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

How Likely Are You to Have Heart Surgery? A C-Section? Depends Where You Live

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

“Location, location, location” may be a well-known maxim in real estate, but it applies in health care, too. Where you live matters in terms of what treatment you will receive for a given condition.

A new statewide survey published Tuesday found significant variation in the rate of 13 common elective procedures for several health conditions — including heart disease, childbirth and arthritis of the hip or knee. Treatments for these conditions are considered “elective” because deciding which treatment is best (or deciding on no treatment at all) can depend on someone’s preference.

It would be ideal if the patient was fully informed of all treatment options and made a decision based on his or her own preferences. But often it’s the doctor’s preferences that drive the decision. Continue reading

San Diego Group Has Fun ‘Impact’ on Young Adults with Mental Illness

Ellen Frudakis (left) and Johanna Baker co-founded Impact Young Adults ten years ago. (Kenny Goldberg/KPBS)

Ellen Frudakis (left) and Johanna Baker co-founded Impact Young Adults 10 years ago. (Kenny Goldberg/KPBS)

By Kenny Goldberg, KPBS

The National Institute of Mental Health says about one in five young adults has a diagnosable mental illness.

It’s not uncommon for young people with mental health issues to withdraw from others and to isolate themselves. That can make their situation worse.

A group in San Diego has made it their mission to encourage young adults with mental illness to get out of their shell, make friends and have a good time.

The group is operated by young people. Continue reading

KQED’s #PriceCheck Project Shows Steep Variation in Prices Paid by Health Insurers

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

Since June, KQED has been crowdsourcing health care prices.

For starters, insurers paid from $128 to $694 for a screening mammogram.  

Why turn to crowdsourcing? Because health care prices are notoriously opaque. Negotiated rates between insurance companies and providers, both doctors and hospitals, are sealed tight, by contract. We know there’s variation, but comparing what one insurance company pays with another is virtually impossible.

So we asked you, the members of our community, to share what you paid.

Together with our collaborators KPCC in Los Angeles and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup dedicated to health cost transparency, we created a form to make it easy for people to share what they paid — and easy for consumers to see apples-to-apples comparisons of prices. Continue reading

PriceCheck: Insurer Payments for IUDs Vary by $800 in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Earlier this year, 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.

On PriceCheck we’re shining a light on the opaque world of health care costs. We’ve asked what you, the members of our audience, have been charged for common medical tests and services, including mammograms and lower-back MRIs.

Now a PriceCheck update on IUDs, the long-acting contraceptive. (And it’s really long-acting — up to seven years for the hormonal type; up to 12 years for the copper IUD). You told us what you were charged and what your insurers paid for an IUD.

Like all FDA-approved methods of birth control, IUDs are supposed to be available at no co-pay to consumers under a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Were they? The device alone generally costs several hundred dollars; a doctor’s charge to insert the device can be hundreds more.

Continue reading

UCSF Initiative Links ‘Sugar Science’ to Your Health

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

These days, sugar is pretty close to everywhere in the American diet. You probably know that too much sugar is probably not great for your health.

Now, a new initiative from UC San Francisco is spelling out the health dangers in clear terms. The  project is called “sugar science,” and science there is.

A team of researchers distilled 8,000 studies and research papers, and found strong evidence showing overconsumption of added sugar overloads vital organs and contributes to three major chronic illnesses: heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver disease. Continue reading

Berkeley Passes Soda Tax; San Francisco Effort Fails

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Update: 2:30am 11/5/2014

Voters in Berkeley have passed the nation’s first soda tax with a resounding 75 percent of the vote. More than 30 cities and states across the country have attempted such a tax, but have failed, at least in part because of big spending by the soda industry to defeat these measures.

But across the bay in San Francisco, a similar proposal failed to get the two-thirds supermajority it needed.

Berkeley’s Measure D needed only a simple majority to pass. It will levy a penny-per-ounce tax on most sugar-sweetened beverages and is estimated to raise more than a million dollars per year. Proceeds will go to the general fund; Measure D calls for the creation of a health panel to advise Berkeley’s City Council on appropriate health programs to receive funding. Continue reading

State Issues ‘Tailored’ Quarantine Guidelines for Travelers from Ebola-Affected Countries

Gov. Jerry Brown meets with state officials, including Dr. Ron Chapman, state health officer, on

Gov. Jerry Brown met last week with state officials, including state health officer Dr. Ron Chapman, center left. (Brad Alexander/Office of the Governor)

Joining other states across the country, California’s health officer has now added guidelines for a “risk-based quarantine order” for people traveling to California from one of the three Ebola-affected West African countries, Guinea, LIberia and Sierra Leone.

California’s guidelines consistent with those from the Centers for Disease Control

At present there are no known or suspected cases of Ebola in California.

The state’s order is directed at anyone traveling to California from one of the affected countries who has also had contact with someone who has a confirmed case of Ebola.

Dr. Ron Chapman, California’s health officer, said the state is establishing a “standard protocol requiring some level of quarantine for those at highest risk of contracting and spreading Ebola.” Continue reading

Here’s What Would Be Taxed — or Not — in SF, Berkeley Soda Tax Measures

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

Both San Francisco and Berkeley have measures on their November ballots that would institute a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. With less than a week to go until Election Day, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. People want to know exactly what will be taxed — and what won’t.

First things first: The tax is on sugar-sweetened beverages, so diet sodas would not be taxed. After all, they do not have sugar or any other sweetener that has calories. Maybe the moniker “soda tax” is misleading here.

To find out if your favorite beverage would be taxed, ask yourself the following:

  • Does this drink contain added sugar (or another caloric sweetener such as high-fructose corn syrup)?
  • Does this drink have significant nutritional value (such as, say, milk does)?

If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, your beverage is most likely subject to the proposed tax.

Here are drinks that are subject to the tax (farther down are exempt drinks):

(Kaleb Fulgham/Flickr)

(Kaleb Fulgham/Flickr)

Sodas — such as regular Coke, Pepsi, 7 Up, etc. (But not diet sodas.) This includes sodas in bottles and cans, as well as  fountain drinks. Both the Berkeley and San Francisco measures call for taxing the syrup used to make fountain drinks. The syrup is taxed according to the largest volume, in fluid ounces, that could be produced from the sugar-sweetened syrup. For example, if a distributor sells a 12-ounce bottle of syrup and that syrup can be used to make 144 ounces of beverage, the tax is levied on the 144 ounces of beverage. Continue reading

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