Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, would have no negative effect on jobs, a new study shows. In fact, there would be a small increase, researchers estimate.
A team led by Lisa Powell, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, analyzed the effect of a 20 percent tax on sugar-swettened beverages. That works out to a little more than a penny-per-ounce. They looked at the impact in two states: Illinois and California.
“Effectively we found that there was pretty much zero change in jobs, zero net effect,” Powell told me in an interview. Continue reading
More evidence is in this week that casts doubt on the value of mammograms. To recap: Canadian researchers followed nearly 90-thousand women since the 1980s. The women were randomly assigned to mammography or physical breast exam. Now 25 years later, the researchers say that roughly equal numbers of women in each group died of breast cancer — mammography, according to this study, is not affecting the death rate at all.
In addition, mammography comes with harms. More than 1 in 5 cancers found in the mammography group were not ones that pose a threat to women’s health, the researchers say. Doctors call this “overdiagnosis.” This is a problem because the treatments for cancer are aggressive — surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy — and can cause harms in and of themselves. “There is no question that there is an excess in the diagnosis of tumors that are not going to kill you,” Dr. Laura Esserman, head of the UC San Francisco breast care center, told me, “We all know this phenomenon exists, but this quantifies it.”
Those are the headlines. Thursday morning, KQED’s Forum got into more detail. I was particularly interested in two points the guests made. The first was about new approaches to screening and the second was about screening as distinguished from prevention. Continue reading
It’s been about six weeks since a half-million people saw their Covered California health insurance plan take effect. And in that time, those who have needed care have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of finding a provider who will accept their insurance.
Let’s start with people who are dealing with some significant challenges.
I’ve been following Sue Kearney of Oakland. After confirming her doctors would take the insurance, she enrolled in an Anthem Blue Cross subsidized PPO plan with Covered California last fall. Then she scheduled appointments for early January. She has ongoing chronic health issues, and the thing she said she needs most is a colonoscopy.
But at her first appointment, she was told that the doctor did not accept any Covered California insurance. Ditto for the other doctors. Kearney set up a screen share with me, logged into her account and confirmed for me that doctors showed up as accepting her insurance, but the office said they didn’t when she called them. Ultimately, Kearney was referred to a specific customer service representative with Anthem Blue Cross to help her find an in-network doctor to perform her colonoscopy. I promised to check back in.
The NuvaRing birth control product is a flexible ring which releases hormones. A woman replaces it herself once a month. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Merck, the drug company that makes the NuvaRing birth control product, announced last week it will pay $100 million to settle thousands of claims from women who believe they were harmed by using the product.
As NPR reported Monday, NuvaRing is the most recent hormone-based kind of birth control to “become the focus of scrutiny.” All hormone-based contraceptives, including the pill, put a woman at increased risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack. Women need to weigh the risks of pregnancy with the risks of hormonal contraception, experts advise. But the key thing to remember is that the risks remain rare.
Dr. Michael Policar is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at U.C. San Francisco. ”If you take a rare event, make it a little more common, it is still a rare event,” he told NPR — but still believes that studies are needed that compare NuvaRing head-to-head with other forms of contraception. Continue reading
Update February 21, 2014: The California Department of Public Health says 278 people have died of flu so far this year, and an additional 29 deaths are under investigation. While cases have been declining for a few weeks, state health officials still recommend people get vaccinated, if they haven’t already.
State health officials have released the latest numbers on flu deaths — 202 people have died so far this year and that’s up from 147 last week. That’s the bad news, but for the first time since early January, health officials are also saying that cases appear to be declining. At least for now. Flu season generally runs three months and is “notoriously unpredictable,” said Dr. James Watt, with the California Department of Public Heatlh and recommended that everyone got vaccinated.
Here at State of Health, we’ve noticed that a lot of the same questions come up again and again. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some answers.
1. Is the flu shot really the best way I can avoid getting the flu? In a word, yes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says “the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.” And you need to get it annually. While everyone over age 6 months should have it, CDC says, it’s especially important for people in high risk groups including:
- People with certain underlying medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease and obesity
- Children under age 5 and adults over age 65
- Pregnant women — yes, pregnant women, the vaccine is safe and effective for you, CDC says. Continue reading
The issue of how often a woman should be screened for breast cancer has been a topic of hot debate for years. But of the many different issues that are closely examined, cost is rarely among them.
Even mentioning cost typically gets patients somewhat understandably up in arms — no one wants her life to be determined by mere dollars.
But what if those dollars are being spent poorly? The harms of mammograms are well-known — false positives and overtreatment among them. What if reconsidering what we’re doing and how we’re doing it could actually lead to more lives saved?
Into the fray comes an analysis from several researchers, including Dr. Laura Esserman, a breast cancer surgeon with UCSF. They calculated the costs for screening mammography in the U.S. under different scenarios. Continue reading
If you’re like most of my colleagues in the newsroom, you read that headline and thought, “GREAT! What is the alternative test?!”
Here’s the quick background: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer killer in the U.S. A colonoscopy is an excellent screening tool. But more than one-third of people who are supposed to get it (that’s people ages 50-75) don’t.
Why? I think you can guess.
A colonoscopy is an invasive screening test that can involve missing one to two days of work, an inconvenient preparation process and then a “colonoscope is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen,” the American Cancer Society says. Continue reading
Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
As I think pretty much everyone must know by now, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday, apparently of a heroin overdose. I was stunned when I found out, then deeply saddened when I read reports that he had told “60 Minutes” in 2006 that he had given up drugs and alcohol when he was 22 — “I got panicked for my life,” he told Steve Kroft. Hoffman relapsed last year.
But my sadness turned to a kind of cold fury when I saw too many comments on social media clucking disapproval for Hoffman’s “selfishness” and “poor choices.” (I’m not linking to them here; you can find them easily enough if you want to.) One friend on Facebook noted that another friend’s thread about Hoffman was the only one he’d seen acknowledging “the tragedy of his drug addiction.”
And, indeed, addiction is a disease. Dr. David Smith has treated thousands of addicts since he founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in 1967. He talked to me about “battling an uninformed public.” Continue reading
(David McNew/Getty Images)
By Sara Hossaini
Just two days after President Obama called for voting reforms, the National Commission on Voting Rights met in San Francisco to get an overview of elections and voting in the U.S.
The hearing is part of a national fact-finding effort that will inform a report to be presented to the U.S. congress in the spring addressing barriers to voter participation across the country.
So what’s a voting rights story doing on a health blog? Thursday’s panels and public testimony included voter rights advocates who say Covered California is falling down on its legal duty to give users an opportunity to register to vote. The 1993 “motor voter act” requires that any agency that provides public assistance, including the DMV — and now, Covered California — offer voter registration to the public. Continue reading
Covered California says that yesterday was the deadline to pay your February premiums. But some of California’s biggest insurers have extended their deadlines.
Here are new dates for three major carriers:
- Blue Shield: deadline is Friday, Feb. 14 for people who signed up for coverage starting Feb. 1.
- HealthNet: For people who signed up for coverage beginning Feb. 1, you have until Feb 15 to make your first premium payment. You can pay by phone. Continue reading