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

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

Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Continue reading

IUD Costs Vary by $600 in Bay Area; What Did You Pay?

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but are relatively underutilized, at least in the United States. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

If you’re one of the 62 million American women of childbearing age, we have a question for you: How much do you pay for birth control? Did you know you might be able to save perhaps hundreds of dollars on your contraceptive method, just by asking? Let’s back up. We’ve reached the halfway point in our PriceCheck project.

We’re shining a light on notoriously opaque and highly variable health care costs. We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid for common procedures including mammograms and back MRIs. We found that both screening mammograms and back MRIs could vary in price ten-fold. Now we’re moving on to a new health care service: IUDs.

We’re asking you to share what you paid for your IUD. The two most widely-used IUDs are Mirena (a hormonally-based IUD) and ParaGard (a non-hormonal product). Both are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Our PriceCheck partner, ClearHealthCosts.com, has surveyed health care providers and lists cash prices for these IUDs in our PriceCheck database. Continue reading

Using Disney Movies to Reach A Son with Autism

The family first used a scene from the movie "Aladdin" to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

The family first used a scene from the movie “Aladdin” to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

Owen Suskind was a normal toddler, learning to speak in full sentences and happily playing in the backyard with his older brother, Walt.

Owen wasn’t merely watching these movies, he was hearing them and learning through the characters.

That all changed at age 3, when Owen stopped speaking, and in the space of a single month, his entire vocabulary was reduced to one word: juice. Owen was diagnosed with late-onset regressive autism. Though his developmental trajectory was typical for children with this form of autism, this fact offered no comfort to his parents.

Today, Owen has grown into a relatively self-sufficient young man. He graduated from a college-like program for young adults on the autism spectrum and is now living semi-independently in an apartment. Continue reading