Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

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

San Francisco’s Elderly Chinese Suffer from Nursing Home Closure

Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital closed in February. (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital was home to 35 elderly Chinese immigrants. Only two found a new place in San Francisco. Some have passed away since the move.  (Vinnie Tong/KQED)

By Vinnee Tong

Too often people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about who’s going to take care of them at the end of their life.

It’s not hard to imagine why: It’s scary and stirs up all kinds of emotion.

People appreciated Mission Bay because it was familiar, geared to its Chinese-speaking residents.

At the same time, financial pressures can make the whole topic even harder to deal with. For starters, if you need a bed in a home with full-time care, the decent ones are hard to find and cost a lot.

That’s why the closure of one small place in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood is being felt so acutely. The Mission Bay Convalescent Hospital served a community of elderly Chinese, most of whom didn’t speak English. Now the building’s been sold, its occupants scattered, and the city’s supply of affordable nursing home beds is even smaller. Continue reading

Your Doctor’s Skill at Colonoscopy May Reduce Your Later Colon Cancer Risk

If you’re going to go to the trouble of having a colonoscopy, you’d probably prefer that you get as much as you can out of the screening test. A new study this week shows that a doctor’s rate of finding and removing adenomas — these are pre-cancerous growths — is linked to the patient’s lower risk of developing colon cancer later.

For every 1 percent increase in adenoma detection there was a 3 percent decrease a person’s colon cancer risk. 

Colonoscopy is one of the recommended screening tests for colon cancer. Yet doctors have differing rates at how often they find these adenomas. This is the first study in the U.S. to look at the association between finding adenomas and later cancer risk, as part of a national review funded by the National Cancer Institute. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the study, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California reviewed more than 300,000 colonoscopies performed by 136 gastroenterologists between 1998 and 2010. Continue reading

Why is Fort Hood Shooter’s ‘Mental Health’ Constantly Reported?

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Television news live trucks at the front gate of Fort Hood, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

To state the obvious, the shooting at Fort Hood is a tragedy. But in press reports the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, cannot be mentioned without reference to his recent evaluation and treatment for mental health issues.

As NPR correctly points out, the fact of the shooter’s treatment could not have predicted that the violent event would have occurred. Worse, the press reports wrongly scare people into thinking that mental illness is easily linked to violent behavior.

It’s not. From NPR:

One national survey in 2006 found that most Americans — 60 percent — believed people with schizophrenia were likely to be violent. But the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders are not violent. In fact, another study found they are far more likely to be the victims of violence, and that 1 in 4 experience violence every year. Continue reading

Covered California Now Above 1.2 Million Enrollees — with More Coming

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from, the website of Covered California.

Covered California executive director Peter Lee testified before Congress Thursday morning. He used his 5-minutes to give a quick recap of what’s gone right on the nation’s biggest state-based exchange.

First, Lee released numbers of where Covered California stands as of Monday, the day open enrollment formally ended (although those who could not finish due to technical problems have until April 15 to finish):

  • 1.2 million people enrolled in Covered California
  • 1.9 million newly-enrolled in Medi-Cal
  • 800,000 people are likely eligible for Medi-Cal but waiting to be confirmed

“This is close to four million Californians,” Lee told the House Committee on Oversight Government Reform. “As of three days ago, California had brought coverage to more than 50 percent of those subsidy-eligible in the exchange.” Continue reading

Why Some Don’t Pay Their Covered California Premium: It’s Not What You Think

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new analysis finds that many people who signed up for a Covered California plan are likely to drop the coverage for a good reason: they found insurance elsewhere.

Researchers at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center released estimates Wednesday showing that about 20 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to leave the program because they found a job that offers health insurance. Another 20 percent will see their incomes fall and become eligible for Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income.

In addition to the 40 percent of enrollees who move to Medi-Cal or job-based insurance, between 2 and 8 percent of those who sign up for Covered California are estimated to become uninsured, the analysis noted.

20 percent of Covered California enrollees are estimated to move to job-based insurance over the year.
This process — “churn” to those who study health insurance — is well-known in the Medi-Cal and individual insurance market.

Between 53 and 58 percent of Covered California enrollees are expected to stay in a Covered California plan for 12 months, according to the report. This analysis is consistent with a Kaiser Family Foundation study published earlier this year which found that of people who enrolled in an individual insurance plan in 2010, about 48 percent were still in the individual market two years later. Continue reading

Covered California Disables Part of Site to Handle Traffic

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. (Angela Hart/KQED)

Update 7pm: Covered California extended the deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan — with some caveats.

Original Post:

Covered California is seeing “truly unprecedented enrollment,” says executive director Peter Lee. Sunday was the busiest day ever — that includes the days before the last big deadline in December. Just over 500,000 people enrolled in a Covered California plan by Dec 31, 2013. Covered California had reached the 1 million mark earlier in March. More than 1.2 million people had signed up for a plan as of 2am Monday morning. Nearly 400,000 people started applications in the last week.

To help keep the website running in the face of the surging traffic, Covered California is taking parts of it that don’t have to do specifically with enrollment offline. The “preview plans” function is being disabled, although people can still use “shop and compare.”

If traffic gets very high, individuals might find themselves logged out once they have started their application — but before they have picked a health insurance plan. “We know that’s not ideal, but we want to make sure the people that want to enroll can get in the system,” Lee says. Continue reading