Monthly Archives: March 2013

California’s Breast Density Notification Law Goes Into Effect

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

(Photo: U.S. Navy)

As women are well aware, the purpose of a mammogram is to screen for cancer. What many women don’t know is that as part of the screening, radiologists also assess the level of density in a woman’s breast tissue.

Starting Monday, a new California law will require that doctors notify women if their breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue makes it harder to read mammograms and is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Former state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) introduced the law last year. It grew out of his concern that while doctors were aware of a patient’s breast density, the patient herself was not, preventing women from talking with their doctors about how they might want to address their potential increased risk. He wanted to change that.

“The fundamental premise of the legislation,” he said in a recent call with reporters, “is that absent this information, these conversations weren’t going to take place.”

Some background: breast tissue is graded from 1 (not dense) to 4 (extremely dense). The law requires that women graded either a 3 or a 4 be notified.

Here’s the specific notification required by the law:

Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the Continue reading

Valley Fever Cases Skyrocketing, Says CDC

BY RACHEL COOKReporting on Health Collaborative

Farming in California's Central Valley is a source of smog, a major contributor to the region's high asthma rates. (Getty Images)

Valley Fever is a disease caused by a fungus found in the soil in certain parts of the southwestern U.S., including California. (Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms in a new research article this week what doctors, epidemiologists and people who suffer from valley fever have experienced first-hand — cases of the fungal disease rose at stunning rates over the last decade, especially in California and Arizona.

The CDC’s analysis addresses the findings reported in Just One Breath, a series of news stories on valley fever by the Reporting on Health Collaborative published in The [Bakersfield] Californian and other outlets. The series chronicled the rise in valley fever cases and deaths and the lack of attention by state and federal policymakers.

“I do think that the reporting series helped to put (valley fever) at the forefront, especially in California,” said Dr. Benjamin Park, medical officer in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch and the study’s senior author.

The total number of valley fever cases rose by more than 850 percent between 1998 and 2011 in the area where valley fever is most common.
People catch coccidioidomycosis, also known as valley fever, after inhaling fungal spores that are common in the dry parts of the Southwest as well as Mexico and Latin America. Experts say the lack of funding and serious attention to valley fever has stalled efforts to combat the disease.

But valley fever seems to be gaining policy attention. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden recently met to talk about valley fever’s impact in the Southwest. Continue reading

Quick Read: The Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism

While “hardcore skeptics” will likely not change their minds, many other parents are simply worried, and this study should be reassuring to them, say experts.

A government study of the medical records of 1,000 kids found no correlation between the number of vaccines a child received and their risk of autism spectrum disorder. Experts hope the finding will allay some parents who worry that many vaccines on one day or in the first two years of life may lead to autism.

Read more at:

On-Campus Clinics, a Safety Net for Neighborhood Children

By Marnette Federis

School Nurse Gail McLaurin treats a student for asthma at Central Elementary's on-campus Health and Wellness Center. (Marnette Federis/KQED)School Nurse Gail McLaurin treats a student for asthma at Central Elementary's on-campus Health and Wellness Center. (Marnette Federis/KQED)

San Diego School Nurse Gail McLaurin treats a student for asthma at Central Elementary’s on-campus Health and Wellness Center. (Marnette Federis/KQED)

Fourteen-year-old Andrea Vizcarra visited her San Diego middle school’s health center because of a bad cough. But the nurse she saw didn’t stop there. Vizcarra learned she also had high blood pressure.

Then Vizcarra got information and plenty of it. She says after talking with the nurse, she began eating more vegetables and fruits and looked into physical activities, such as running on a treadmill and boxing, so that she can avoid getting sick later in life.

“I don’t want to have a health problem,” she said, “when I can prevent it right now.”

Vizcarra’s visit took place at Monroe Clark Middle School’s Health and Wellness Center, part of a network of K-12 on-campus clinics in San Diego that aims to make primary and preventive services accessible to children.

