Author Archives: state of health

Is Pollution From Asia Making the Central Valley’s Bad Air Even Worse?

(David McNew/Getty Images)

Advocates say the San Joaquin Valley Air District should focus on sources it can control, like farming machinery. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By Alice Daniel

California’s Central Valley grapples with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. The culprits range from its vast agriculture industry to trucks on Highway 99. But one local air district is tagging a source far away: Asia.

“The world in so many ways is getting smaller in respect to what we always thought was our own backyard issue: ozone,” says David Lighthall, the health science advisor for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Lighthall is one of the organizers of an ozone pollution conference starting Tuesday where scientists from California, China, Colorado and other places will discuss trends in global ozone.

Scientists say pollutants from fast-growing Asian countries like China are blowing across the Pacific Ocean and increasing ozone levels in vulnerable areas that include parts of California. But how much of a difference that foreign — or “transboundary” — ozone makes in the Central Valley is debatable. Continue reading

Doctors with Cancer Join California Movement for ‘Aid in Dying’

Dan Swangard, a 48-year-old physician from San Francisco, was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer. (Anna Gorman/KHN)

Dan Swangard, a 48-year-old physician from San Francisco, was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer. (Anna Gorman/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Dan Swangard knows what death looks like.

As a physician, he has seen patients die in hospitals, hooked to morphine drips and overcome with anxiety. He has watched dying drag on for weeks or months as terrified relatives stand by helplessly.

“It’s very real for me. This could be my own issue a year from now.”

Recently, however, his thoughts about how seriously ill people die have become personal. Swangard was diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of metastatic cancer.

To remove the cancer, surgeons took out parts of his pancreas and liver, as well as his entire spleen and gallbladder. The operation was successful but Swangard, 48, knows there’s a strong chance the disease will return. And if he gets to a point where there’s nothing more medicine can do, he wants to be able to control when and how his life ends.

“It’s very real for me,” said Swangard, who lives in Bolinas, Calif. “This could be my own issue a year from now.” Continue reading

Doctors Medical Center to Close in April, Barring Miracle

Stephen Scotty, who works at Doctors Medical Center's cardiac catheter lab addresses the board. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

Stephen Scotty, of Doctors Medical Center’s cardiac catheter lab, addressed the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District board Thursday night. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

By Andrew Stelzer

Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo will begin shutting its doors next month, barring an angel donor who can make up the hospital’s $18 million deficit.

The West Contra Costa County healthcare district voted Thursday night to begin giving employees two-weeks notice on April 7th, meaning operations would start winding down April 21st, and continue through June.

The hospital, which serves  the largely low-income residents of West Contra Costa County, has been in dire financial straits for almost 20 years. Voters approved parcel taxes in 2004 and 2011 to keep it afloat, but a third proposed tax in 2014 failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed.

Financial advisor Harold Emahiser said the problem is that 80 percent of the hospital’s patients are on Medicare or Medi-cal, which doesn’t pay enough for services rendered. Continue reading

Do High-Deductible Health Plans Cut Costs Now, But Backfire in Long Run?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News

Got a high-deductible health plan? The kind that doesn’t pay most medical bills until they exceed several thousand dollars? You’re a foot soldier who’s been drafted in the war against high health costs.

People with high deductible plans are foot soldiers in the war against high health costs.  

Companies that switch workers into high-deductible plans can reap enormous savings, consultants will tell you — and not just by making employees pay more. Total costs paid by everybody — employer, employee and insurance company — tend to fall in the first year or rise more slowly when consumers have more at stake at the health-care checkout counter whether or not they’re making medically wise choices.

Consumers with high deductibles sometimes skip procedures, think harder about getting treatment and shop for lower prices when they do seek care.

What nobody knows is whether such plans, also sold to individuals and families through the health law’s online exchanges, will backfire. If people choose not to have important preventive care and end up needing an expensive hospital stay years later as a result, everybody is worse off. Continue reading

Millions Need to Be On Alert for Medi-Cal Renewal

(Screen shot of California's Department of Health Care Services website)

(Screen shot of California’s Department of Health Care Services website)

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

I spend the majority of my time (and space) writing about the new state health insurance exchange, Covered California.

But the behemoth in California’s Affordable Care Act implementation is Medi-Cal, the state’s decades-old version of the federal Medicaid program, which provides publicly funded insurance to low-income residents.

