Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing stories and editing them for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

Forget Public Health: The Politics of the California Vaccination Debate

(Craig Miller/KQED)

(Craig Miller/KQED)

Over on the KQED News Politics and Government Desk, John Myers hosts a terrific podcast on California politics. The most recent edition (published last Friday) took a hard look at the political debate in California over SB 277, a bill that would eliminate the state’s vaccine personal belief exemption.

Myers, KQED News’ Marisa Lagos and Anthony York of the Grizzly Bear talk about it starting at 11:20, and their discussion runs about 10 minutes:

We’ve written often (perhaps exhaustively) on State of Health about vaccines, but usually it’s been from a medical perspective or a public health perspective. But the debate around SB 277 has illuminated the politics around trying to change policy when a very loud, very vocal minority swamps the Capitol. Continue reading

Vaccine Exemption Bill Stalls in Sacramento; Vote Next Week

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A bill that would eliminate the vaccine personal belief exemption stalled before the Senate Education Committee Wednesday in Sacramento. Lawmakers were deeply concerned that the bill would bar too many children from school. The bill’s co-author, Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), asked the committee to delay a vote until next Wednesday after the committee chairwoman warned him he did not have enough votes to pass.

Pan said he will use the time to address their concerns, possibly adding amendments to the bill.

Under the bill, SB277, California would no longer permit any vaccine exemptions except a medical one, meaning virtually all children would have to be vaccinated in order to attend public or private school. Even home-schoolers who group together would be affected under the current language, one of the committee’s complaints.

While several committee members expressed their support for vaccines, they were worried that the bill goes too far. “I’m looking for the compelling state interest in doing something (this) draconian,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). “If I’m reading the bill correctly, there’s nothing you can do if you choose not to vaccinate your child,” except home-school and then only with your own children. Continue reading

How a Florida Decision on HIV Medications May Affect California

Truvada is an anti-retroviral pill used to treat HIV infection. It can also help reduce the risk new infections. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Truvada is an anti-retroviral pill used to treat HIV infection. It can also help reduce the risk of new infections. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

A health insurer in Florida agreed last week to lower the price of some HIV medications, moving them from a specialty tier to a generic medication tier.

The change will reduce out-of-pocket copayments from roughly $1,000 a month for some medications to anywhere from $5 to $100, according to advocates. The change goes into effect in Florida on June 1.

The move by Aetna was prompted, in part, by a lawsuit filed by the National Health Law Program (NHLP). Wayne Turner, staff attorney at NHLP, says the Florida news has ramifications in California — for HIV/AIDS patients, and possibly for others with conditions requiring specialty medications. Continue reading

Frontline ‘Vaccine War’ Live Chat; Wednesday 3/25, Noon PT

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A dose of measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, known commonly as MMR. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Frontline aired an updated version of its 2008 documentary The Vaccine War on Tuesday night. The film dives deep into the debate over vaccines. While the overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their children, a small but growing minority either under-vaccinate their children or refuse vaccines altogether.

The debate has taken a new turn in the wake of the measles outbreak which started in Disneyland in December. Public health officials believe a still-unknown person infected with measles visited the park and spread it to others. As the outbreak took hold, a new front in the debate grew: that of people who are immune-compromised.

State of Health first told the story of Carl Krawitt the father of 7-year-old Rhett who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was two and a half. Because of the treatments Rhett underwent to fight his disease, prior vaccine protection was wiped out, and he had to wait until he had been in remission for a year before his vaccines could begin again. The Krawitt family has been arguing that those unvaccinated by choice should not be able to attend public school.

Frontline producers told the story of Rhett’s family in The Vaccine War.

Now, it’s your turn. On Wednesday (March 25) at noon PT, Frontline is hosting a live chat, and I’m honored to be the moderator. ‘Vaccine War’ producer and director Kate McMahon will take your questions, along with Carl Krawitt, and Dr. Arthur Reingold, Head of Epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Feel free to leave a question now and please join us at noon for the chat!

On Medi-Cal Now, Lose Your House Later?

