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

Blue Shield, Sutter Impasse About More Than Money

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Contract breakdowns between insurance companies and health care providers are nothing new and often blow over after public posturing. But the current failure of Blue Shield and Sutter Health to come to terms on a new contract may be harder to resolve. That’s because the main issues appear to be about much more than money.

To the average patient, a request to arbitrate disputes doesn’t sound like a big deal. But this is different.
While the negotiations grind on, more than 250,000 people in individual and family plans are waiting to see what happens. The contract between Blue Shield and Sutter terminated on Dec. 31.

To be sure, money is a factor. Sutter says that Blue Shield is “demanding reductions in what they pay our organization … that would have a devastating impact,” said Bill Gleeson, a spokesman for Sutter. He says Sutter has asked for “less than a 1 percent increase.”

But Blue Shield claims Sutter is pushing the insurer to accept “new and unprecedented contractual provisions,” says Steven Shivinsky, spokesman for Blue Shield. Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Cases Now at 26

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The number of measles cases linked to having visited Disneyland parks in mid-December has climbed to 22 in California, according to state data. There are four more cases in other states — two in Utah and one each in Colorado and Washington.

While the incubation period for people who visited the parks between Dec. 17-20 ended on Jan. 10 — meaning that anyone who was at Disneyland in that time frame would have gotten sick by now — the Los Angeles Times is reporting that an unvaccinated, infected woman took two flights after she became ill.

The woman was in her 20s, the TImes reported, had visited Disneyland in December and became ill on Dec. 28.  Continue reading

Gov. Brown: ‘Not A Lot Left in Budget’ to Cover Undocumented

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his $164.7 billion budget proposal Friday and while health figures big, the governor also stopped short of funding some key advocacy goals.

For starters, there’s no money set aside in the budget to provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants. The “Health for All Act” was re-introduced in December, after falling short in the legislature last year. But when Brown was asked specifically about covering the undocumented, he said “There’s not a lot of money left in the budget. … It’s very tight.”

Then there are the million undocumented immigrants in California estimated to be eligible for deferred action under President Obama’s executive order. Advocates say that these immigrants, once approved for deferred action, become eligible for Medi-Cal, as long as they qualify by income. Continue reading

Nine Measles Cases Tied to Disneyland Parks

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

Nine people who visited Disneyland or Disneyland California Adventure Park during December have confirmed measles cases, state health officials said Wednesday. Seven of the patients live in California and two live in Utah.

State and county health officers are investigating an additional four suspected cases, two in Utah and two in California. All the patients visited the parks in Orange County between Dec.15-20, California Department of Public Health officials said.

“If you have symptoms, and believe you may have been exposed, please contact your health care provider,” Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer, said in a statement. “The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated.” Continue reading

Brown on Health Coverage: “Right Thing to Do. But It Isn’t Free.”

Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in as California governor for the fourth time. (Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio)

Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in as California governor for the fourth time. (Andrew Nixon/Capital Public Radio)

Jerry Brown was sworn into his fourth term as governor of California Monday morning. In a wide-ranging inaugural address (that doubled as a State of the State address), he included some brief remarks about the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s the text of what he said:

Along with education, health and human services constitute a major part of what state government does. And in the past few years we have made massive commitments in this area, which will require increasing levels of spending, the full extent of which is not yet known. For example, two years ago California embraced the Affordable Care Act, dramatically increasing its health insurance coverage under the Medi-Cal program. The state will enroll 12.2 million people during this new budget year, a more than 50 percent increase.

Providing the security of health coverage to so many Californians who need it is the right thing to do. But it isn’t free. Although the federal government will temporarily foot much of the bill, new state costs – now and more so in the future – will run into the billions.

Before we take a deeper look at his statements about Medi-Cal, let’s go back a year ago to last year’s budget. Then, Brown’s budget proposal included an additional $670 million for Medi-Cal, at least in part because of the expected additional costs due the expansion of Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps more importantly, “The Medi-Cal caseload is expected to be approximately 24 percent of the state’s total population,” the governor said when he released last year’s budget.

Speed forward a year. Obamacare sign-ups surged in California during 2014 and outstripped all estimates. Specifically in Medi-Cal, it’s not 24 percent of the population that is covered by the program, it’s closer to 33 percent.

While the ACA  pays for 100 percent of the people who are newly eligible for Medi-Cal, many people who signed up in 2014 were already eligible before the ACA expansion. They just had not enrolled. With all the hoopla around the ACA, plenty of those previously-eligible people signed up. Many refer to this as the “woodwork” effect.

