Tests & Treatments

Information and new research about advances in discovering and treating diseases and conditions.

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Shining Light on the Cost of Diabetes Test Strips

(Victor/via Flickr)

Test strips — the white strip in the photo above — vary dramatically both in cash price and in insurance coverage. (Victor/via Flickr)

Since early this summer, KQED and our partners, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com, have been crowdsourcing the costs of common health care procedures.

‘Every time someone moves to a new insurer, the pricing will be different on test strips. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown.’

If you’re one of the 29 million people in America who has diabetes, we’re turning now to you. We know that many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar, also called glucose, level several times a day.

For those of you who don’t have diabetes, the reason for frequent checking is because in diabetes, sugar can build up in the bloodstream because the body is not able to process it. That can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the disease, many people with diabetes must check their glucose level several times a day to make sure it is neither dangerously high nor dangerously low.

To check their blood sugar, people with diabetes have a glucose meter. Each time they test their blood, a test strip is inserted into the meter. Then they use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter displays the result. Continue reading

Video: Why the New Autism Benefit Is So Important to Medi-Cal Families

By Jeremy Raff

Effective this week, Medi-Cal now covers a key autism therapy, and some 12,000 kids stand to benefit statewide. One of the children who will benefit is Timothy Wilson, a bubbly 6-year-old who will now be able to get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income. ABA is the clinical standard of care for autism.

Timothy was 2 when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t say mama, didn’t say dada,” says his mother, Jazzmon Wilson. He threw tantrums and hardly made eye contact. “You just see all your dreams go by the wayside.”

The Wilsons enrolled him in the Regional Center of the East Bay, where children under 3 receive state-funded services. He began ABA therapy, which breaks down everyday skills into bite-sized, learnable portions, then uses repetition, memorization and rewards to reinforce or discourage behaviors. Parents learn to lead their child in the therapy as well. In the video, Jazzmon works with Timothy — or Bubba as she calls him. Seeing him now, it’s hard to believe how affected he was at a younger age. Continue reading

Students Struggle to Access Mental Health Services on UC Campuses

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. In the last six years, the number of students seeking health at counseling centers has increased 37 percent across the UC system. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students throughout the University of California system are having trouble accessing mental health care, and health services directors are raising alarms that increased staffing and funding could be warranted to meet demand.

“The increased need for mental health services on our campuses is outstripping our ability to provide those services,” said Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services for the University of California. “It is a major problem. It’s not only a problem for UC, this is a national issue.”

In the last six years, the number of students seeking help at university counseling centers has increased 37 percent, according to data presented at UC Regents board meeting on Thursday.

“This is real. Students are having difficulty accessing mental health services on campus,” said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Self-Insured Health Plans. “They’re waiting longer to get an appointment. They’re having fewer appointments within the course of therapy, and more are needing to be referred off campus.” Continue reading

SF Supervisor Proposes Funding Better Access to HIV Preventive Drug

The FDA panel approved Truvada, an antiretroviral drug for use by healthy people to prevent HIV infection. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

Truvada is a drug approved by the FDA to prevent infection with HIV. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Heather Boerner

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos announced Thursday that he would introduce a supplemental budget request at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday for $807,000 to help bring a treatment to prevent HIV infection to those who could benefit from it. The treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, consists of taking Truvada, an antiretroviral drug, every day. If the request is approved, San Francisco will follow the state of Washington in providing drug assistance for PrEP.

The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections. Dr. Robert Grant, a professor at UCSF’s Gladstone Institute and a lead researcher in determining the efficacy of Truvada in preventing HIV infection, said at a hearing at City Hall Thursday that informal estimates suggest that if just 6,000 San Franciscans at high risk for HIV infection were to take Truvada, the number of new infections in the city might drop from about 400 a year to 50..

Today, fewer than 1,000 San Franciscans are taking Truvada for HIV prevention. Continue reading

Kaiser Agrees to Pay $4 Million Fine Over Mental Health Care

Kaiser Permanente's lower rates on the California health exchange for 2015 may be meant to attract customers. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Kaiser had been fighting the fine, levied last year by the California Department of Managed Health Care. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Kaiser Permanente agreed to pay a $4 million fine over claims that it did not provide adequate access to mental health care services for its patients.

The state’s Department of Managed Health Care levied the fine last year, citing survey results that indicated patients had to wait excessively long periods between therapy appointments, and that they were effectively dissuaded from seeking individual treatment.

Kaiser had contested the fine, calling it “unwarranted and excessive.” The two parties were scheduled to give opening statements before an administrative law judge on Tuesday in Kaiser’s appeal, but Kaiser faxed a letter to the court Monday evening saying it will pay the full fine, and asked the judge to dismiss the case. 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

Watsonville Nursing Home Lawsuit May Drive Effort to Reduce Overmedication

 (Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

(Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ina Jaffe, NPR

A federal lawsuit against two Watsonville nursing homes may offer a new approach to dealing with the persistent problem of such facilities overmedicating their residents.

The lawsuit details multiple cases when the government says these drugs were inappropriately administered to patients. Watsonville is northeast of Monterey, in Santa Cruz County.

For instance when an 86-year-old man identified in the lawsuit as Patient 1 was admitted to Country Villa Watsonville West, he could speak clearly and walked in under his own power. Within days the facility began giving him Haldol and Risperdal, drugs used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and he became bedridden, stopped eating and developed bedsores and infections. Continue reading

Are Double Mastectomy Rates Driven by ‘Pink-Ribbon Culture Fearmongering’?

(Getty Images)

‘The pink ribbon is arguably the most successful marketing tool of the 20th century.’ — Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action  (Getty Images)

You may have read the other day about the big Stanford study on double mastectomies. Researchers looked at outcomes for every women in California diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — – all 189,734 of them — and found, surprisingly, that removing both breasts doesn’t increase breast cancer survival rate.

From NPR:

Women who had breast-conserving surgery had an 83.2 percent survival rate at 10 years, compared with 81.2 percent for those who had a double mastectomy.

“What it means is that women should be aware that if they choose double mastectomy, the chances are that it won’t cause them to live any longer than if they had chosen something else,” said Stanford professor Allison Kurian, lead author of the study.

Perhaps even more surprising than the lack of evidence to recommend double mastectomies is the discovery that, from 1998 to 2011, the procedure had risen among the large population studied from 2 percent to 12 percent. And for women under 40, the rate increased from 3.6 percent to a whopping 33 percent, “even though most of them had stage zero or stage one cancer, a very early, very treatable form,” NPR reports.

Continue reading

Stanford Study: Double Mastectomies Don’t Increase Breast Cancer Survival Rate

(Getty Images)

About one-third of women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer in California choose double mastectomy. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

More women are choosing to have bilateral mastectomies when they are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, even though there’s little evidence that removing both breasts improves their survival compared with more conservative treatments.

Doctors worry that women choose double mastectomy out of the mistaken belief that it eliminates their future risk of cancer.
The biggest study yet on the question has found no survival benefit with bilateral mastectomy compared to breast-conserving surgery with radiation.

The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the records of all women in California who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — 189,734 women, all told. 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