Author Archives: April Dembosky

Two Different Reactions to Obamacare

The 2014 enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act closes tonight. For some people the new health law is a godsend. Others barely noticed its existence.

Donna Zeuli and her husband lost their insurance when he retired two years ago. Private insurers denied them both because of pre-existing conditions and the COBRA plan offered through his union was too expensive. So they decided to take their chances and wait for Obamacare to take effect.

Then, last fall, Zeuli had a mini stroke at her home in Magalia, Calif., in the foothills of Chico, and was rushed to the ER.

“You can’t believe the angst I had about not having insurance,” says Zeuli, 55. “The only thing I could think about was how much is this going to cost me. Do the minimum. But make sure I’m not gonna die.” Continue reading

Deadline Tuesday: Final Days to Enroll for 2014 Health Insurance

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Time’s up.

After various extensions, the deadline to finish signing up for a health plan under the Affordable Care Act is here. People have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to complete their applications.

If you don’t have insurance you may have to pay a penalty on your taxes next year — as much as 1 percent of income.

Dana Howard from the state marketplace Covered California says the deadline is real. There will be no more grace periods for people who encounter long lines or technical difficulties on the website. There will be no special dispensation this time for people who wait until the last minute.

“We’re not making up a new policy for people who have not taken this seriously,” Howard said. “This is your health. This is a new law.” Continue reading

In San Francisco, Brain Surgeons Explore Their Practice Through Art

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting "Craniotomy in G Sharp," a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. "It's kind of a self portrait," she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting “Craniotomy in G Sharp,” a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. “It’s kind of a self portrait,” she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

SAN FRANCISCO — Most of the Moscone Center exhibit hall is full of looming medical machines: brain scanners and brain mappers. Men in suits wait for the wandering neurosurgeon to pass by so they can pounce with their pitch for the latest, greatest technology that will change brain surgery forever.

“Patterns repeat themselves over and over in nature. We see that in our work and in anatomy.” 

But back at exhibit booth 630, it’s a different scene. An art show. Paintings and photographs depict abstract interpretations by neurosurgeons of their work, portraits of neurosurgery patients and natural landscapes that offer a striking resemblance to the human brain.

“Music, art, the visual, the senses — matches and melds with medicine,” says Dr. Katherine Ko, a neurosurgeon from New York who curated the show. “We like to see that left brain, right brain cross over. It’s a respite where you don’t have to concentrate. You can just let your eyes roam.” Continue reading

California ‘Death with Dignity’ Advocates Launch New Campaign

Jennifer Glass of San Mateo, undergoing chemotherapy last year for lung cancer. (Courtesy: Mary Thomas)

Jennifer Glass of San Mateo, undergoing chemotherapy last year for lung cancer. (Courtesy: Mary Thomas)

A new campaign is underway to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. Advocates launched a series of online ads last week to begin raising awareness. Still, it could take years for the effort to yield any results.

“Having choice helps me feel I have some control.” 

Since the early 1990s, lawmakers and activists have tried and failed several times to pass a death with dignity law in California. Under such a law doctors could prescribe lethal medications to patients who are terminally ill. Oregon and Washington permit the practice.

“California is a large state. It’s a politically complicated state,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion and Choices. Her advocacy group is leading the effort to try again to pass a law through the legislature or ballot proposition that would make aid in dying accessible in California. Continue reading

Obama Signs Law to Fix Medicare Rate Gap in California

Under the new law San Diego, pictured above, will no longer be categorized as "rural." (vinhdicated/Flickr)

Under the new law San Diego, pictured above, will no longer be categorized as “rural.” (vinhdicated/Flickr)

A new federal law will change how doctors get paid in California, making it easier for patients in 14 California counties to find a doctor who accepts Medicare.

The law, signed by President Obama on Tuesday night, fixes an outdated Medicare formula that set rates based on urban or rural designations established in the 1960s, with places like San Diego, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz falling into the “rural” category.

So even as rent for office space and other costs of practicing medicine rose with the local economy in those places, doctors were still paid the same rates as doctors in remote, rural areas like Humboldt or Modoc. Continue reading

Could Healthy San Francisco Help People Buy Obamacare Plans?


(Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

A lot of San Franciscans are saying “no thanks” to the Affordable Care Act. As the cost of living rises in the city, even subsidized health insurance doesn’t feel affordable to many residents.

Supervisor David Campos says that, as a result, not enough people in the city are signing up for health insurance. He wants to change that.

“Without supplemental help, many people won’t get insurance,” he says. Continue reading

New Bill Would Give Transgender People More Control Over Death Certificates

(Craig Miller/KQED)

(Craig Miller/KQED)

Regulations and laws have been expanding rapidly recently to give transgender people new rights. For example, transgender students can now use a school bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Athletes can compete in the Olympics — according to their gender identity. But when a transgender person passes away, the last record of the life they lived speaks to an identity they left behind.

Christopher Lee died in Oakland in 2012. His friends took great care to explain to the coroner that Lee was a female-to-male transgender person. They pointed to his driver’s license that showed the “sex” box marked with the letter “M,” for male. But when Lee’s best friend Chino Scott Chung went to pick up Lee’s ashes, the death certificate listed Christopher as Kristina. Sex: female.

“Christopher lived his life in all ways as a man and he changed his driver’s license and passport to reflect this,” said Scott-Chung. “Listing him as female on his death certificate is disrespectful to his memory and his legacy. It is deeply painful to me, to his chosen family, and to the community that he was so much a part of. Continue reading

More at Stake than Contraception in Obamacare Supreme Court Cases

(Kjetil Ree: Flickr)

(Kjetil Ree: Flickr)

California officials are keeping a close eye on two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday that challenge a piece of the Affordable Care Act. Two businesses — including lead plaintiff Hobby Lobby, Inc — say the law’s requirement that their employee insurance plans pay for contraception violates the owners’ religious beliefs.

California already requires insurance plans to include coverage for contraception. Gov. Gray Davis signed the Contraceptive Equity Act into law in 1999. It requires that private insurance plans which cover prescription drugs must also pay for contraceptives. That law will remain in place, not matter what the Supreme Court decides.

But California’s attorney general’s office says the bigger issue is whether corporations can claim religious rights the way people can. If so, that raises troubling questions for other state laws that govern land use, housing, and employment.  Continue reading

How Tax Preparers Are Encouraging Obamacare Sign Ups

Susan Pau is a tax advisor at the San Mateo office of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Susan Veamatahau Pau is a tax advisor at the San Mateo office of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. She’s says some of her customers are not pleased when they learn how high their tax penalty might be if they do not sign up for health insurance. (April Dembosky/KQED)

It’s one week to the final deadline to enroll in a health plan, but it’s also tax season. Millions of people are visiting their tax preparers — often so they can get the biggest refund possible. But this year, many of them are also getting advice about health insurance. That’s because next year, under the Affordable Care Act, people will have to pay what could be a hefty tax penalty if they are uninsured for more than three months.

Susana Veamatahau Pau is a tax preparer with Jackson Hewitt Tax Services, which has 6,400 locations nationwide. Like other tax advisers, she sees it as her responsibility to make sure her clients know what’s coming.

“The government is not the first person they’re going to interact with when they get the penalty,” she says from her office in San Mateo. “It’s really us.” Continue reading

DEA Investigating CVS Over 37,000 Missing Pain Pills



Drug enforcement officials are investigating several CVS pharmacies in California over missing prescription painkillers – pills state officials fear may have ended up on the black market.

The company could face up to $29 million in fines as a result of the investigation.
Investigators in the Sacramento office of the Drug Enforcement Agency are specifically interested in finding out what happened to more than 37,000 tablets of hydrocodone, a narcotic typically sold under brand names like Vicodin and Norco. The pills were reported lost or stolen by four CVS stores in Fairfield, Dixon, Turlock, and Modesto, according to the DEA’s warrant applications.

“Investigators believe there will be numerous record keeping violations related to the dispensation of controlled substances within CVS,” wrote Brian Glaudel, the DEA investigator who requested the four warrants, which were served on the stores last May. “The requested inspection is warranted to protect the public health and safety.” Continue reading