Monthly Archives: November 2013

How What Happened In San Francisco Led to World AIDS Day

San Francisco City Hall is lit red on World AIDS Day in 2009.  (Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

San Francisco City Hall is lit red on World AIDS Day in 2009. (Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

By Jim Bunn

It was the summer of 1983 and my first day on the job at KPIX — San Francisco’s CBS television affiliate. My assignment: cover a news conference at the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank. It was about the new and mysterious disease, AIDS, and the blood supply.

“We need a day. Like ‘Cold-Turkey’ in the States where people quit smoking for a day.”
Sitting in the car to return to the station, my head was reeling. I had heard about AIDS in my previous job on the east coast, but nothing more than that. Clearly this had all the earmarks of a tremendously important story. It was a fearful time. People were dying. The nation’s blood supply was somehow at risk. There was an international race to find the cause and, hopefully, some way to treat this terrible disease and save countless lives.

The kind of story a reporter yearns to cover.

But at the center of it was science. Significant, because not too many years earlier I was the stupidest high school biology student in the history of public education. No joke. Two weeks before graduation I still had an “incomplete” for sophomore biology. Only through the good graces of my biology teacher, who gave me an oral exam, during which he fed me the answers to his questions, was I able to graduate.

So the science of the AIDS “story” stared me in the face –- and scared me. Continue reading

Why Narrow Networks May Not Be Such A Bad Idea

By Dan Diamond, California Healthline

Search Covered California’s website, and you’ll find a list of 33 “frequently asked questions.”

The 33rd and final question — below questions like “Why should I buy health insurance?” and “I’m pregnant and do not have insurance. What health coverage is available for me?” — is this one: “Will patients be able to keep their same doctor when they purchase health insurance through Covered California?”

The question may be last on Covered California’s list, but it’s top-of-mind for many consumers. About one million Californians, and millions of other Americans, are losing their health plans through the individual market and turning to Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges to shop for replacement coverage. And in many cases, it’s still unclear if the family doctor will be coming with them.

The Mechanics Behind Narrow Networks Continue reading

Can Air Pollution Make Children Fat?

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

By Chris Richard

Studies have linked air pollution exposure, especially exposure to pollution from congested roadways, with serious health conditions ranging from asthma, to heart disease, to cancer, to low birth weight.

Now a research team at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine has received funding to investigate whether children living near busy roadways are more prone to obesity.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded $7.8 million to the medical school’s Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center to fund research by over the next five years.

Scientists will conduct new studies and analyze existing data on whether and how roadway pollution may make children obese. They’ll also study metabolic abnormalities linked to air pollution from roads that might increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Continue reading

Stanford Study: Can’t Find Your Keys? Don’t Blame Your Hormones

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

So maybe that headline needs a bit of clarification: This new research has to do with postmenopausal women and their levels of estrogen. (Still, if you’re a pre-menopausal woman, you should read this, too. Men, if you know any women, please read on.)

After a woman goes through menopause, her estrogen levels drop. This study, led by a Stanford School of Medicine researcher, was the first to look at associations between estrogen decline and cognition — both in women who went through menopause more recently (less than 6 years) and longer ago (more than 10 years). The research team wanted to know if the time from menopause made a difference in cognitive ability. And so we return to the headline: They found no connection.

“There were no differences between women close to the time of menopause and further from the time of menopause,” said Stanford neurologist Victor Henderson, lead author of the study. The women were given a battery of neurological tests, not just “a short screening instrument,” the authors wrote. Continue reading

Some With Canceled Insurance Happy About New Plans, Price

Jane Bradford and her family will save more than $400 a month on premiums, she says. (Photo Courtesy of Bradford Family)

Jane Bradford and her family will save more than $400 a month on premiums, she says. (Photo Courtesy of Bradford Family)

By Stephanie O’Neill, KPCC and Kaiser Health News

Barbara Neff of Santa Monica is one of the roughly 1 million Californians who recently got word that their health insurance coverage would be expiring soon. The canceled plans sparked a political firestorm as people realized President Barack Obama’s promise – “If you like your plan, you can keep it” — didn’t apply to everyone.

But Neff, a 46-year-old self-employed writer, isn’t outraged. She’s relieved. Even though she makes too much money to receive a subsidy to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the policy cancellation was good news for her.