Estimates are of the 2.4 million people who signed up for Medi-Cal by Mar. 31, about 800,000 of them were previously eligible. The federal government funds those people at the non-expansion rate of 50 precent. That’s why in the May revision of his budget, Gov. Brown included an additional $1.2 billion to fund the caseload.

Brown closed his brief remarks about health with a remark about the state’s costs “in the future.” The federal government is funding 100 percent of the Medi-Cal expansion only through 2016. Come 2017, the match will start to drift down and ultimately end at 90 percent. Yes, this is still a generous federal outlay. But 10 percent of billions of dollars is a lot of money.

The governor is expected to release his budget proposal on Friday.

Top 5 Stories on State of Health in 2014

President Obama took a victory lap on Apr. 1 as the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act came to a close and millions had signed up. A story about the ACA was in State of Health's top five posts this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama took a victory lap on Apr. 1 as the first open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act came to a close and millions had signed up. A story about the ACA was in State of Health’s top five posts this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been a big year in health: the launch of the Affordable Care Act, an ongoing Ebola epidemic and the first soda tax in the country, passed by Berkeley voters.

Here on State of Health, all those stories got plenty of attention from you, the readers. But the Top 5 might surprise you. We crunched the numbers and here are the posts that netted the most views this year.

1) What Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Tragic Death Teaches Us About Addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' in Los Angeles, California, last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ in Los Angeles, California, last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

We all know the sad details. In February, Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. He had been an addict as a young man, but given up drugs and alcohol at 22. His relapse cost him his life. But what troubled me most after his death were the heartless social media attacks about his “selfishness” and “poor choices.” Continue reading

How Much Drinking Causes A Hangover?

(ckelly/Flickr)

(ckelly/Flickr)

Editor’s Note: this story originally ran Dec. 30, 2013.

Medically, the condition is called “veisalgia” — from the Norwegian kveis or “uneasiness following debauchery,” and the Greek algia, otherwise known as “pain.”

But you probably just call it a hangover.

The helpful PR coordinators at the American College of Physicians resent information about a review, published back in 2000, titled simply The Alcohol Hangover. “More than 4700 articles have been written about alcohol intoxication (from 1965 to 1999), but only 108 have addressed alcohol hangover,” the researchers, all at UC San Francisco at the time, wrote.

But you probably don’t care about how much research has been done, you just want to know how many drinks cause a hangover. Continue reading

New Health Laws Set to Take Effect in California

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The new year will bring in hundreds of new laws in California, including a landmark law that permits undocumented individuals to obtain a driver’s license and another requiring that all eggs sold in California come from chickens living in bigger spaces.

Many of those new laws have to deal with health. Some take effect on Jan. 1, others in July. Here’s a look at some of them:

Assisted Living Homes: A new law increases 100-fold the top fine for violations of state regulations by assisted living facilities for the elderly. The fine is jumping from a mere $150 to $15,000. AB2236 takes effect July 1 and was part of a package of bills signed by the governor that tighten state oversight of the 7,500 assisted living homes in California. It’s the most significant overhaul of the industry in almost 30 years. Continue reading

Dieting Done Right: Healthy Weight-Loss Strategies

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Oh yes, this is it: the last few days of the holidays, meaning that after midnight Wednesday, when the New Year rings in, several tens of millions of Americans will start thinking about how to take off the pounds they started putting on back in November — or before that.

When I googled “diet” just now, I got more results than there are people in this country. No surprise that weight loss is pretty much “everyone’s No. 1 resolution,” said Dr. Jennifer Slovis, who leads the weight management program at Kaiser Oakland. She joined a discussion about weight loss on KQED’s Forum Monday morning.

The first thing they did on the show was dispatch the idea that fad diets can work for you long term. “We really only support evidence-based therapies,” said Katie Ferraro, a registered dietitian and professor at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing. “Unfortunately, those are kind of boring: ‘Eat less and exercise more’ are not the sexiest messages out there.”

While you should avoid fad diets, the Forum guests all agreed that individuals have flexibility in how they get to “eating less and exercising more.” Continue reading

FDA Proposes Lifting Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a policy change that would end a 31-year ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The ban was put in place at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when little was understood about the disease. Under the proposed change, gay men who have not had sexual contact in a year would be allowed to donate blood.

In a statement, the FDA said that “it will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.” Officials say the change is motivated by research. Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom already have similar policies in place.

The FDA has been considering the move for some time. Earlier this month, Ryan James Yezak with the National Gay Blood Drive told KQED that he thought that any ban was discriminatory, but said that the move toward one year, instead of a lifetime ban, was a step in the right direction. Continue reading