Author Archives: April Dembosky
April Dembosky covers health care news and trends across California for KQED's local news and its statewide program The California Report. She has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, and aging and end-of-life issues. Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Nurses carry signs as they strike outside of Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco last week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Nurses are gearing up to return to the bargaining table with Kaiser, after walking off the job for a two-day strike.
Though the nurses emphasized the stalemate over more than 35 operational proposals in their call for the strike – over things like staffing levels and Ebola protections – several nurses on the picket lines expressed concerns about economic issues. Many of them wore pins that said “No TakeAways.”
Nurse Ama Jackson says they are afraid Kaiser will try to cut their pensions and health care benefits.
“They want to do takeaways, because they want to increase their profits,” she said, as hundreds of nurses marched up and down the sidewalk outside Kaiser’s hospital in Oakland last Tuesday. “But nurses are saying, ‘That’s not fair. That’s not fair to how hard we work.’” Continue reading
Kaiser’s Oakland Medical Center. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)
As many as 18,000 Kaiser Permanente nurses are preparing for a two-day strike that will start Tuesday. Nurses plan to leave their posts at 7 a.m. and picket outside 21 medical centers and clinics across Northern California.
The placards nurses carry and the chants they repeat will say little about salaries or pensions. No economic proposals have even been put on the bargaining table yet.
“This seems awfully quick to go to a strike,” says Joanne Spetz, an economics professor at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing. “I can’t recall a situation where a strike has come up where there has not been some kind of disagreement about wages and benefits as part of the package.” Continue reading
The law would require health insurers to publicly disclose and justify their rates. (Getty Images)
Update, 12:30 a.m.
At first glance, Proposition 45 seemed like a no-brainer for consumers. The measure would have given the state’s insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate hikes in health insurance sold on the individual and small-business markets.
Consumers who had seen their premiums go up by double digits year after year clung to Prop. 45 as the savior.
“I felt like a frog in hot water that got hotter and hotter until it was boiling,” says Josh Libresco, a market researcher who has bought health insurance for his family on the individual market for 20 years.
The central fight in this complex initiative is whether to raise California’s 39-year-old cap on the amount of money that courts can award for pain and suffering to a victim of medical malpractice. (Getty Images)
Update, 10:50 p.m.
By far the most expensive race in the state this election was Proposition 46. The three-part “patient safety measure” inspired close to $60 million in spending from the No side, seven times the spending on the Yes side. Medical malpractice insurers wanted to make sure this one went down – and early voter returns indicate that it will.
“It’s apparent that people are being influenced by biased advertising,” says Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks the influence of money on politics. “These political ads have very little to do with the substance of the measure. They have very simple messaging that is often misleading.”
The key piece of Prop. 46 would have adjusted the cap on medical malpractice awards for inflation, from $250,000 – an amount set in 1975 – to $1.1 million. This would have applied only to pain and suffering awards. Victims of medical malpractice, and their lawyers, pushed to raise the cap because they say it limits victims’ ability to find representation, especially when that victim is elderly or a child and cannot claim lost wages or other economic damages. Insurers said this would drive up the costs of premiums. Continue reading
UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)
The five medical centers of the University of California will serve as designated Ebola treatment centers should a person in the state become ill from the virus.
While public health officials are calling on all hospitals in California to redouble preparations for screening and isolating patients at risk for Ebola, those who are confirmed to have the virus will be transferred to a UC medical center in San Francisco, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, or San Diego.
“As a public university, stepping up to a public health crisis, like a potential Ebola outbreak, is what we do,” says Brooke Converse, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. “Our overall mission as the University of California is to serve Californians and serve the taxpayers and the public.” Continue reading
Researchers have long known that Latina women have lower rates of breast cancer compared to African-American and white women. They have mainly pointed to lifestyle and environmental factors to explain why –- Latinas tend to have more children, breast feed longer, and drink less alcohol, all factors that are associated with lower disease rates.
Now, an international study led by scientists at UC San Francisco shows that a genetic variant unique to Latina women with indigenous ancestry plays a significant role, too.
“When we were accounting for all the non-genetic risk factors in our analysis, it was not enough to explain that women with more indigenous American ancestry tended to have less breast cancer,” says lead author Prof. Laura Fejerman, a member of UCSF’s Institute of Human Genetics. Continue reading
Kaiser’s new hospital in Oakland is one of two sites that Kaiser has chosen to treat any Ebola patient that might present in its system. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)
Hospitals in California are adapting to evolving guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control on how to best prepare for a possible Ebola patient. There are no known — or suspected — cases of the virus in California, but the infection of two nurses in Texas has hospitals here revamping their protocols.
Responsibility ultimately falls on each individual hospital to incorporate CDC guidelines into its own Ebola response plan. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is providing guidance, but the state’s chief of communicable disease control, James Watt, says state help can only go so far.
“The reality is that every hospital situation is unique. The physical layout of the hospital is unique and needs to be taken into account. Also the equipment that (each) hospital has,” he said during a press briefing last week. “That’s why it’s really important for the training and the planning to be done at the facility level. That’s not something that can be one-size-fits-all.” Continue reading
Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials meet with California nurses to discuss Ebola preparedness. (Brad Alexander/Office of the Governor)
Gov. Jerry Brown met with top public health officials and nursing union leaders Tuesday to discuss efforts to prepare for Ebola. The meetings came on the heels of new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday night.
There are no known cases of Ebola in California. But after two nurses in Texas became infected after treating an Ebola patient there, the CDC is now recommending that hospitals provide better protective equipment for health workers, and hands-on training for how to put it on and take it off.
But the California Nurses Association (CNA) says the guidelines don’t go far enough. Continue reading
(Centers for Disease Control via Getty Images)
Nurses’ calls for better hospital preparation around Ebola have landed on the bargaining table. California’s powerful nurses’ union has been bargaining with Kaiser Permanente for months over a new contract, and is now adding to its list of demands better training, protection, and insurance coverage for nurses who may treat patients infected with Ebola.
Diane McClure, a nurse at Kaiser’s South Sacramento facility, says nurses still had no meaningful training more than a month after a patient was admitted to the hospital for a potential Ebola infection, though he later tested negative for the virus.
“Kaiser felt all they had to do was pull up some CDC flyers and put them on the lunchroom tables or up in the bathrooms,” she says. Continue reading
Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards.” (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
The power play behind Proposition 45 could be fodder for an episode of House of Cards:
Dave Jones might not like this comparison, but he’s the Frank Underwood in this fight.
“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value,” so goes protagonist Frank Underwood, who plays the menacing House majority whip scheming to get closer to the president.
You’d never think there’d be such positioning over who gets to regulate health insurance.
But this is California. And no less than three state agencies want to have a say in this one. Continue reading