(Erik Soderstrom via Flickr)

(Erik Soderstrom via Flickr)

Catherine Jarett ran into a nasty surprise after she sent a form to Medi-Cal on behalf of her clients. An estate attorney, Jarett was hired by the sons of an elderly Vallejo woman who had died. The woman had been enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for the poor, for more than 20 years.

Many on Medi-Cal learning that the state can file a claim against their estate after they die.

After Jarett filed the form with Medi-Cal — a death notice as required — the state sent a bill for a hefty $76,349. Jarett was stunned. It was for the cost of “health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance,” she said.

The bill was part of Medi-Cal’s “estate recovery program.” Under a federal law not widely known to consumers, states can seize assets of Medi-Cal beneficiaries after they die. “I was never aware of this wrinkle that they could recover for health insurance,” Jarett said. Continue reading

Industry Reaction to ‘Sugar Papers’ Mirrors Tobacco in 1990s

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The sugar industry worked to steer federal health research, a report released Monday revealed.

As State of Health reported, newly uncovered industry documents dating to the1960s showed that the sugar industry influenced the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, away from looking at research to determine strategies to encourage people to eat less sugar.

“What this shows is that sugar interests were running science manipulation in as sophisticated a manner as ‘big tobacco’ was back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said UCSF Professor Stan Glantz, a co-author of the study and longtime anti-tobacco advocate. Continue reading

‘Sugar Papers’ Show Industry’s Influence in 1970s Dental Program, Study Says

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Hundreds of pages of newly-found documents show that the sugar industry worked closely with the federal government in the late 1960s and early 1970s to determine a research agenda to prevent cavities in children, researchers who analyzed the documents say.

“The sugar industry … is following the tobacco industry’s playbook.”
In the analysis, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers concluded that industry influence starting in the late 1960s helped steer the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, away from addressing the question of determining a safe level of sugar.

“What this paper has shown is that our (NIH) was working toward potentially answering that question,” said Cristin Kearns, a fellow at UC San Francisco and lead author of the analysis, “and the sugar industry derailed them from doing the research to help to answer that question, so we’re still debating (it) here in 2015.” Continue reading

California Not Affected by Obamacare Court Challenge; At Least Not Yet

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s been three years, but the Affordable Care Act is before the Supreme Court again. The constitutionality of the law was settled then. This time, the question is subsidies. Oral arguments happen Wednesday.

The case is King v. Burwell, and the heart of the matter is whether the ACA permits subsidies to be granted to people who live in the 34 states that use the federally-run marketplace, healthcare.gov.

Note well: people in California, and the 13 other states that set up their own insurance marketplaces are not affected by this case. No one is challenging the legality of the subsidies as a whole — only whether they may legally go to people who live in states using healthcare.gov. Continue reading

Beyond Abolishing the ‘Personal Belief Exemption’ To Raise Vaccination Rates

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On Wednesday in Sacramento, a MoveOn.org member is expected to deliver a petition with 21,000 signatures calling on the state’s government to abolish the personal belief exemption.

“Focusing on the parental-choice issue risks provoking a counter-productive backlash.”

She will be holding a press conference with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who announced a bill earlier this month to do just that. When he made the announcement, Pan repeatedly spoke of wanting to increase vaccination rates.

It sounds so good: Just wipe out the option to refuse vaccines, and vaccination rates will improve.

But is abolishing the personal belief exemption — a choice that permits parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated — the best way to accomplish that goal? Continue reading

Covered California Grants Special Enrollment Through April

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Certified specialist helps a consumer apply to Covered California at a free enrollment fair at Pasadena City College. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Covered California will offer a special extension to buy health insurance through the marketplace for people who say they weren’t aware they would face a tax penalty for being uninsured.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee announced the extension Friday. He said the special enrollment will start on Monday and run through April 30. People must attest to the fact that they were not aware of the penalty, which they can do when they apply on the Covered California website.

Lee said as many as 600,000 people may face a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. While the extension does not exempt people from paying the 2014 tax penalty, it would help them avoid bigger penalties in 2015. Continue reading