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

Portrait of Health, Well-Being in California’s Latino Children

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

Just over half of all children in California are Latino — that’s more than 4.7 million kids under age 18. In a major new analysis, researchers found a diverse picture of their health and well-being, not just when compared against white children, but also within the Latino population itself.

More than 94 percent of California’s Latino children were born in the U.S., and most of them were born in California.

Fewer Latino children overall achieve a minimum standard of basic health care or family and community environment when compared against white children, and children in households where Spanish is spoken at home have even lower rates. Continue reading

Election 2014: San Francisco, Berkeley Consider Soda Taxes

(poolie/Flickr)

(poolie/Flickr)

When it comes to the 2014 election, the Bay Area is ground zero on a fight being watched across the country. Both Berkeley and San Francisco voters are considering soda taxes.

They’re not the first cities to try to slap a tax on sugary beverages. In California alone Richmond and El Monte tried similar measures in 2012 — and failed. New York City tried to ban large servings — and failed.

If either one of the current measures passes it will be first in the country. The two proposals are similar, yet key differences might make one or the other more likely to be passed. Continue reading

Spike in ER, Hospitalization Use Short-Lived After Medicaid Expansion

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

While the Medicaid expansion may lead to a dramatic rise in emergency room use and hospitalizations for many of the previously uninsured, that increase is largely temporary and should not lead to a dramatic impact on state budgets, according to a new analysis from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released Wednesday.

Researchers reviewed two years of claims data from nearly 200,000 Californians who had enrolled in public programs in advance of the expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, in January. These programs were designed to ease the expansion of Medicaid by providing insurance to low-income adults who were not eligible for Medi-Cal at that point but would be when the health law’s expansion went into effect earlier this year.

Researchers then divided the group into four categories, based on the researchers’ assessment of each group’s pent-up demand for health care.

In July, 2011, after being enrolled in California’s Low Income Health Program, the so-called “bridge to reform,” the group with the highest pent-up demand had a rate of costly emergency room visits triple — or more — that of the other groups. But from 2011 to 2013, that high rate dropped by more than two-thirds and has remained “relatively constant,” according to the analysis. Continue reading

Poll: Majority of California Voters Support Health Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A majority of the state’s voters support extending current health insurance programs to all low-income Californians, including undocumented immigrants, according to a new statewide poll released Monday.

The poll was commissioned by The California Endowment, a foundation that has been actively working to expand health insurance access to all people, regardless of immigration status. The Affordable Care Act expressly bars undocumented immigrants from receiving any of its benefits, including subsidies to purchase health insurance.

In the poll, 54 percent of those surveyed said they support covering the undocumented. Support was strongest among younger voters as well as Latino respondents and African Americans.

Continue reading

California Catholic Leadership Challenges State Abortion Order

 Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in July. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Associated Press — California’s Catholic leadership has filed a federal civil rights complaint over a state requirement that health insurance cover abortions.

The California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops and archbishops, sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It contends that California’s Department of Managed Health Care discriminated against those morally opposed to abortion and requests an investigation.

The complaint is under review, said Rachel Seeger, spokeswoman for the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights.

The state agency didn’t immediately comment. Continue reading

Shining Light on the Cost of Diabetes Test Strips

(Victor/via Flickr)

Test strips — the white strip in the photo above — vary dramatically both in cash price and in insurance coverage. (Victor/via Flickr)

Since early this summer, KQED and our partners, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com, have been crowdsourcing the costs of common health care procedures.

‘Every time someone moves to a new insurer, the pricing will be very different on test strips. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown.’

If you’re one of the 29 million people in America who has diabetes, we’re turning now to you. We know that many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar, also called glucose, level several times a day.

For those of you who don’t have diabetes, the reason for frequent checking is because in diabetes, sugar can build up in the bloodstream because the body is not able to process it. That can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the disease, many people with diabetes must check their glucose level several times a day to make sure it is neither dangerously high nor dangerously low.

To check their blood sugar, people with diabetes have a glucose meter. Each time they test their blood, a test strip is inserted into the meter. Then they use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter displays the result. Continue reading

Governor Signs Bill Giving $3 Million to Doctors Medical Center

State officials have until Monday to submit plan. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill giving $3 million to financially troubled Doctors Medical Center in western Contra Costa County. The hospital has been in danger of closing for weeks.

SB883 appropriates the money from the state’s Major Risk Medical Insurance Fund to the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which oversees Doctors Medical Center. It is considered “bridge funding,” according to a release from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), an author of the bill, so that the hospital and health care district have time to identify more secure funding.

“Doctors Medical Center is the safety net hospital for Richmond, San Pablo and other West Contra County communities. Its closure would leave a community in need without emergency care, cardio, dialysis and other critical hospital services,” Skinner said in a statement.
Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

Marijuana Legalization Move Begins (Again) in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, took the first formal steps Wednesday toward a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California.

The group officially filed papers with the secretary of state to register a new committee, the Marijuana Policy Project of California. The registration allows the committee to start soliciting and spending funds.

Ballot language will not be drafted until early 2015, but the goal is to regulate pot in a similar way to alcohol, the group says. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

Continue reading