Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Surprising Advantage for Older Moms: More Likely to Live Longer

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a woman who had not just her last child, but also her first child after age 33, I enthusiastically clicked on the NPR story in my Facebook feed this morning.

NPR reports that older moms — women who had their last child after age 33 — have twice the odds of “exceptional longevity” as women who had their last child before age 29. This “exceptional longevity” is defined as living to age 95. The research is according to a study published this week in the journal Menopause.

I got over the fact that “older moms” are women who had their last child after 33, which seems kind of young to me.

NPR explains why there may be a connection between bearing children later and longevity: Continue reading

Whooping Cough Epidemic Continues — 1,100 New Cases in Last Two Weeks

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

In the two weeks since California health officials declared a whooping cough epidemic, the state has added 1,100 more cases, officials with the California Department of Public Health said Friday.

That brings the total number of cases to 4,558. A third infant died of the disease recently. The baby, from Sacramento County, had started showing symptoms at just 3 weeks of age. The baby was hospitalized for more than a year and then passed away.

Infants are at particular risk because they cannot be vaccinated until they are several weeks old. Generally, the recommendation is that babies receive the first dose of vaccine at 8 weeks, but in light of the epidemic, state health officials say babies can be vaccinated at 6 weeks.

Continue reading

Covered California Needs Better Outreach to Limited-English Speakers, Advocates Say

A report from Berkeley's Greenlining Institute called on Covered California to make its enrollment website available in more languages than English and Spanish.

A report from Berkeley’s Greenlining Institute called on Covered California to make its enrollment website available in more languages than English and Spanish.

Covered California may have had strong overall enrollment, but people who do not speak English as a first language are underrepresented in the state’s health insurance marketplace, according to an analysis from Berkeley’s Greenlining Institute.

The report relied on Covered California data, which showed that 20 percent of enrollees do not speak English as a primary language. That’s compared with 44 percent of Californians overall.

“We know California is a diverse state ethnically and linguistically,” said Jordan Medina, a health policy fellow with Greenlining and lead author of the study. “Moving forward, if the Affordable Care Act is going to work in California, we have to make sure those populations are represented in the health insurance marketplace.” Continue reading

KQED Launches ‘PriceCheck’ to Make Health Costs Transparent

(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Update June 30: Early PriceCheck data show Bay Area mammogram prices range from $125 to $801

Original Post:

Say you’re shopping for a new computer or a new car, and you want to get the best price. Within a matter of minutes on Google, you would have a pretty good idea of the price range for the product you want.

But in health care? Forget it.

Shining light on a system where the costs of the same procedure might range from $0 to $1,100. That’s just one example.

It’s well known to health policy types, but less so to consumers, that health care prices are utterly lacking in transparency and wildly variable.

If you’ve ever looked at a bill for a health care procedure — and been astounded by the numbers you see — or thought that you would like to find the best price on an elective procedure – and been astounded that there’s no easy way to compare prices — KQED is launching a new project for you.

Today we bring you “Price Check,” a community-created guide to health costs. Since no database yet exists where consumers can easily look up costs, we’re commencing the work of creating one. But we need your help.

This summer and into the fall, we’re turning to you, our community, to share — anonymously — what you have paid for some common procedures. We’re starting with mammograms. (More on “why mammograms?” in a moment.) Continue reading

Covered California Questions Health Insurance Initiative

Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

UPDATE: June 20

KQED’s April Dembosky attended the Covered California board meeting Thursday afternoon where the board expressed concern that a voter initiative on the upcoming November ballot could compromise its authority. The initiative would give the state’s insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate increases in health insurance premiums.  But Covered California already negotiates rates with insurance plans. How would the initiative, if passed, affect Covered California?

Covered California board member Susan Kennedy called on agency staff to conduct an intensive analysis of the initiative’s potential impact Covered California’s ability to operate — and to get it done soon.
Continue reading

People from Mexico Show Vast Genetic Diversity

Mexico City, Mexico (Alex Torres/Flickr)

Mexico City, Mexico. (Alex Torres/Flickr)

The genetic diversity of the Mexican population is so vast that two people of Mexican descent can be as genetically different from each other as a European and a Chinese person. That’s the finding of researchers from UC San Francisco, Stanford, and the Mexican National Institute of Genomic Medicine. It’s considered the first, large-scale analysis of its kind,  and the study could change the way health care is delivered to Mexican-Americans. It helps drive forward the move toward personalized medicine.

