Monthly Archives: January 2014

Another Health Problem with (Many) Sodas: Caramel Color

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

There’s caramel, and then there’s caramel color. It turns out the two don’t have much to do with each other. This matters to you if you drink soda.

Caramel color is the additive in many soft drinks and some foods that turns them brown. Some types of caramel color contain a chemical called 4-methylimidazole or 4-Mel, and 4-Mel is potentially carcinogenic. In 2011, the state of California added 4-mel to the so-called Prop. 65 list — a list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer.

Consumer Reports published an analysis of various brands of soda on Thursday. They found that two brands exceeded a level of 29 micrograms per can or bottle: Pepsi One and Malta Goya. Consumer Reports cites state data showing daily consumption above that amount would cause one excess case of cancer in every 100,000 people. Continue reading

Signing up the Homeless, One at a Time

Man sits in Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Advocates say homeless people tend to have complex health problems. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Man sits in Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Advocates say homeless people tend to have complex health problems. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

On a recent winter morning, health outreach worker Christopher Mack walked through the streets and alleys of the city’s Skid Row, passing a man pulling a rusty shopping cart and a woman asleep on a crumpled blue tarp. The smell of marijuana wafted through the cold air.

“Do you have health insurance?” Mack, a towering man with long dreadlocks, asked one woman. “Do you go to the doctor?” he asked another.

Homeless men and women who didn’t qualify for insurance in the past now have the chance to sign up, and Mack — who was once homeless himself — is there to help.

The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid to include poor people without children or disabilities who haven’t been able to get the free insurance in the past. Experts say determining how many homeless people are eligible for Medicaid is difficult but estimates range from about 500,000 to as many as 1.2 million. California is one of the 25 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that is expanding its Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal here. Continue reading

Just Over 500,000 People Enrolled in Covered California in 2013 — Some Report Problems

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. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

In issuing a final tally of 2013 enrollment, Covered California reported Monday that 500,108 people signed up for one of its health plans. Another 125,000 people enrolled in a health plan during the first two weeks of January, said Peter Lee, executive director of the agency.

“The momentum we have from the end of last year is still going strong,” Lee said in a press conference.

At her first doctor’s appointment, she was told that the practice was not taking any Covered California plans. 

Medi-Cal, California’s public health insurance program for people who are low income or disabled, also showed strong enrollment — 584,000 additional applicants to Covered California appear to be eligible. When adding that number to the 630,000 Californians who transitioned to Medi-Cal from the Low Income Health Program on Jan. 1, more than 1.2 million Californians are newly insured in Medi-Cal. “Powerful numbers,” Lee said. “We are touching millions of Californians.” Continue reading

Top Health Concerns for U.S. Latinos: Diabetes, Cost of Care

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Patti Neighmond, NPR

Latino immigrants in the U.S. say the quality and affordability of health care is better in the U.S. than in the countries they came from, according to the latest survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. But many report having health care problems.

About a third of immigrant respondents (31 percent) said they’d had a serious problem with being able to pay for health insurance in the past 12 months. And more than 1 in 4 had a serious problem affording doctor and hospital bills and prescription medicines.

But the health issue that Latinos said is most concerning for them and their families — whether they were born in the U.S. or immigrated here — is diabetes. Last year, in another poll, Latinos said cancer was the biggest problem facing the country.

Hispanic populations have a high prevalence of Type 2 diabetes. About 10 percent of Latino adults have been diagnosed with it or have “prediabetes,” a stage of the disease that often goes undetected. Continue reading

Minority Parents Less Likely to Use Appropriate Car Seat, Study Finds

Children should always use a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. (Joshua & Amber/Flickr)

Children should always use a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. (Joshua & Amber/Flickr)

By Brian Lau, MD

Many studies have shown that parents don’t always use carseats and booster seats, and their kids could be at increased risk in a crash. A new study published this week shows that non-white children have particularly low use.

Researchers from The University of Michigan surveyed 601 parents about their car seat usage for 1 to 12-year-old children that received treatment at the emergency room. They found that non-white parents were nearly four times less likely to use appropriate child car restraints than white parents.

Doctors and policy makers have known of this disparity and attributed it to socioeconomic variables. But the new study shows that differences remained even after accounting for education and income. Continue reading

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Baby in California?


