Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

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

PriceCheck: How Much Does A Back MRI Cost?

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Back MRI costs vary widely, even within the same city. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, our 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.

Just in San Francisco, back MRIs range in price from $575 to $6,221.

We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid. We started with mammograms. We have both cash or “self-pay” prices in our database. We also have crowdsourced prices. The range we’ve found, even in close geographic areas, is startling.

Here’s one example: ClearHealthCosts collected self-pay prices at various centers in the Bay Area and Southern California. If a woman walks into the NorCal Imaging Center in Walnut Creek, a screening mammogram will cost her $125, if she pays out of pocket. Continue reading

Kaiser Therapists, Patients Allege Long Waits for Mental Health Care

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

One month, three months, even five months.

That’s how long some Northern California Kaiser patients wait to see an individual therapist — according to many Kaiser patients and therapists.

KQED’s Jon Brooks has reported extensively on this issue over the last two months. He talked to close to two dozen therapists and patients who said that they were experiencing long wait times. One therapist whose specialty is geriatric care told him that she had written to her superiors saying, “I can’t tell a patient that has six months to live that I’ll see them in five months.” Continue reading

Long Way to Go Before State May Authorize Autism Therapy as Benefit

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

State officials on Friday said they have not determined whether or not to offer applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) as a Medi-Cal benefit to children with autism.

Federal officials earlier this month issued guidance on the subject, saying it is covered for Medicaid beneficiaries under age 21 as part of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program.

“Under the Medicaid state plan, services to address [autism spectrum disorder] may be covered under several different … benefit categories,” the CMS guidance said. For children, it said, “states must cover services that could otherwise be covered at state option under these categories consistent with the provisions … for Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment services (EPSDT). Continue reading

Sonoma County Has Highest Whooping Cough Rate in Statewide Epidemic

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

It’s been a little over a month since California declared a whooping cough epidemic, and according to the most recent data from the state, three neighboring Bay Area counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide: Sonoma, Napa and Marin.

Sonoma County’s rate of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is almost 120 cases per 100,000 people. Napa County’s rate is 90 per 100,000, and Marin’s rate is 65 per 100,000.

Sonoma County’s interim health officer, Karen Holbrook, says the number of cases reported each week has peaked and is now declining.

“It’s not what the state is experiencing as a whole, but we are coming down,” Holbrook says. “Will that hold indefinitely remains to be seen.”

Holbrook says California is seeing a whooping cough epidemic partly because the disease is cyclical, with cases spiking every three to five years. Continue reading

Work as Refuge? Working Mothers Report Better Health

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

I love it when my job intersects with the rest of my life.

NPR is reporting Tuesday about a fascinating survey that found that women who work full time “reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who part time.” They heard from more than 2,500 mothers in the 2012 survey.

In addition, people appear to be more stressed at home than they are at work.

Oh, and mothers who worked part time said they enjoyed better health than their counterparts who didn’t work at all.

Really? As the mother of two children who worked part time for several years before taking this job, I was all-in on this story. Could I really be enjoying peak health while working full time and — yes — still raising those kids. (Disclosure that my husband does help: Thanks, dear!) Continue reading