Sharon Wilson, 53, picks up her weekly allotment of produce from the AIDS Project of the East Bay. Wilson, who has HIV, says without help, she couldn’t afford to buy fresh vegetables. (Angela Hart/KQED)
By Angela Hart
Several times each week, Sharon Wilson, a 53-year-old HIV-positive retired caregiver, takes an hour-long bus ride from her Berkeley home to her clinic in downtown Oakland. Wilson doesn’t mind making the trip, because she says the care she has received there since her diagnosis has saved her life.
Wilson says multiple chronic diseases, including HIV, have made it impossible for her to work. Ensuing financial struggles make managing her disease increasingly difficult.
“I can’t afford healthy food and all the medications I need to take,” Wilson said as she described her strict antiretroviral drug regimen. “It’s not easy to learn a new way of living. I take a handful of pills when I wake up in the morning, a handful of pills with lunch, and another handful before I go to bed.”
For people like Wilson, the AIDS Project of the East Bay — one of Alameda County’s six HIV specialty clinics — is a place of refuge. There, Wilson has received primary care for her HIV and specialty care since 2006. She’s been referred to Oakland’s Highland Hospital multiple times to treat other chronic conditions, including congestive heart failure and arthritis. Continue reading
A prescription label for the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, a brand name statin medicine. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Last Monday two major groups released a set of new guidelines designed to lower cholesterol. Now, it appears a major component of the guidelines — an online risk calculator — may be flawed, the New York Times reports.
Since the publication of the guidelines, two Harvard Medical School professors “evaluated the guidelines using three large studies that involved thousands of people and continued for at least a decade,” the Times reported. They knew the patients’ health status at the start and then they looked to see how many had had a heart attack or stroke in the next decade. How accurate was the new calculator in predicting risk? From the Times:
The answer was that the calculator overpredicted risk by 75 to 150 percent, depending on the population. A man whose risk was 4 percent, for example, might show up as having an 8 percent risk. With a 4 percent risk, he would not warrant treatment — the guidelines that say treatment is advised for those with at least a 7.5 percent risk and that treatment can be considered for those whose risk is 5 percent.
By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News
California has mistakenly sent letters to 246,000 low-income residents, warning they may need to find new doctors next year under the state’s newly expanded Medicaid program.
The error frustrated counties and community health centers which have repeatedly assured patients they can keep their providers when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014. The patients are part of the state’s “bridge to reform” program, which was designed to cover uninsured, poor Californians until they became eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid.
Bridge to reform launched in 2011 and more than 600,000 people across the state enrolled in county-based health coverage. Many people formed relationships with doctors and started seeking regular care. But county and clinic administrators said the incorrect information in the mailing this month has put the counties’ efforts in jeopardy.
The mix-up occurred as people are scrambling to figure out how the health law impacts them, and as private policy holders have been receiving letters canceling their insurance plans. Continue reading
President Obama announced Thursday morning that insurance companies now have the option to offer renewals to people whose plans were cancelled.
But that doesn’t mean insurance companies are required to take the president up on his offer.
Patrick Johnston, CEO of California Association of Health Plans, said in a statement that California “needs to stay the course and transition people into the more comprehensive policies that meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.”
He also pointed out that contracts with Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, “require all non-grandfathered health plans to be ACA compliant by 2014.”
But California’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones is taking the opposite approach. In a press conference, he said he asked Covered California on Thursday to release insurers from their contracts to cancel non-ACA compliant policies by Dec. 31. Continue reading
Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.
California’s new health insurance exchange enrolled more than 35,000 people during its first month of operation, or one-third of the 106,000 people enrolled nationwide, according to federal government figures released Wednesday, which covered the period from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2.
When compared against the 36 states which have elected not to set up their own exchanges and instead rely solely on the troubled website healthcare.gov, California’s enrollments dwarf that of all those states — combined. In the 36 states, about 27,000 people have enrolled. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s secretary of health and human services released the numbers in a press conference.
But later Wednesday afternoon, Covered California held a press event of its own and released data up to Tues., Nov. 12 – bringing total enrollees to about 59,000 people.
Momentum appears to be building. On average, about 1,000 people enrolled in Covered California every day in October, but in the first 12 days of November, average enrollments exceeded 2,400 a day. Continue reading
By Nancy Shute, NPR
California has a new law that’s supposed to get more of the state’s children vaccinated against measles, whooping cough and other infectious diseases.
