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

FDA Proposes Lifting Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a policy change that would end a 31-year ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The ban was put in place at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when little was understood about the disease. Under the proposed change, gay men who have not had sexual contact in a year would be allowed to donate blood.

In a statement, the FDA said that “it will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.” Officials say the change is motivated by research. Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom already have similar policies in place.

The FDA has been considering the move for some time. Earlier this month, Ryan James Yezak with the National Gay Blood Drive told KQED that he thought that any ban was discriminatory, but said that the move toward one year, instead of a lifetime ban, was a step in the right direction. Continue reading

Berkeley Recruits ‘Panel of Experts’ for Soda Tax Implementation

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, voters in Berkeley made the city the first in the country to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. On Monday, the city moved forward on implementing one of the  requirements of the measure, staffing its “panel of experts.”

Berkeley is soliciting applications for people to serve on this panel, which will advise the City Council on “how and to what extent the City should establish and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley.”

In other words, the panel will advise the council on how to spend the soda tax revenue. Continue reading

Covered California Sign Ups Continue at Strong Pace

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Just over 144,000 new people signed up for health insurance on the Covered California marketplace during the first month of open enrollment, officials said Wednesday.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, noted that the state is now one-third of the way through open enrollment, which ends Feb. 15. At the same point last year, 110,000 people had picked a plan.

Lee said enrollment was going “remarkably smoothly” so far, although there have been “some small glitches along the way.”

Covered California is targeting 1.7 million enrollees for 2015, including renewing 1.2 million current customers and netting half a million new people. Continue reading

Study: Western States Eliminate Race Gap on Key Health Measures

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

A major new study looking at health disparities across the U.S. finds that significant gaps in managing heart disease and diabetes persist — except in Western states, where the gap has been eliminated.

‘It’s possible to eliminate deeply ingrained racial disparities.’
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University looked at 100,000 Medicare patients who were enrolled in HMOs, called “Medicare Advantage” plans, from 2006 to 2011. While management of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improved overall, blacks “substantially” trailed whites everywhere except the Western U.S., an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

“We were certainly hoping we would see indications of progress in eliminating disparities in the country as a whole,” said lead author Dr. John Ayanian, who heads the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. He said that while it was “disappointing” that disparities persisted, “it’s also heartening to see that … in the West, the disparities had been eliminated, and that was both surprising and encouraging.” Continue reading

In California, Where You Deliver Your Baby Matters

Two women in California are having a baby for the first time. They are both low risk, having uneventful pregnancies. But how they will deliver their baby — whether they’ll have a c-section, for example — depends dramatically on the hospital each woman chooses when she delivers.

The California Hospital Assessment and Reporting Taskforce, or CHART, crunched the numbers and found wide and, frankly, stunning variation in the rates of four common procedures related to delivery and newborn care: c-section, episiotomy, breastfeeding and vaginal birth after c-section.

The Oakland-based California HealthCare Foundation created this infographic to illustrate what CHART found:

(Courtesy: California HealthCare Foundation)

(Courtesy: California HealthCare Foundation)

Continue reading

Covered California Enrollment ‘Very Strong’ So Far

Covered California executive director Peter Lee. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

More than 290,000 people have signed up on Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, officials announced Wednesday. That number includes both people who qualify for private health insurance on the exchange or Medi-Cal.

People need to sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage that starts Jan. 1.
Open enrollment started Nov. 15. Of the 130,000 people who have qualified for Covered California, nearly 50,000 of them have both completed the application and selected a plan. That compares to about 30,000 people who selected a plan during the first month of open enrollment last year.

In a press call, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, called that pace “very strong.” People have until Monday to sign up for coverage that will start Jan. 1. “We expect that the next few days and this weekend, we’ll see continued and even growing interest in enrollment,” Lee said. Continue reading

Senator to Reintroduce Health Insurance Bill for Undocumented Immigrants

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It’s the beginning of the new legislative session in Sacramento, and one lawmaker isn’t wasting time. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) is expected to reintroduce a bill Monday to extend health insurance to all undocumented immigrants.

The Health For All Act would do two things for undocumented immigrants: extend Medi-Cal coverage to those who are low income and create a new marketplace to mirror Covered California, where those with incomes 138-400 percent of poverty could purchase subsidized health insurance.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any Obamacare benefits, so they cannot use the existing Covered California exchange. Continue reading

FDA to Announce Rules on Calorie Counts for Restaurant Menus

A menu board in New York City, the first city to require calories on chain restaurant menus. (Kevin Harber/Flickr)

A menu board in New York City, the first city to require calories on chain restaurant menus. (Kevin Harber/Flickr)

Washington (AP) — Counting your calories will become easier under new government rules requiring chain restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores — and even movie theaters, amusement parks and vending machines — to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to announce the long-delayed rules on Tuesday. The regulations will apply to businesses with 20 or more locations and they will be given until November 2015 to comply.

The idea is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger at a chain restaurant, hot dog at a gas station or large popcorn at the movie theater if they know that it has hundreds of calories. Beverages are included, and alcohol will be labeled if drinks are listed on the menu. Continue reading

Newly Protected Immigrants Will Be Eligible for Medi-Cal, Advocates Say

President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy Thursday. ( Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy Thursday. ( Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)

California undocumented immigrants who are eligible for deferred deportation under President Obama’s executive action are expected to be eligible for Medi-Cal, as long as they meet income guidelines, advocates said Thursday.

Medi-Cal is the state’s health insurance program for people who are low income.

Under federal law, these immigrants are not eligible for other benefits of the Affordable Care Act, including subsidies on the Covered California exchange. Continue reading

Covered California Patients Not Only Ones with Network Woes

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Charlie Spiegel said he was “thrilled” when he learned that the Department of Managed Health Care was taking action against two major insurers that sell policies on the Covered California marketplace. The companies, DMHC says, had violated state law by listing doctors on their online directories who were not part of their network.

Spiegel, of San Francisco, is not a Covered California policy-holder, but he’s having significant problems of his own with the individual policy he bought from Anthem Blue Cross earlier this year.

Here’s the background: Spiegel, 56, says he enjoys good health, but had been postponing various preventive tests due to cost. Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, he had a high deductible plan. Continue reading