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

Measles Update — Marin Cases; State Lawmaker to Introduce Vaccine Bill

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)

Two unvaccinated Marin children have been confirmed to have measles, county health officials announced Thursday night in an advisory sent to all Marin County clinicians.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin Health Officer, told the Marin Independent Journal that the two children were members of the same family and that they had become infected outside the county. The children are of school age, Willis added, but no other unvaccinated children would be barred from attending school.

More from the Independent-Journal:

“These were two children who were out of school well before and throughout any infectious period,” Willis said. “The infectious period for measles is usually around eight days.”
Continue reading

Suspected Ebola Patient in Sacramento Tested Negative

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

Update, Fri. January 30:

The California Department of Public Health says that the patient with suspected Ebola infection has tested negative for the virus. CDPH reminds everyone that there are no confirmed Ebola cases in California “and no threat to the general public.”

Original story:

A patient suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento Thursday morning, the hospital said in a statement.

We have no other details about the patient at this time — except that the patient was transferred from Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento. All five UC medical centers were designated Ebola treatment centers by the California Department of Public Health last October.

Here’s the full statement from UC Davis Medical Center: Continue reading

Not Vaccinated? ‘Stay Home from School,’ Says Marin Dad of Leukemia Patient

Rhett Krawitt, outside a classroom at Reed Elementary, in Tiburon. (Courtesy: Carl Krawitt)

Rhett Krawitt, outside a classroom at Reed Elementary, in Tiburon. (Courtesy: Carl Krawitt)

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the last 4½ years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year, he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission.

Do you want to help the family of a child with cancer? Make sure your own children are vaccinated, doctor says.
Now, there’s a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.

Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — or what’s known as herd immunity.

But Rhett lives in Marin, a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions” in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of Marin’s kindergarteners have a PBE which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more. Continue reading

Answers to Five Common Measles Questions

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)

By Amanda Stupi

An outbreak of measles and a new report that identified clusters of vaccine refusals in Northern California have become this week’s hot topics. As such, KQED’s daily talk show Forum devoted an hour to the outbreak, and opened up the phones to listeners’ questions. The result: the sharing of some very good information. Here are answers to five common questions:

1. Can people who have been vaccinated against the measles still get it? 

Of the confirmed measles cases in California, at least five are people who were fully vaccinated. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case.

“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. The measles vaccine comes close — it protects 99 out of 100 people, but that’s “one percent of a lot of people,” she said. Continue reading

State Measles Cases Now at 73; Expect More

Five Disney staff members are among California's cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Five Disneyland staff members are among California’s cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Update, Monday, 1/26: The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said Monday that California now has 73 confirmed cases of measles.

Update, Friday, 1/23: The CDPH said Friday that 68 Californians have confirmed cases of measles.

Original post, Wed. 1/21:

State health officials report 59 confirmed cases of measles in nine counties. The patients range in age from 7 months to 70 years. The California Department of Public Health has linked 42 of these cases to people who visited Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure Park. Initially, cases were linked to people who visited the parks in mid-December, but there are more confirmed cases who visited the parks in January while infectious.

The outbreak has spread beyond California with seven cases in Utah, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. Mexico has also confirmed a case.

Vaccination status is known for 34 of the California patients. State officials say that 28 were not vaccinated at all, one was partially vaccinated and five were fully vaccinated. (Six of the unvaccinated were babies, too young to be vaccinated.)

“Devastating Consequences”

“Measles is not a trivial illness,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. “It can be very serious with devastating consequences.”  Those consequences include pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 500 people a year died of the disease nationwide. In the current outbreak, 25 percent of people with measles have been hospitalized. Continue reading

Blue Shield, Sutter Impasse About More Than Money

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Contract breakdowns between insurance companies and health care providers are nothing new and often blow over after public posturing. But the current failure of Blue Shield and Sutter Health to come to terms on a new contract may be harder to resolve. That’s because the main issues appear to be about much more than money.

To the average patient, a request to arbitrate disputes doesn’t sound like a big deal. But this is different.
While the negotiations grind on, more than 250,000 people in individual and family plans are waiting to see what happens. The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter terminated on Dec. 31.

To be sure, money is a factor. Sutter says that Blue Shield is “demanding reductions in what they pay our organization … that would have a devastating impact,” said Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sutter. He says Sutter has asked for “less than a 1 percent increase.”

