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

California Catholic Leadership Challenges State Abortion Order

 Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in July. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Associated Press — California’s Catholic leadership has filed a federal civil rights complaint over a state requirement that health insurance cover abortions.

The California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops and archbishops, sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It contends that California’s Department of Managed Health Care discriminated against those morally opposed to abortion and requests an investigation.

The complaint is under review, said Rachel Seeger, spokeswoman for the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights.

The state agency didn’t immediately comment. Continue reading

Shining Light on the Cost of Diabetes Test Strips

(Victor/via Flickr)

Test strips — the white strip in the photo above — vary dramatically both in cash price and in insurance coverage. (Victor/via Flickr)

Since early this summer, KQED and our partners, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com, have been crowdsourcing the costs of common health care procedures.

‘Every time someone moves to a new insurer, the pricing will be very different on test strips. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown.’

If you’re one of the 29 million people in America who has diabetes, we’re turning now to you. We know that many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar, also called glucose, level several times a day.

For those of you who don’t have diabetes, the reason for frequent checking is because in diabetes, sugar can build up in the bloodstream because the body is not able to process it. That can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the disease, many people with diabetes must check their glucose level several times a day to make sure it is neither dangerously high nor dangerously low.

To check their blood sugar, people with diabetes have a glucose meter. Each time they test their blood, a test strip is inserted into the meter. Then they use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter displays the result. Continue reading

Governor Signs Bill Giving $3 Million to Doctors Medical Center

State officials have until Monday to submit plan. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill giving $3 million to financially troubled Doctors Medical Center in western Contra Costa County. The hospital has been in danger of closing for weeks.

SB883 appropriates the money from the state’s Major Risk Medical Insurance Fund to the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which oversees Doctors Medical Center. It is considered “bridge funding,” according to a release from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), an author of the bill, so that the hospital and health care district have time to identify more secure funding.

“Doctors Medical Center is the safety net hospital for Richmond, San Pablo and other West Contra County communities. Its closure would leave a community in need without emergency care, cardio, dialysis and other critical hospital services,” Skinner said in a statement.
Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

Marijuana Legalization Move Begins (Again) in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, took the first formal steps Wednesday toward a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California.

The group officially filed papers with the secretary of state to register a new committee, the Marijuana Policy Project of California. The registration allows the committee to start soliciting and spending funds.

Ballot language will not be drafted until early 2015, but the goal is to regulate pot in a similar way to alcohol, the group says. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

Continue reading

SF Supervisor Proposes Funding Better Access to HIV Preventive Drug

The FDA panel approved Truvada, an antiretroviral drug for use by healthy people to prevent HIV infection. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

Truvada is a drug approved by the FDA to prevent infection with HIV. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Heather Boerner

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos announced Thursday that he would introduce a supplemental budget request at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday for $807,000 to help bring a treatment to prevent HIV infection to those who could benefit from it. The treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, consists of taking Truvada, an antiretroviral drug, every day. If the request is approved, San Francisco will follow the state of Washington in providing drug assistance for PrEP.

The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections. Dr. Robert Grant, a professor at UCSF’s Gladstone Institute and a lead researcher in determining the efficacy of Truvada in preventing HIV infection, said at a hearing at City Hall Thursday that informal estimates suggest that if just 6,000 San Franciscans at high risk for HIV infection were to take Truvada, the number of new infections in the city might drop from about 400 a year to 50..

Today, fewer than 1,000 San Franciscans are taking Truvada for HIV prevention. Continue reading

State Health Officials Say Enterovirus Now Sickening Children in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

State health officials have confirmed that a strain of virus that has been causing respiratory illness in children in other parts of the country is now spreading in California.

Four children — three in San Diego County and one in Ventura — have recently been discharged from the hospital after contracting enterovirus D68.

In a call Thursday afternoon with reporters, officials with the California Department of Public Health said that after a Centers for Disease Control warning earlier this month to be on alert for cases, the agency called for hospitals to send specimens from any children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness. That testing uncovered the four cases. Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Covered California Launches 2015 Outreach Campaign

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)

Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, kicked off its marketing and outreach campaign Monday for the upcoming 2015 open enrollment period. Officials say they forecast enrolling 1.7 million people, about 500,000 more than are presently signed up.

Peter Lee, the agency’s executive director, acknowledged the work ahead. “It won’t be easy,” he said. “In many ways, it will be harder than last year.”

For starters, the next open enrollment runs three months compared to last year’s six month period when more than three million people signed up either for Covered California or to Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Continue reading