grants from private foundations and actual dollars given have dropped by about one-third.

While the new infections are among people at the intersection of race and poverty, the traditional funders of HIV/AIDS … look around at their friends and may get the sense AIDS is “solved.”

At first blush, it would seem that a down economy would be a big driver, but Daniel Tietz, Executive Director of the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), sees something else at work. He spoke with KQED’s Rachael Myrow on The California Report Friday morning and said that the downturn in funding predated the downturn in the economy. Continue reading

Nurse-led Clinics Not New, But Point to the Future

By Richard Kipling, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

(Photo: Glide Health Services)

Who doesn’t remember running to the school nurse’s office with a nosebleed or ear ache? But how many among us have gone to a nurse-managed clinic for our adult health care?

In this era of experimentation in health delivery, the nurse-led clinic is part of the conversation about how best to medically serve us, particularly the poor and uninsured populations.

These safety net clinics fly pretty far beneath the general public’s radar, despite the fact most have been around for a decade or more. In California, there are now at least seven of them, mostly in the Bay Area.

To find out more about what they do and how they differ from a typical health clinic, I got in touch with Patricia Dennehy, director of Glide Health Services, a pioneering nurse-led health center in San Francisco that promises “compassionate healthcare.”  The clinic, located in the Tenderloin area of downtown, addresses such issues as hunger and housing as well as providing medical support. It partners with Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, which offers pharmacy and lab services at no cost. Continue reading

Is Organic Food More Nutritious Than Conventional? Probably Not.

Organic produce. (Siel Ju: Flickr)

Organic produce. (Siel Ju: Flickr)

As Amy Standen reported this morning for KQED, researchers at Stanford University have combed through hundreds of scientific papers, comparing organically-grown produce to conventional. In one important respect, they found very little difference.

The study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, didn’t ask whether organic fruits and vegetables are better for the environment, or create a safer workplace for farm workers.

It didn’t ask whether organic foods taste better, or whether trace amounts of pesticides can affect human health over time.

Rather, said physician Dena Bravata, the study’s co-author, the question was:

“What is the evidence that organic and conventional foods differ in either their nutritional benefit or their safety?”

The answer? There isn’t much evidence of that at all. Bravata says when it comes to healthfulness, “there is, in general, not a robust evidence base for the difference between organic and conventional foods.”

Over at NPR, the Salt blog added this context:

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