Neff says she’s been stuck in a bad plan because treatment for a back problem years ago red-flagged her with a preexisting condition.

“The deductible has ranged anywhere from $3,000 to as high as $5,000, which means I have to spend that much each year before the insurance even kicks in,” she says. “I was rejected [from a more affordable policy] because I’d had a bout of sciatica five years previously that has never returned.” Continue reading

UC Berkeley Research: Yes, Your Toddler Really Is Smarter Than a 5-Year-Old

Children under age 2 can reason abstractly, UC Berkeley researchers show. (Getty Images)

Children under age 2 can reason abstractly, UC Berkeley researchers show. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

Parents, does your 18-month-old seem wise beyond her years? Science says you’re not fooling yourself.

Very small children can reason abstractly, researchers say, and are able to infer the relationships between objects that elude older children who get caught up on the concreteness of things.

In experiments at the U.C. Berkeley, children as young as 18 months were able to figure out the relationship between colored blocks.

The child would watch a researcher put two blocks on top of a box. If the blocks were identical, the box would play music. The majority of children were able to figure out the pattern after they were shown it just three times. They would then help the researcher pick the correct block. Continue reading

Even California’s Pre-School Age Kids Eating Fast Food Regularly

(EvelynGiggles/Flickr)

(EvelynGiggles/Flickr)

Two-thirds of children between the ages of two to five years old eat fast-food at least once a week in California, according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The study gathered data from the 2007 and 2009 California Health Interview Survey and found that 60 percent of children are eating fast food at least once a week, and one in 10 is eating three fast food meals a week.

“That’s too high for me,” says Susan Holtby, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Public Health Institute in Oakland. “To have that many children that young eating fast food every week calls for attention. Those are the years where you really set the pace and set the tone for what a child’s diet will be like going forward to teens years.” Continue reading

How 6 Fabulous British Women Age — With Style

By Rachael Myrow

A great Friday story if ever there was one!

This British documentary looks at aging through the lens of six women in their 70s, 80s and 90s. But not just any women, these women are Fabulous Fashionistas who dress “with style and panache that belies their advancing years,” according to the film’s website. Check it out:

Canceled Insurance? Pre-ACA Plans Still Available, Could Save You Money

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Some Californians whose policies have been canceled are finding relief in a surprising place: from insurance companies that aren’t offering plans on the Covered California marketplace.

Earlier this year, Aetna announced it would bow out of the state’s individual market — effective Dec. 31. Cigna is staying, but is not offering any products on the exchange. Right now, both companies are accepting new customers into pre-ACA plans. Aetna plans are available to Costco members only until Dec. 15; Cigna is offering pre-ACA plans through Dec. 23.

Anne Gonzales, a Covered California spokeswoman, confirmed that a carrier not offering plans on Covered California “could offer a non-compliant plan through 12/31/2013 but it would need to become compliant when it renews next year.” So, consumers can enroll now, but when the policy comes up for renewal in 12 months, the plans would need to come into compliance with the ACA — and premiums would almost certainly go up.

Jason Andrew, CEO of Stone Meadow Benefits in Redwood City, says he has “tons of letters on my desk” from clients who have received notice that their policies were canceled. The policies they have been offered are “all more expensive and not as good of coverage,” he says. Continue reading

Both Young and Old Signing Up for Covered California

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said he is pleased with the number of young people who have enrolled so far. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said he is pleased with the number of young people who have enrolled so far. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

By Sarah Varney and Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

In a state considered crucial to the success of Obamacare, older people have enrolled in California’s new health insurance marketplace in large numbers as expected, but younger people also have showed up in force.

About 56 percent of Californians who signed up for coverage in October are over 45 and nearly 23 percent of the enrollees are between 18 and 34 years old, according to data released Thursday at the Covered California board meeting in Sacramento. The older enrollees make up a higher percentage than in the state’s total population, while the proportion of younger consumers more or less matches their makeup statewide.

Policymakers and health officials around the nation are closely watching California, which has nearly 7 million uninsured and the highest number of people enrolled in new coverage of any state. In the first month of the law, California consumers made up about one-third of enrollees nationwide. As of Nov. 19, nearly 80,000 people had signed up. California runs its own health insurance exchange and website and is not part of the troubled federal site. Continue reading