Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

5 Things You Might Not Know About Obamacare

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

As you likely know by now, the deadline to sign up for health insurance is Monday — at least in California. (The federal government announced on Tuesday night it would give certain consumers more time, but Covered California has not yet extended the deadline here.)

KQED’s Forum devoted an hour Tuesday to taking listener calls about the Affordable Care Act. They invited Emily Bazar, who answers questions about Obamacare in her regular column for the Center for Health Reporting, and me to answer questions.

Bazar and I have teamed up before on Forum and the questions that come up are always surprising. Here I list 5 points raised in the show that you might want to know before completing sign up. Continue reading

California Gets an ‘F’ for Health Care Price Transparency

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

California — and 44 other states — received failing grades in a new analysis on transparency of health care prices. The report comes from Berkeley-based Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR), and it shows that consumers remain pretty much in the dark if they want to figure out, in advance, what a treatment or procedure will cost.

“Very few states have done anything meaningful to help consumers understand what their health care costs were going to be,” said Suzanne Delbanco, executive director of the organization.

CPR looked primarily at laws and regulations around price transparency, as well as whether a state had a consumer-facing website where people could easily look up price information.

While California has taken “important symbolic steps” by passing price transparency laws, Delbanco said, “what hasn’t happened is turning that information into something that’s useful to consumers.” Continue reading

Insurance Agents Drive High Asian Enrollment on Covered California

Covered California application in Chinese.

Covered California application in Chinese.

While Latino enrollment has lagged in Covered California enrollments, Asians have signed up on the state’s marketplace in numbers outstripping their representation in the insurance pool. According to new Covered California data, the overwhelming majority of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese enrollments are coming through certified insurance agents as opposed to community groups or the Covered California website.

There is no charge to consumers who work with agents, whose commissions are paid by insurance companies.

Since January, Asians have been enrolling in strong numbers. People of Asian descent make up about 14 percent of the Covered California pool, according to estimates compiled by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Starting with the first release of demographic data in January, Asians were already on target, reaching 13.5 percent of all enrollees. In the most recent data from Covered California, which comprised enrollment from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, Asians made up 22.9 percent of all enrollees.

Licensed insurance brokers can sell customers plans on the Covered California marketplace, but they must first be specially certified to do so. Covered California says 40 percent of its total Covered California enrollments are coming via these certified insurance agents. But within certain Asian sub-populations, the percentage is much higher, Covered California says: Continue reading

Exercise Cuts Breast Cancer Risk for All Women, of All Ages, Everywhere

(Getty Images)

Women who exercised an hour a day saw the greatest risk reduction, but women who weren’t as active also reduced their risk. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

This could be the simplest bit of health advice ever: Exercise reduces women’s risk of breast cancer, no matter what kind of exercise they do, how old they are, how much they weigh, or when they get started.

The more active a woman is, the better her odds of avoiding breast cancer. 

Researchers in France looked at studies that involved more than 4 million women around the world who participated in prospective studies from 1987 to 2013. They found that the more active a woman is, the better her odds of avoiding breast cancer. Women who were most active, with more than an hour a day of vigorous activity, got the most benefits, lowering their cancer risk by 12 percent.

But women who weren’t as active saw reduced risk, too, notes Mathieu Boniol, research director at the Strathclyde Institute for Global Public Health in Lyon, France. More activity was better, but anything was better than nothing. He presented the data Thursday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow. Continue reading

Obamacare FAQ: Options for Immigrants

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance is now less than two weeks away. On Monday, enrollment on Covered California went over the 1 million mark. But there are literally millions more Californians currently uninsured.

Many of those eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are immigrants. If you are a lawfully present immigrant you likely qualify for the benefits — and responsibilities — of the ACA. This means if you do not sign up for insurance by March 31, you may have to pay a fine next year on your taxes. This is either $95 per adult or 1 percent of your income, whichever is greater. For example, if you earn $30,000 a year, you might have to pay a $300 fine.

On the flip side, you may qualify for a subsidy to help you purchase health insurance. You do not need a green card to qualify. There is a long list of visas under which immigrants might be lawfully present in the U.S. Check this list from the federal government to see if your immigration status or visa means that you can quality for benefits.  Continue reading

Yes, It’s A Headache. No, I Didn’t Need That Brain Scan

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Over at NPR, the Shots blog reports that Americans get $1 billion (yes, with a “B”) worth of brain scans every year — because they have a headache. That’s according to research at the University of Michigan.

Headaches are one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor  – up to a quarter of all doctor visits, says Shots.

Sending a billion dollars “down the drain.” Annually.
Presumably people are getting the scans because they’re worried that headache is a sign of something much more scary — say a brain tumor.

There’s just one problem. Most headaches are just that — a headache.

From the Shots post: Continue reading

Analysis: Obamacare Leads to More Competition in Insurance Market

It’s still early days. The first open enrollment of the Obamacare marketplaces is ongoing. But the Covered California marketplace is more competitive than the 2012 individual market, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Entirely by coincidence, the study, released Monday, coincided with the news that Covered California had passed the million mark in enrollment.

Analysts looked at exchange data from seven states, including California. Enrollment for people buying outside exchanges, on the individual market, will not be available until later this year or early 2015, Cynthia Cox, one of the foundation’s analysts noted.

“California had a highly concentrated market before the ACA,” Cox said. But the Covered California marketplace has both more companies with greater than 5 percent market share and the percentage marketshare of the largest company has declined, as shown in this graph from the study:

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Continue reading

Measles Cases on Rise Statewide

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

The California Department of Public Health says that California has 32 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. At this time last year, only three cases had been reported.

The cases are reported in both Northern and Southern California. Measles was declared to be eliminated in 2000 in the United States and CDPH says that many cases are linked to travel to parts of the world where measles is circulating. Of the cases reported so far this year, seven people had traveled to the Philippines where a large outbreak of measles is ongoing, two had been to India and one had traveled to Vietnam.

Health officials recommend that anyone planning travel outside of North or South America and has not been vaccinated to make sure they get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine before they go. Continue reading

Covered California Closing in on One Million Mark

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

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

Update 1:00 p.m. Thursday:

Covered California reported Thursday that 923,832 people have signed up for a health insurance plan through its agency through March 9. With 18 days left in open enrollment and an expected surge predicted as the final March 31 deadline comes near, the one million enrollment mark appears within reach.

20,000 people are starting applications every day on Covered California.
In addition to the enrollment on Covered California, another 1.1 million people who have applied throughout the marketplace were determined likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal. Roughly another million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal because they transferred in from the Low Income Health Program on Jan. 1 or through other local and statewide efforts.

“When you take these numbers together and add the first nine days of March,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, “it means more than 3 million Californians have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act.”

With just over two weeks left in open enrollment, Lee says 20,000 people are starting applications every day on the website, and roughly 10,000 people a day are finalizing enrollment by picking a plan.

“These are strong numbers,” Lee said.

Continue reading

Study: Estrogen Therapy May Help Some Older Women at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Postmenopausal women have heard just about everything when it comes to hormone therapy. In the 1990s, doctors routinely recommended it, believing that it helped women avoid heart attacks, thinning bones and other problems of aging. Then along came the Women’s Health Initiative study, which first found hormone therapy (HT) created more risks than benefits – then found that over time some of those risks subsided, at least somewhat.

“It’s a very provocative finding, without a doubt.” 

But one main criticism of the Women’s Health Initiative study was that women were recruited to start on hormone therapy long after they had gone through menopause. The women were ages 65 or older.

Today, many doctors believe that HT started at the time of menopause — or soon after — can help women with hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other symptoms.

Continue reading