Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Cross Country from D.C. to San Francisco, Complaints About Health Costs

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork.  (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork. (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Recently, I moved from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. I drove the Southern route and decided to conduct an informal survey.

“I wish it would be cheaper mainly — more affordable.”

I asked folks I met along the way a question relevant to the health care reporting I’ve been doing for the past five years: What bugs you most about your medical care?

Few people I talked with — at gas stations, coffee shops, grocery stores, parking lots, bars and everywhere in between — even mentioned the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare by name. But I heard again and again how health policy issues I’ve been reporting on in Washington are affecting their lives.

What did I find out? Continue reading

In Humboldt County, Hupa Woman Teaches Healthy Cooking via YouTube

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms. (screen grab from YouTube)

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms.The channel is aimed at improving the health of Native Americans.  (screen grab from YouTube)

By Samantha Clark

Tucked away in far northern California, in Humboldt County, is the small community of Hoopa. With just 3,000 people, it’s the big city on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.

Like other Native American groups, the Hupa suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes. That’s where Meagan Baldy comes in. She runs the Hoopa Community Garden and sought to educate her fellow Hupa people about eating local, traditional foods. But trying to change people’s habits is never easy.

She started by offering a “farm box” – a box of free produce, whatever is in season. But people failed even to pick up their boxes. Baldy discovered that people didn’t know how to prepare most produce.

Serving the vegetables to her own family was a battle at first, so it must have been for others as well, Baldy reasoned. So, she snuck in greens and tried cooking them in creative ways. Continue reading

Privacy Law Frustrates Parents with Mentally Ill Adult Children

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

Mark, a minister who lives in the Bay Area, has not been able to communicate with doctors about his son, Scott, since Scott became an adult (Jenny Gold/ KHN).

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

The horrifying mass shooting in Isla Vista nearly two weeks ago brought up many questions: What — if anything — could parents have done to prevent the tragedy? And what did they actually know about their son’s mental illness?

‘We were shut out of the conversation.’    

A privacy law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created in part to protect patients’ information. But the law, called HIPAA for short, also presents a dilemma for families of people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. HIPAA restricts what family members can find out directly, leaving them to wonder how they can help a loved one who won’t share treatment details.

Mark, an ordained minister in Moraga, about 20 miles east of San Francisco, struggles with the problem almost every day. His son Scott, 24, has schizoaffective disorder and has been hospitalized a dozen times for the hallucinations, mania and depression that it brings. (Kaiser Health News and KQED aren’t publishing the family’s last name to protect Scott’s identity.) Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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: www.kqed.org

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.

Continue reading