Monthly Archives: January 2014

Flu Death Count Continues to Climb

KQED News interactive producer Olivia Hubert-Allen gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

KQED News interactive producer Olivia Hubert-Allen gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)

State health officials reported Friday that deaths from influenza have reached 147, including four children under age 18. Another 44 deaths are under investigation, but not confirmed.

The total deaths so far this flu season, which started last September, eclipses the number from all of last year — 106.

As health officials have noted all month, the H1N1 strain is circulating — that’s the same strain that led to the pandemic in 2009-2010. Younger adults are at increased risk from H1N1. The theory is that adults over 65 were exposed to H1N1 decades ago and have retained some immunity. Younger adults were (presumably) never exposed so have no natural protection.

Health officials urged all Californians over age 6 months to get a flu shot. This year’s vaccine is well-matched to the circulating strains, health officials say. They urge people who believe they have the flu to contact their doctors immediately and ask about anti-viral medications.

KQED radio’s Stephanie Martin talked to health editor Lisa Aliferis about the flu. Learn more:

Voting Advocates Say Covered California Can Do More to Increase Voter Registration

(David McNew/Getty Images)

(David McNew/Getty Images)

By Sara Hossaini

Just two days after President Obama called for voting reforms, the National Commission on Voting Rights met in San Francisco to get an overview of elections and voting in the U.S.

The hearing is part of a national fact-finding effort that will inform a report to be presented to the U.S. congress in the spring addressing barriers to voter participation across the country.

So what’s a voting rights story doing on a health blog? Thursday’s panels and public testimony included voter rights advocates who say Covered California is falling down on its legal duty to give users an opportunity to register to vote. The 1993 “motor voter act” requires that any agency that provides public assistance, including the DMV — and now, Covered California — offer voter registration to the public. Continue reading

Covered California Among First Exchanges to Post Customer Quality Ratings

The ratings are on a 4-star rating with 4 being high. (screenshot from Covered California)

Plans are rated with 1-4 stars, with 4 being high. (screenshot from Covered California)

Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Californians shopping for insurance policies through the state’s online marketplace can now compare plans based on customer quality ratings as well as cost.

Covered California assigned star ratings to the health plans based on member survey responses. Each health insurance plan is compared with results of other plans across the western United States. The surveys were taken before the insurance marketplace opened, so they only compare plans that had a track record beforehand.

The ratings cover such topics as access to medical appointments, customer service and the quality of medical care and are from the federal government’s Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems.

Consumers can purchase individual policies through the exchange and many are eligible for financial help paying their premiums. For coverage this year, they have until March 31 to enroll. Continue reading

Health Insurers Extend Deadline for February Premiums, Too

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Covered California says that yesterday was the deadline to pay your February premiums. But some of California’s biggest insurers have extended their deadlines.

Here are new dates for three major carriers:

  • Blue Shield: deadline is Friday, Feb. 14 for people who signed up for coverage starting Feb. 1.
  • HealthNet: For people who signed up for coverage beginning Feb. 1, you have until Feb 15 to make your first premium payment. You can pay by phoneContinue reading

For Breast Cancer Survivors, Yoga May Help Overcome Fatigue

(Go Interactive Wellness/Flickr)

(Go Interactive Wellness/Flickr)

By Allison Aubrey, NPR

Exercise helps recovery after cancer treatment, but fatigue can make working out hard. Yoga can help reduce fatigue for breast cancer survivors, a study finds. It’s one of a growing number of efforts using randomized controlled trials to see if the ancient practice offers medical benefits.

Women who took a yoga class three hours a week for three months said they experienced 40 percent less fatigue compared to a group of breast cancer survivors who did not do yoga.

“Fatigue is a major and serious problem in survivors,” even years after treatments have ended, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a  psychology professor at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said.

The participants who did yoga also had lower levels of cytokines, which are markers of inflammation, in their blood, Kiecolt-Glaser says. Cytokine levels were reduced up to 20 percent six months after starting yoga. It’s not clear how this may affect their health, she says. Continue reading

Covered California: The COBRA Glitch

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

UPDATE: On May 15, 2014, Covered California announced a special two-month enrollment period for people on COBRA who want to switch to a Covered California plan.

“Forgive me for intruding upon your personal email,” Jill Bond wrote me earlier this month.