About 12 million Californians are in Medi-Cal now. That’s roughly one in three state residents. By comparison, about 1.4 million Californians are enrolled in Covered California.

Given its size, Medi-Cal’s annual renewal process is now one of its greatest challenges. Continue reading

Depression Takes Growing Toll on American Workplace

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Lisa Gillespie, Kaiser Health News

For every dollar spent on treating depression, nearly five dollars more is spent on related medical conditions like back and chest pain, sleep disorders and migraines. Depression can also lead to lost productivity, placing a greater financial burden on businesses and the health care system, according to new research measuring the economic impact of depression.

Average worker with major depression loses the productivity of 32 days a year.

“The fact that they’re finding such greater costs with all these different [related conditions] underscores how the fragmented system is not helpful for our economy because people with mental illness are not getting the rounded health care they need,” said Lynn Bufka, with the American Psychological Association, who was not affiliated with the study.

The total cost to the U.S. economy of major depressive disorder rose to $210 billion in 2010, up more than 20 percent from $173 billion in 2008. Continue reading

California Needs More Primary Care Docs, But Residency Slots Threatened

Dr. Peter Broderick of  Doctors Medical Center in Modesto examines a patient's x-ray while family practice medical residents look on. (Rebecca Plevin/KVPR)

Dr. Peter Broderick of Doctors Medical Center in Modesto examines a patient’s x-ray while family practice medical residents look on. (Rebecca Plevin/KVPR)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

Today is a huge day for graduating medical students. It’s Match Day — the day they find out where they’re going for residency programs — the training years between medical school and practice.

In California, there are 140 residency slots every year in the family practice specialty. That number may diminish, given the pending loss of four funding sources designed to encourage California medical students to join family-practice residencies, particularly in underserved areas of the state.

According to Del Morris, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, California faces a loss of $50 million from the end of these four programs: Continue reading

State Lawmakers Investigating High Health Costs

stethoscope and dollar

(Getty Images)

By Rebecca Plevin, KPCC

Last spring, KPCC, KQED and ClearHealthCosts.com teamed up and started a conversation about health costs in California.

We knew a growing number of people wanted to shop around for affordable mammogramsMRI’s and other procedures. But it was nearly impossible to discover the costs. As part of our project, called #PriceCheck, we invited you to share what you paid for certain procedures. In the process, we began building a database of health costs.

On Wednesday, the California State Senate Committee on Health picked up that conversation.

During a hearing at the state Capitol, doctors, researchers and consumers told lawmakers that despite the federal health care law, health costs are still a barrier to care. Continue reading

Why Insulin Is So Expensive in the U.S.

A nurse in 1938 checks the amount of insulin in a needle. For many decades, the only insulin available to people with diabetes came from the pancreases of cattle or pigs. Insulin from animals is still available outside the U.S. — and cheaper than a recombinant DNA version. (Bettmann/Corbis)

A nurse in 1938 checks the amount of insulin in a needle. For many decades, the only insulin available to people with diabetes came from the pancreases of cattle or pigs. Insulin from animals is still available outside the U.S. — and cheaper than a recombinant DNA version. (Bettmann/Corbis)

By Anders Kelto, NPR

Dr. Jeremy Greene sees a lot of patients with diabetes that’s out of control.

More than 90 years after insulin was developed, there are no low-cost options available today.

In fact, he says, sometimes their blood sugar is “so high that you can’t even record the number on their glucometer.”

Greene, a professor of medicine and history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, started asking patients at his clinic in Baltimore why they had so much trouble keeping their blood sugar stable. He was shocked by their answer: the high cost of insulin.

Greene decided to call some local pharmacies, to ask about low-cost options. He was told no such options existed. Continue reading

Low Vaccination Rates Helped Stoke Disneyland Measles Outbreak

Five Disney staff members are among California's cases. (David McNew/Getty Images)

(David McNew/Getty Images)

By Scott Hensley, NPR

California has been dealing with a big measles outbreak since December, when cases emerged among visitors to Disneyland.

Measles spread quickly afterward. As of Friday, the state had confirmed 133 measles cases among residents since December.

Of the people who got sick — and for whom the state could determine vaccination status — 57 people hadn’t been vaccinated against measles and 20 people had had at least one shot of the vaccine.

Researchers analyzed the California outbreak data as well as information gleaned from news reports and the Internet to figure out how big a factor the lack of vaccination was. The short answer, as you might have guessed, is big. Continue reading