Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

California Health Secretary on ‘Disruptive Innovation’ of the ACA

Diana Dooley (right), Secretary of California's Health and Human Services Agency, talks with KQED's Lisa Aliferis about the Affordable Care Act at a New York Times conference at UCSF. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for New York Times)

Diana Dooley (right), Secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, talks with KQED’s Lisa Aliferis about the Affordable Care Act at a New York Times conference at UCSF. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for New York Times)

Diana Dooley is head of California’s Department of Health and Human Services and — in that role — also serves as chair of the Covered California board.

So when the New York Times came to town last week and held its Health for Tomorrow conference at UCSF, organizers invited me to interview Dooley about how the Affordable Care Act is rolling out in California.

Yes, sign-ups during the first open enrollment were strong, but in no way was Dooley claiming victory. She joked that grading is happening on a curve. “We’re not absolutely good; we’re relatively good,” she said.

Four times during our 30-minute talk, Dooley spoke of the “jury being out” on whether the ACA will ultimately be a success. She referred to coverage expansion being just one leg of the ACA’s three-legged stool. The other legs include payment and delivery reform, as well as prevention and wellness. Continue reading

Should There Be a Ban on Using Food Stamps to Buy Soda?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Banning the use of food stamps to purchase sodas and other sugary drinks could reduce both obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

‘Shift in policy could prevent 400,000 cases of obesity.’  
About one in seven Americans — more than 46 million people — currently receive food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Government surveys show that the average SNAP recipient drinks the equivalent of a little more than a can of soda a day.

Stanford researchers used two data sets, one on diet and another on price data for food, and then used simulations to estimate the effect of a ban on using SNAP funds to buy sugary beverages, including sodas and sports drinks, but excluding 100 percent fruit juices. Continue reading

Insurance Commissioner Defends Health Insurance Initiative

Dave Jones leads the California Department of Insurance. (Courtesy: Department of Insurance)

Dave Jones leads the California Department of Insurance. (Courtesy: Department of Insurance)

In this lull between the end of the first open enrollment for Covered California and the release of rates for next year — expected to be made public in July — San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club invited the state’s Commissioner of Insurance Dave Jones to talk about the state of the health care overhaul in California.

The commissioner closed his remarks by pitching for the rate review ballot initiative coming up in November. As moderator of the discussion following, I fielded several questions from the audience about the upcoming initiative. To recap the basics: If passed, the initiative would give the insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive health insurance rate increases.

The insurance commissioner already has that authority over auto, homeowner, property and casualty insurance — via voter-passed Proposition 103 back in 1988. Many voters are surprised, Jones said, to find out he cannot also reject health insurance premium increases.  He called this lack of explicit authority a “major missing piece of the Affordable Care Act.” Continue reading

Two California Counties Sue Narcotics Makers in Deceptive Marketing

Two California counties – Orange and Santa Clara — joined forces and filed a lawsuit this week against five of the largest prescription narcotics manufacturers. The Los Angeles Times summarized the case this way:

(T)he lawsuit alleges the drug companies have reaped blockbuster profits by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweighed the risks, despite “a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary.” The effort “opened the floodgates” for such drugs and “the result has been catastrophic,” the lawsuit contends.

Thursday on KQED News, Tara Siler spoke with Robert Bohrer, a professor at the California Western School of Law in San Diego. The lawsuit does not challenge the FDA approval of these drugs. Instead the case alleges that the companies broke state laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance.

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Quick Read: Another First for UCSF — First Undocumented Immigrant Medical Student

Jirayut Latthivongskorn’s parents brought him from his native Thailand to California when he was 9 years old. Years later — when his mother went to the emergency room and Jirayut had to translate — he decided he wanted to be a doctor. 

Last year, 7,308 students applied to UCSF medical school. 149 were accepted. But only one student in next year’s class is undocumented and that’s me.

Read more at:

SEIU Teams Up with California Hospitals, Withdraws Ballot Initiatives

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The California Hospital Association and Service Employees International Union say they have reached a “unique agreement” that will “change the face of healthcare in California.”