Bond emailed that she had heard me on KQED’s “Forum” discussing Covered California, and then when a post from me popped up on our neighborhood listserv, she put two and two together and reached out for help. In the months since the Covered California marketplace opened, I have fielded a lot of inquiries from friends and colleagues. I emailed Bond back right away.

Even if you have COBRA now, the only way to enroll in a plan with a subsidy is to say you don’t.

Bond told me she had enrolled in a Covered California plan but didn’t understand where her subsidy was. When she had reviewed her options for Covered California, the “shop and compare” calculator indicated that she qualified for a subsidy — close to $300 — but when she actually enrolled, the subsidy was not applied.

And Bond definitely needs the coverage. In 2010, Bond was treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. While she’s cancer-free now, the aggressive chemotherapy damaged her immune system. She says she needs monthly infusions of antibodies to keep her healthy. The treatment is called IVIG, and it costs a small fortune — more than $8,000 a month, Bond said. Continue reading

Watch This Teenage Patient Rightfully ‘Demand to be Heard’

Morgan Gleason is one of 3 in a million. Just 15, she was diagnosed in 2010 with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an inflammatory disease of the muscle, skin and blood vessels, according ton the American College of Rheumatology. There’s no cause, no cure and the treatment sounds positively awful — the treatment puts her at risk of contracting “the painful and serious condition of aseptic meningitis,” her mother writes.

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And so it was that Morgan found herself hospitalized to treat aseptic meningitis. But she became fed up by the constant early morning interruptions by the medical team charged with caring for her. Her mother recorded this video of Morgan demanding better treatment. “They come in at 6 in the morning and they don’t all come together.”  “I need sleep … I’ve tried to tell them, I give better answers, I’ll participate more,” if I get enough sleep. “I am a patient, and I demand to be heard,” she says. Anyone who has been in the hospital can probably relate.

Continue reading

People With Canceled Health Insurance Policies Shifted to New Ones Without Permission

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills. Kevin Kingma says the insurer rolled him into a new plan and deducted money from his bank account without his approval, a problem hundreds of consumers say they're having. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills. Kevin Kingma says the insurer rolled him into a new plan and deducted money from his bank account without his approval, a problem hundreds of consumers say they’re having. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By Charlie Ornstein, ProPublica

When Kevin Kingma received a letter last fall notifying him that his high-deductible health plan was being canceled because of the Affordable Care Act, he visited Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace and chose another plan beginning Jan. 1.

Thanks to a subsidy, Kingma’s monthly premium went down, from about $300 to $175, and his benefits improved.

But this month, Kingma, of the Bay Area city of El Cerrito, logged into his bank’s website and saw that his old insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, had deducted $587.40 from his account and had enrolled him in another of its insurance products for this year — he says without permission.

Hundreds of other consumers are caught in the same predicament, insurers acknowledge. And the California Department of Insurance said it is exploring whether any laws were broken when insurance companies withdrew money from consumers’ accounts for plans they didn’t select. Continue reading

California Flu Deaths Double Since Last Week


The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu, health officials say. (GabrielSaldana/Flickr)

State health officials reported Friday that fatalities from influenza now stand at 95 statewide — with another 51 deaths reported from local jurisdictions under investigation.

That brings the total to 146 deaths — more than the 106 deaths California had during all of last year’s flu season.

“We so far have a much more severe season,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez with the California Department of Public Health. A child in Riverside County was among last week’s fatalities, bringing to three the number of fatalities in children statewide. All of them were under age 10.

Chavez noted that the H1N1 strain is the culprit and says the strain causes more severe disease and more deaths. In addition, it tends to hit younger people harder, in particular those with pre-existing health conditions. Continue reading

Covered California Health Plans to Include Children’s Dental Next Year



By Lisa Aliferis and April Dembosky

It was a big debate last summer. While children’s dental coverage is one of the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential health benefits, the ACA gives states the flexibility to offer the coverage in a stand alone plan. Covered California first required insurers to include children’s dental, then told them to strip out the benefit, in favor of offering stand alone plans at an additional cost.

Now the data is in. Less than one-third of enrolled children on Covered California through 2013 also has dental coverage. Executive director Peter Lee says the additional cost appears to be on issue. “A lot of folks are low income,” he said. “They’re thinking additional coverage versus food on the table.”

Covered California’s board voted Thursday to make a change. Starting in 2015 all medical plans for children sold through the marketplace will be required to include dental coverage. Continue reading