But Blue Shield claims Sutter is pushing the insurer to accept “new and unprecedented contractual provisions,” says Steven Shivinsky, spokesman for Blue Shield. Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Cases Now at 26

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The number of measles cases linked to having visited Disneyland parks in mid-December has climbed to 22 in California, according to state data. There are four more cases in other states — two in Utah and one each in Colorado and Washington.

While the incubation period for people who visited the parks between Dec. 17-20 ended on Jan. 10 — meaning that anyone who was at Disneyland in that time frame would have gotten sick by now — the Los Angeles Times is reporting that an unvaccinated, infected woman took two flights after she became ill.

The woman was in her 20s, the TImes reported, had visited Disneyland in December and became ill on Dec. 28.  Continue reading

Gov. Brown: ‘Not A Lot Left in Budget’ to Cover Undocumented

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his $164.7 billion budget proposal Friday and while health figures big, the governor also stopped short of funding some key advocacy goals.

For starters, there’s no money set aside in the budget to provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants. The “Health for All Act” was re-introduced in December, after falling short in the legislature last year. But when Brown was asked specifically about covering the undocumented, he said “There’s not a lot of money left in the budget. … It’s very tight.”

Then there are the million undocumented immigrants in California estimated to be eligible for deferred action under President Obama’s executive order. Advocates say that these immigrants, once approved for deferred action, become eligible for Medi-Cal, as long as they qualify by income. Continue reading

Nine Measles Cases Tied to Disneyland Parks

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

Nine people who visited Disneyland or Disneyland California Adventure Park during December have confirmed measles cases, state health officials said Wednesday. Seven of the patients live in California and two live in Utah.

State and county health officers are investigating an additional four suspected cases, two in Utah and two in California. All the patients visited the parks in Orange County between Dec.15-20, California Department of Public Health officials said.

“If you have symptoms, and believe you may have been exposed, please contact your health care provider,” Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer, said in a statement. “The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated.” Continue reading

Brown on Health Coverage: “Right Thing to Do. But It Isn’t Free.”

Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in as California governor for the fourth time. (Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio)

Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in as California governor for the fourth time. (Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio)

Jerry Brown was sworn into his fourth term as governor of California Monday morning. In a wide-ranging inaugural address (that doubled as a State of the State address), he included some brief remarks about the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the text of what he said:

Along with education, health and human services constitute a major part of what state government does. And in the past few years we have made massive commitments in this area, which will require increasing levels of spending, the full extent of which is not yet known. For example, two years ago California embraced the Affordable Care Act, dramatically increasing its health insurance coverage under the Medi-Cal program. The state will enroll 12.2 million people during this new budget year, a more than 50 percent increase.

Providing the security of health coverage to so many Californians who need it is the right thing to do. But it isn’t free. Although the federal government will temporarily foot much of the bill, new state costs – now and more so in the future – will run into the billions.

Before we take a deeper look at his statements about Medi-Cal, let’s go back a year ago to last year’s budget. Then, Brown’s budget proposal included an additional $670 million for Medi-Cal, at least in part because of the expected additional costs due the expansion of Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps more importantly, “The Medi-Cal caseload is expected to be approximately 24 percent of the state’s total population,” the governor said when he released last year’s budget.

Speed forward a year. Obamacare sign-ups surged in California during 2014 and outstripped all estimates. Specifically in Medi-Cal, it’s not 24 percent of the population that is covered by the program, it’s closer to 33 percent.

While the ACA  pays for 100 percent of the people who are newly eligible for Medi-Cal, many people who signed up in 2014 were already eligible before the ACA expansion. They just had not enrolled. With all the hoopla around the ACA, plenty of those previously-eligible people signed up. Many refer to this as the “woodwork” effect.

Estimates are of the 2.4 million people who signed up for Medi-Cal by Mar. 31, about 800,000 of them were previously eligible. The federal government funds those people at the non-expansion rate of 50 precent. That’s why in the May revision of his budget, Gov. Brown included an additional $1.2 billion to fund the caseload.

Brown closed his brief remarks about health with a remark about the state’s costs “in the future.” The federal government is funding 100 percent of the Medi-Cal expansion only through 2016. Come 2017, the match will start to drift down and ultimately end at 90 percent. Yes, this is still a generous federal outlay. But 10 percent of billions of dollars is a lot of money.

The governor is expected to release his budget proposal on Friday.