Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Diverting Mentally Ill to Treatment, Not Jail

Officers Ned Bandoske (left) and Ernest Stevens are part of San Antonio's mental health squad — a six-person unit that answers the frequent emergency calls where mental illness may play a role. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

Officers Ned Bandoske (left) and Ernest Stevens are part of San Antonio’s mental health squad — a six-person unit that answers the frequent emergency calls where mental illness may play a role. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

This week, Julie Small has reported on this blog about court-ordered overhauls in caring for mentally ill inmates in California prisons. About one-fourth of California’s inmates — 37,000 people — have mild to severe mental illness.

As Small reported, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April to draft new policies for use of force and has signed off on CDCR’s plans. Now the department is working on plans to comply with Karlton’s orders to change how it handles segregation for inmates with mental illness.

So, I was riveted by a report this morning from NPR and Kaiser Health News about a different approach — a coordinated, comprehensive approach — to a county-run mental health system. The story was set in Texas’ Bexar County, (pronouced “bear”) home to San Antonio and the Alamo, and the program is now a model for the nation. Continue reading

Old Muni Buses Are Reborn as Mobile Showers for the Homeless

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people.

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people. (Lynne Shallcross/KQED)

By Lynne Shallcross

Showering is a daily routine that most of us probably take for granted. But for people living on the streets or in shelters in San Francisco, finding a shower can be one of the biggest daily challenges.

‘Then no one has to know you’re homeless unless you tell them.’

For the more than 3,000 unsheltered homeless people in San Francisco, there are only roughly 20 showers available — fewer if any are out of service. Then there are the logistics of sign-up lists, limited hours, waiting lines and figuring out how to get there.

Doniece Sandoval, a marketing and communications professional and South Texas native, had seen plenty of shower-less homeless in her two decades in San Francisco. But when she passed a young homeless woman on the street who was crying that she’d never be clean, Sandoval decided to do something about it.

So she hatched the idea for Lava Mae, a new service that provides showers in a retrofitted, retired Muni bus. Lava Mae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me,” is in the pilot phase of its service. Continue reading

Why Advocacy Groups Oppose Bill Limiting Use of Antibiotics in Animals

The California Public Interest Research Group held a press conference opposing the bill last week in Berkeley.

Garo Manjikian and Corie Radka of CALPIRG speak at a press conference opposing SB835 in Berkeley on Wednesday. CALPIRG is among a dozen organizations calling on the California legislature to take stronger action regulating the use of antibiotics in livestock. (Courtesy: CALPIRG)

By Joe Rubin

Amid growing concern of the use of antibiotics in livestock, California’s Assembly will consider on  Monday a bill to limit their use. But a coalition of a dozen health and consumer advocacy groups — the very groups that often back such measures — are pressing lawmakers to vote it down. The groups say the bill is not aggressive enough and want California to take a more forceful role in the way antibiotics are regulated in meat production.

The bill, SB 835, sponsored by San Mateo Senator Jerry Hill, is an endorsement of last year’s Food and Drug Administration policy shift. The FDA has asked drug companies to voluntarily stop distributing anti-microbial drugs used for the purpose of fattening animals. Around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S are used in the livestock industry. Drug companies say they are complying with the new guidelines.

But critics say the Hill bill, like the FDA guidelines, leaves a glaring loophole. Many of the antibiotics used for growth promotion are also used for disease prevention, making for more of a label change than a fundamental shift, critics say. Indeed drugs like tylosin, which have been used for decades as a growth-promoting feed additive for pigs and cows, remain readily available and in use. Continue reading

5 Things You Should Know About Sun Protection

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Kathy Shield

It’s almost the end of summer. But not quite. There’s still plenty of time left to be outside – and plenty of opportunities to get sunburned if you’re not careful. Sun-damaged skin increases your risk of skin cancer down the road.

Rates of melanoma have been climbing for the last 30 years. KQED Forum recently called together three experts on sun damage and skin cancer, and we’ve distilled their recommendations here so you can protect yourself.

1. When Buying Sunscreen, The Right SPF is Everything
You’ve seen all those SPF number: 15, 50, 100. The takeaway here is that you should buy a product with an SPF between 15 and 50. Continue reading

UC Berkeley Study: Sports, Energy Drinks as Unhealthy as Soda

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Because of their very name, sports and energy drinks are often viewed by consumers as a healthier alternative to sugar-sweetened sodas. A study out Wednesday from UC Berkeley researchers disputes that view, finding that 21 popular beverages have high sugar content and other additives including caffeine and sodium, which may be harmful to children and teens.