Did this baby’s hospital charge $3,300 or $33,000 for delivery — or somewhere in between? (Shingo/Flickr)

The most common reason for hospitalization in the United States is childbirth. A new study published Thursday adds to the depth of research on cost variation in the American medical system.

In the study, researchers at U.C. San Francisco looked at 110,000 uncomplicated births across California and found that hospital charges for a vaginal delivery ranged from $3,296 to $37,227 and for a caesarian section the range was $8,312 to $70,908.

For health policy researchers, this is not a big surprise, said lead author Dr. Renee Hsia, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCSF, but “most people that aren’t familiar with health care variation would be surprised and distressed.” Continue reading

Native American Woman Changes Young Lives Through Traditional Dancing

Juliet Small, 19, teaches Native American dance to girls at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. (Zaidee Stavely/KQED)

Juliet Small, 19, teaches Native American dance to girls at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. (Zaidee Stavely/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Many Native Americans are reconnecting with the traditions of their ancestors—to eat healthier foods and get more exercise with traditional dance and drumming. At the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, there’s a weekly dinner with traditional recipes, followed by a community dance. Before dinner, 19-year-old Juliet Small teaches Native American dancing to young girls. As part of our ongoing series of first-person health profiles called “What’s Your Story?” we hear from Small who is Apache, Navajo, Cherokee, and Azteca. She has been dancing since she was three-years-old. Small discusses how dancing has brought healing to her family and community. Reporter: Zaidee Stavely

By Juliet Small

Growing up in the Oakland area, it sometimes seems there’s not a lot of outlets for people to get away from the negative aspects of life. There are always so many things you can get caught up with. You know, hanging out with the wrong people, doing the wrong things with those people. But because I’ve always had dancing, that’s always kept me on the right path, to where I want to dance for myself, to keep up with my culture, and to share my culture with everybody else. And when I dance, I’m extremely happy. No negative thoughts.  I feel light. I feel relieved of stress. Continue reading

Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Extend Deadline to Pay Insurance Premiums

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By April Dembosky and Lisa Aliferis

If you signed up for a Covered California plan by the Dec. 23 deadline, Wednesday is the official deadline to pay your January premium.

That is, unless you are an Anthem Blue Cross or Kaiser Permanente customer — in which case you have a little more time.

  • If you’re a Kaiser member, you have until Jan. 22 to pay your January premium
  • If you’re an Anthem Blue Cross customer, you have until Jan. 31 (Update: On Jan. 16, HealthNet also extended its deadline to Jan. 31.)

If you’re in one of the other nine plans available statewide, you must pay your premium by midnight Wednesday night. Continue reading

My Five-Week Saga Enrolling in Covered California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a journalist I’ve covered the Affordable Care Act on and off since it was a gleam in President Obama’s eye. The melodrama of the fierce legislative fight; the subsequent relentless attacks against it; the Supreme Court case; and the catastrophic rollout of — good times for the news media, though not necessarily the American public.

My first unwelcome surprise came when I input all my information, and the system told me I wouldn’t get a subsidy despite the fact that I knew I was eligible.

But of course, the difference between covering something as a journalist and experiencing it as a citizen is substantial. Last year, in part for health reasons, I gave up my full-time job with KQED News. No more long hours: check. No more crazy deadlines: check. No more health insurance: check … my blood pressure. Because our COBRA costs were going to be astronomical, like 40-percent-of-income astronomical. And my health history rendered me uninsurable on the individual market. At least, on the old insurance market.

All of this made me one of the many poster-children for Obamacare, under which insurance companies, starting Jan. 1, would be required to insure my middle-aged ass, and the government was going to help pay for it to boot. Whether this is a victory for common sense and decency, the end of democracy as we know it, or simply a bad idea, I couldn’t say — and still can’t. I only know that the only rational financial decision, personally, was to try getting an exchange plan through Covered California. Continue reading

Nearly 500,000 Californians Enrolled in Obamacare Plans, Federal Data Show

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Screen shot from, the website of Covered California.

Federal officials reported Monday that 2.2 million people nationwide have selected a plan in the new health insurance marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act. Nearly 500,000 of them are Californians.

The numbers were released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which also reported demographics across age groups, gender and tier of plan chosen.

While California makes up about 12 percent of the nation’s population, the state’s enrollment is 22 percent of the national total. Continue reading