And in the process, the two ballot initiatives SEIU backed — that would have put dramatic limits on both hospital charges and CEO compensation — are being withdrawn.

The partnership was announced Tuesday morning, is effective immediately, and runs through December 31, 2017. In a long call with reporters, both sides emphasized what they called the centerpiece of the deal: a $100 million “joint advocacy fund.” Continue reading

Words Matter: To Get Kids to Help, Try Switching How You Ask

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Maanvi Singh, NPR

Motivating children to stop playing and help out with chores isn’t exactly an easy sell, as most parents and teachers will attest. But how you ask can make all the difference, psychologists say.

“Helping” versus “being a helper.”

If you say something like, “Please help me,” the kids are more likely to keep playing with their Legos. But ask them, “Please be a helper,” and they’ll be more responsive, researchers report this week in the journal Child Development.

Being called a helper makes kids feel like they’re embodying a virtue, says Christopher Bryan, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego and one of the researchers behind the study.

“It’s really important to all of us to be good people,” Bryan says. Helping is nice, but helpers are good people.

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California Senate Holds Soda-Labeling Bill Over Costs



A bill to put warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks in California is on hold for now. After clearing one committee vote earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee suspended the SB 1000 Monday, over the cost of enforcing the measure.

The proposed labels would warn people that “drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay,” and would apply to all sugary drinks that have more than 75 calories per 12 ounces.

KQED News host Mina Kim spoke with Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) Monday afternoon about the committee’s decision.

The appropriations committee made the move largely over the estimated $390,000 in enforcement costs that the state will face if the bill becomes law.  While Monning said that the committee’s decision to move the bill to the so-called suspense file is “common procedure,” the Los Angeles Times reported that Monning intends to rework the bill to reduce those costs before reintroducing it for another vote later this spring. Continue reading

Caffeine: How Our Favorite Drug Affects Us

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As I’m writing this, I’m hitting my mid-afternoon slump. And it’s Friday, no less. The time seems perfect for a cup of coffee. And now, because caffeine was the topic on KQED’s Forum this morning, I know how and why caffeine is an apparent energy booster.

And who knew it was also a natural pesticide?

“Its primary role is a simple one,” said Forum guest Murray Carpenter. He’s the author of Caffeinated and is full of facts about the “bitter white powder.” Let’s start with the biochemistry: caffeine blocks a neurotransmitter called adenosine. This is the signal that tells you that you are drowsy. When you consume caffeine, it blocks adenosine from sending the “fatigue” message. “Fully 50 percent of the receptors are blocked” after we consume caffeine, Carpenter explained, “and it’s that simple trick that allows caffeine to do its work.”

But caffeine has another role that I had never heard of: it’s a natural pesticide. If insects consume a caffeinated plant, they become paralyzed and die. Odd that it works so differently on humans.

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Obamacare: More Than 3.3 Million Californians Signed Up

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee speaking to advocates and reporters in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2013, the day the marketplace opened. Open enrollment ended Tuesday. (Angela Hart/KQED)

The final numbers are in from the first open enrollment for Covered California. The exchange closed at midnight Tuesday, an extension of two weeks from the original March 31 deadline for those who had tried to enroll but were unsuccessful for technical reasons. Officials reported Thursday that just shy of 1.4 million Californians signed up since October 1.

“The people enrolling continue to get younger, continue to get more diverse and reflect the state of California.” 
An additional 1.9 million people are newly enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for people who are low income, and several hundred thousand more people have been deemed “likely eligible” by the state. They are awaiting final determination of eligibility.

At a press conference in Sacramento Thursday morning, Peter Lee walked through some of the demographics. Covered California had drawn criticism for its flawed outreach to Latinos earlier this year, but the agency had made a “concerted effort to expand and build on outreach,” Lee said. “That hard work has paid off.”

From April 1-15, 39 percent of the sign ups were Latino, Hispanic or Latin origin. Just over 305,000 Latinos are now enrolled, just a bit under 28 percent of all enrollees. That’s up from 21 percent at the end of January. Continue reading