“All of these beverages that are marketed to kids and teens … as if they’re healthy, are just packed with sugar,” said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy which commissioned the study.

In the report researchers at UC Berkeley’s Atkins Center of Weight and Health looked not only at sugar and caffeine in these 21 beverages but also scrutinized additives such as guarana, ginseng, taurine, gingko biloba and ginger extract. Continue reading

How Much for a Back MRI in the Bay Area: $255 or $3,700?

(Getty Images)

People can easily save $1,000 or more just by going to another facility, sometimes only a few minutes drive away. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, a crowdsourcing project on health costs. We’re working in collaboration with KPCC, public media in Los Angeles, and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup looking at health costs.

Last week in our PriceCheck project, we turned to MRIs. We asked you, the members of our audience, to share what you have paid for a back MRI. The goal is to shine a light on the notoriously opaque world of health care costs.

One person saved $1,270 on a back MRI, just by asking.

What we’ve found is even more startling than the prices we already collected on screening mammograms. Most of our results so far are from the Bay Area, so I’m focusing on that variation. For a comparison looking at the entire state, check out this post from our ClearHealthCosts.com partner. Continue reading

California’s 2015 Obamacare Premiums Will Increase Modestly

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screen shot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Officials with Covered California, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, say premiums will go up an average 4.2 percent statewide in 2015 for the 1.4 million Californians currently enrolled in insurance through the exchange.

Peter Lee, executive director of the agency, was clearly delighted. “This is good news for Californians,” he said, “and an example of how Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are working to make health insurance affordable.”

Lee said premiums would vary by people’s age and where they live in California. Californians will have a choice of plans from the state’s four major insurers: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser and Health Net — as well as six regional players: Chinese Community Health Plan, L.A. Care, Molina Healthcare, Sharp Health Care, Valley Health Care and Western Health Advantage.

Lee said that for the million-plus people currently insured through the exchange:

  • 16 percent: will see rates remain stable or go down
  • 35 percent: will see premiums increase 1-5 percent
  • 36 percent: will see increases of 5-8 percent
  • 13 percent: will see increases over 8 percent, some as high as 15 percent

Continue reading

National Soda Tax Bill Introduced in Washington

Richmond voters will decide next November on a soda tax. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

National bill would create an excise tax on sugar, as opposed to San Francisco and  Berkeley measures which tax ounces of beverage. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

For the first time since 2009, legislation proposing a national tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is under consideration in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act — or SWEET Act — on Wednesday.

Tax would create a “built-in incentive” for soda makers to reduce sugar concentration.
The bill would levy an excise tax on sugar content in beverages. This is different from the taxes proposed in San Francisco and Berkeley, which would levy a tax per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage.

Under the SWEET Act, manufacturers would pay a tax of one cent per teaspoon of sugar or other sweetener added to most beverages. For point of reference, a 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. The tax works out to just under a penny-per-ounce of beverage. Drinks such as milk, infant formula, alcoholic beverages and many juices are excluded. Continue reading

CA Insurance Commissioner: Insurers Will Keep Health Rates Low, Fear Prop. 45

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new analysis from the Department of Insurance confirms what has been reported since the Covered California exchange opened last October: Some people saw steep premium increases after the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the department’s analysis non-subsidy eligible individuals saw average increases ranging from 22 to 88 percent, depending on their age and where they lived. The review was done of all health plans — including those managed for the Department of Managed Health Care — and looked at premiums from California’s four largest carriers, Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser, Blue Shield and Health Net.

The release appeared to be politically timed. Covered California’s rates for next year are due on Thursday, and the rumble is that new premiums will show only modest increases. Continue reading

UCSF, John Muir Health to Partner, Create Bay Area Health Network

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which recently announced voluntary buyouts ahead of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (cseeman/Flickr)

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which has announced an affiliation with UC San Francisco. (cseeman/Flickr)

UC San Francisco and John Muir Health, which primarily serves patients in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, announced Tuesday that they will form a new company and, in their first joint move, develop a regional health network.

‘We want to offer a Kaiser-like or Sutter-like alternative in the marketplace.’

Both companies will remain independent. The new network will be an accountable care organization (ACO), which will provide patients access to hospitals, doctors and other providers from the two organizations.

An ACO is a formal network of both doctors and hospitals. They share medical responsibility and financial responsibility for patients. The goal is to provide higher quality care at a lower price and limit unnecessary spending. Continue reading