The network of centers grew out of a partnership between The California Endowment, Price Charities and two well-established community clinics: La Maestra Community Health Centers and Mid-City Community Clinic. Continue reading

Health Care Overhaul to Dramatically Reduce Premiums for Many Individuals, Study Finds

(Caroline_1: Flickr)

(Caroline_1: Flickr)

A major new analysis shows that hundreds of thousands of Californians will see their monthly insurance premiums fall an average 47 percent under President Obama’s health care overhaul, in large part due to tax credits and subsidies. It is the first detailed look at how health insurance premiums could change under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Covered California, the agency charged with creating the state’s new health insurance marketplace, commissioned the analysis. The report looked at the individual market only and did not examine the small or large group market.

Under the ACA people with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level (about $94,000 for a family of four; $46,000 for an individual) will be eligible for subsidies from the federal government. That’s about 570,000 people, Covered California said.

Major findings from the study include:

  • Individuals with incomes less than four times the poverty level are “likely to pay” 47 to 84 percent less for their monthly premium compared to this year
  • Premiums would have increased 9 percent in 2014 because of health care inflation, even without the ACA Continue reading

Quick Read: Low-income California Seniors to Move into New Managed Care Plan

They are the “dual eligibles” — people who receive both Medicare and Medi-Cal benefits. Trying to coordinate care across two programs — one administered by the state under one set of rules, the other administered by the federal government under its own set of rules — can lead to highly fragmented care for this very costly population.

The goal is improved coordination of care and, ideally, improved health for this fragile population.

In a major shift triggered by the national healthcare law, nearly half a million low-income California seniors and disabled patients will begin moving into a new managed care program this fall. The patients, who receive both Medi-Cal and Medicare, are among the most costly in the state.

Read more at:

Food Deserts Not Strongly Connected to Obesity, Study Shows



A new study found “no strong evidence” that being within walking distance to food outlets was associated with being obese or not.

Researchers at UCLA and the Rand Corporation analyzed data from the California Health Interview Survey — nearly 100,000 people were included — and published their findings in Preventing Chronic Disease.

The L.A. Times picks up the story:

Given the attention to the idea of food deserts – areas with limited access to healthful food – and their effect on people’s health, the researchers wanted to find how much it mattered to have stores and restaurants within walking distance, which they defined as a mile from home.

But the number of fast-food outlets within three miles of home was associated with eating more fast food, fried potatoes and caloric soft drinks, and with less frequent consumption of produce, the researchers said. And they found that the number of large supermarkets within 1.5 miles and three miles of home was associated with drinking fewer caloric soft drinks.

Continue reading

Chart of the Day: Health Care’s ‘Financial Burden’ on Families

It seems that “32 percent” is the number of the day today. First, actuaries believe that medical claims costs will go up 32 percent, and now the Centers for Disease Control tells us that 32 percent of U.S. families are having trouble paying their medical bills:

(Centers for Disease Control)

(Centers for Disease Control)

Nearly one in four children ages birth to 17 live in families that are struggling to pay medical bills, according to CDC data from the National Health Interview Survey, from January – June, 2011.

Here are more findings. In the first six months of 2011: Continue reading

Quick Read: Debate Takes on Safety of Flame Retardants

Flame retardants in furniture seemed like a great idea back in 1975 when the law was passed, but now Gov. Brown wants to overhaul the law. Firefighters and environmental health groups both say the law does little to actually fight fires and is indirectly the case of health problems.

Does injecting sofas and armchairs with flame retardants hurt us or protect us? That debate took place in Sacramento Tuesday as part of a hearing on an arcane but controversial law known as TB117.

Read more at:

Health Care Overhaul: Study Say Costs Could Go Up 32 Percent



Now the actuaries are weighing in.

In a new analysis, the Society of Actuaries says insurance companies will pay an average 32 percent more for medical claims under the health care overhaul.

That means premiums could go up, especially in the individual market.

The Obama Administration isn’t convinced, though, saying the report didn’t consider all the ways in which the administration says the Affordable Care Act will reduce costs.

More from the AP: Continue reading