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

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.

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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

Field Poll Shows Support Slipping for Two Health Propositions

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

A new Field Poll shows voter support dropping for two propositions on the November ballot.

Prop. 45 would give the state insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate hikes. Support has dropped from 69 percent early in the summer to 41 percent in the current poll. Twenty-six percent are opposed and 33 percent are undecided.

Prop. 46 would require drug testing of doctors and increase the cap on pain and suffering awards in medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Early this summer, support stood at 58 percent; today it is 34 percent, with 30 percent opposed and 29 percent undecided.

“This current poll is relatively big news on Prop. 46. I don’t think its chances of passage are all that great,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told the San Francisco Chronicle. He added that it’s harder to predict what might happen with Prop. 45. Continue reading

Details of Autism Benefits — Like Provider Rates — Coming After Rollout

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, CaliforniaHealthline

At the first stakeholder meeting last week to review California’s new autism Medi-Cal coverage, state health officials said many details have yet to be worked out. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.

New benefits, which include coverage of applied behavior analysis — also known as ABA therapy — begin next week.

Department of Health Care Services officials said many details — including the crucial figure of what the reimbursement rates will be — still need to be worked out. Rates will be discussed at the next stakeholder meeting Oct. 16, officials said. Continue reading

Stanford Terminates Anthem’s Contract; Anthem Uses KQED Data to Cite Stanford’s Cost

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The Anthem Blue Cross headquarters in Woodland Hills, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Effective Monday at 12:01a.m., Stanford Health Care terminated its contract with Anthem Blue Cross. Anthem says that roughly 10,000 of its policyholders have used Stanford services in the last year.

In a statement, Anthem said it had requested that “Stanford agree to a two-week extension of the terminated contract at existing rates.” Both parties say negotiations are ongoing.

Stanford had notified the insurer on Feb. 28, Anthem says, that it intended to terminate the contract.

The sticking point appears to be the duration of the contract. Both sides say that they reached agreement on rates for a two-year contract, but Stanford seeks a three-year contract. Because no agreement has been reached on the third year, and because Stanford did not extend its current contract, no contract is in force. Continue reading

Stanford Health Care Terminates Anthem Blue Cross Contract

As many as 10,000 patients may be affected by Stanford Health Care's termination of its contract with Anthem Blue Cross. (Robert Skolmen/Wikimedia Commons)

As many as 10,000 patients may be affected by Stanford Health Care’s termination of its contract with Anthem Blue Cross. (Robert Skolmen/Wikimedia Commons)

Stanford Hospital and Clinics — now known as Stanford Health Care — is ending its contract with Anthem Blue Cross effective Sunday night at midnight. The move could affect 10,000 patients.

According to both Stanford and Anthem spokespersons the two sides had reached agreement on a two-year contract. But Stanford seeks a third year; Anthem does not. The two parties could not come to terms as of Friday, so there is no new contract.

Stanford said the current contract ends Sunday, and since they do not have a deal for a new contract, they opted to terminate.

But, Anthem sees the termination of the contract as unnecessary. “Nothing compels (Stanford) to terminate on Sunday night,” said Anthem spokesman Darrel Ng. Continue reading

How Will Your Hospital Fare in the Next Earthquake?

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

One thing about an earthquake: It focuses the mind.

In the wake of the Aug. 24 South Napa Quake, I became focused on hospital safety.

Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa sustained only minor damage from the earthquake — falling items and leaks. A statement released 13 hours after the earthquake said that “(n)one of these issues have prevented the hospital from triaging and treating patients. Queen of the Valley remains operational and continues to be able to accept and treat patients.” 

Legislation passed 20 years ago, in the wake of the Northridge earthquake, seeks to make Queen of the Valley’s performance the norm for hospitals statewide after a major earthquake. That 1994 legislation was itself an update to the 1973 Seismic Safety Act, which in turn was written in the wake of the Sylmar earthquake when several hospitals collapsed. Continue reading