KQED News anchor Mina Kim spoke with UCSF Professor Esteban Burchard, one of the co-authors of the study, during a Thursday evening newscast. Burchard described that because of “historical factors, geographical factors, linguistic factors,” the researchers identified that indigenous populations in Mexico are genetically distinct. The genetic ancestry mirrors the geography of Mexico.” Continue reading

New Device Brings Price Drop in Diabetes Test Strips

The iHealth mobile blood glucose monitor. (Courtesy: iHealth Lab)

The iHealth mobile blood glucose monitor. (Courtesy: iHealth Lab)

iHealth Labs, a Mountain View company focused on mobile personal health technology has received FDA approval for what the company says is the world’s smallest mobile blood glucose monitor, called iHealth Align.

But for people with diabetes, the bigger news is likely to be the cost of the test strips that the device will use. People with diabetes often check their blood sugar one or more times a day. The test strips that users fit into a monitor list at a dollar each, for some of the larger brands. The strips for the new device will run 25 cents each. The device itself is $16.95.

“It’s probably more of a known secret in the marketplace that the real margins is within the strips,” Adam Lin, president of iHealth Labs, told MobiHealthNews. “We (wanted) to pass on all that savings to the end users. It’s got to be simple to understand. You don’t have to go through all these issues for reimbursement. We brought it down to pretty much co-pay.” Continue reading

Cross Country from D.C. to San Francisco, Complaints About Health Costs

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork.  (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork. (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Recently, I moved from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. I drove the Southern route and decided to conduct an informal survey.

“I wish it would be cheaper mainly — more affordable.”

I asked folks I met along the way a question relevant to the health care reporting I’ve been doing for the past five years: What bugs you most about your medical care?

Few people I talked with — at gas stations, coffee shops, grocery stores, parking lots, bars and everywhere in between — even mentioned the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare by name. But I heard again and again how health policy issues I’ve been reporting on in Washington are affecting their lives.

What did I find out? Continue reading

In Humboldt County, Hupa Woman Teaches Healthy Cooking via YouTube

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms. (screen grab from YouTube)

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms.The channel is aimed at improving the health of Native Americans.  (screen grab from YouTube)

By Samantha Clark

Tucked away in far northern California, in Humboldt County, is the small community of Hoopa. With just 3,000 people, it’s the big city on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.

Like other Native American groups, the Hupa suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes. That’s where Meagan Baldy comes in. She runs the Hoopa Community Garden and sought to educate her fellow Hupa people about eating local, traditional foods. But trying to change people’s habits is never easy.

She started by offering a “farm box” – a box of free produce, whatever is in season. But people failed even to pick up their boxes. Baldy discovered that people didn’t know how to prepare most produce.

Serving the vegetables to her own family was a battle at first, so it must have been for others as well, Baldy reasoned. So, she snuck in greens and tried cooking them in creative ways. Continue reading

Privacy Law Frustrates Parents with Mentally Ill Adult Children

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

The horrifying mass shooting in Isla Vista nearly two weeks ago brought up many questions: What — if anything — could parents have done to prevent the tragedy? And what did they actually know about their son’s mental illness?

‘We were shut out of the conversation.’    

A privacy law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created in part to protect patients’ information. But the law, called HIPAA for short, also presents a dilemma for families of people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. HIPAA restricts what family members can find out directly, leaving them to wonder how they can help a loved one who won’t share treatment details.

Mark, an ordained minister in Moraga, about 20 miles east of San Francisco, struggles with the problem almost every day. His son Scott, 24, has schizoaffective disorder and has been hospitalized a dozen times for the hallucinations, mania and depression that it brings. (Kaiser Health News and KQED aren’t publishing the family’s last name to protect Scott’s identity.) Continue reading