But the law has taken a strange turn on its way to being put into action, one that may instead make it easier for parents to exempt their children from required vaccinations.
In recent years the number of parents who request so-called personal belief exemptions from vaccines has been rising. It’s gotten to the point that public health officials fear that there could be disease outbreaks in parts of California. Same goes for other states where exemption rates are high.
On Sept. 20, 2012, California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a bill aimed at boosting childhood immunization rates. His signing letter included these instructions: Continue reading
California’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones announced an agreement with Blue Shield on Tuesday morning that will mean some 113,000 people who had their policies cancelled will now be able to keep them through March 31, 2014.
If you’re one of those 113,000 people, you now have the option either to hold onto your policy into next year or to shop on the Covered California marketplace where you might qualify for a subsidy.
Blue Shield warned that extension is not without risks.
Jones says Blue Shield of California Life & Health agreed to send letters on Wednesday to its policyholders, informing them of the extension. If you’ve received a cancellation notice from another health insurance company, it is highly unlikely you will get an extension, as we detail below.
Blue Shield warned that extension is not without risks. Spokesman Steve Shivinsky says that policyholders who decide to stay with their current plan must still enroll in a new plan that complies with the Affordable Care Act by March 15, 2014. Otherwise, they risk a coverage gap. In addition, if people extend their current policy, they may have to pay a deductible twice in 2014 after they enroll in a new plan. Continue reading
Retailer J.C. Penney features a Girls Plus clothing department tailored to overweight girls. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Building on earlier research a major new study has found that girls are starting puberty at even younger ages. The most significant changes were seen in Caucasian girls and in girls who are overweight or obese. Still, girls who were not overweight were also entering puberty younger, the study found.
Researchers at three sites around the country — including the San Francisco Bay Area — followed 1,239 ethnically diverse girls from 2004 to 2011. They looked at breast development, a key marker for the start of puberty.
Girls who mature earlier are at risk for lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression.
Earlier studies had shown that African-American girls had reached this milestone at younger ages. “Now it looks like it’s happening earlier for Caucasian girls,” said Dr. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist with Kaiser San Francisco and one of the authors of the study. “Particularly, the overweight Caucasian girls are developing earlier than they have in the past.”
Researchers looked at a number of factors, but the “obesity epidemic appears to be a prime driver in the decrease in age at onset of breast development,” the authors wrote. Continue reading
Where the kissing event happens, just not during the day. (rolfkleef/Flickr)
I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, but somehow missed this tradition at Stanford: Full Moon on the Quad.
As the New York Times reported Friday it’s “an event unique in American education: an orgy of interclass kissing reluctantly but officially sanctioned by the university.”
How you respond to this might depend on your age.
My initial reaction was “ewwww!” But a (younger) colleague asked, “Is it horrible to confess to you: I’d probably join in?!?!”
The event was held last week, on Oct. 22. With thousands of students milling around waiting, the Times described what happened next:
Finally, a male senior saunters over to a group of the youngest-looking women and asks: “Hey! You freshmen? Can I kiss you?” Continue reading
Like health care, dental care matters, too. While about 14 percent of Californians lack health insurance, 39 percent lack dental coverage, according to a 2009 brief from the California HealthCare Foundation.
Even if you have dental insurance, it often has coverage limits and varying levels of out-of-pocket spending requirements that differ from health insurance, as a recent Los Angeles Times report noted:
First, it’s specifically designed to encourage preventive treatment. That’s why most dental plans pay 100 percent for preventive services, such as cleanings, X-rays and checkups. Basic restorative services such as fillings and periodontal cleanings are generally covered at 80 percent, and you’ll commonly get just 50 percent reimbursement for procedures such as implants and crowns.
In addition, they commonly come with low annual maximums that place a cap on what the plan pays toward care — the typical range is $1,000 to $1,500.
Even with coverage, the high cost of dental procedures prevents many people from seeking care. In a recent study of Los Angeles residents conducted by Empirica Research, 51 percent with dental insurance say they’ve delayed care because of cost. That number jumps to 68 percent among those without coverage.
Now, a new website, Brighter.com, has launched a free (to consumers) service to help connect people with dentists — at a discount. “The mission was to provide quality, affordable care to everyone,” said Jake Winebaum, Brighter’s CEO. “Brighter is the first marketplace where dentists are competing for patients based on quality, price and convenience.” Continue reading