Sonoma County Has Highest Whooping Cough Rate in Statewide Epidemic

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

It’s been a little over a month since California declared a whooping cough epidemic, and according to the most recent data from the state, three neighboring Bay Area counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide: Sonoma, Napa and Marin.

Sonoma County’s rate of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is almost 120 cases per 100,000 people. Napa County’s rate is 90 per 100,000, and Marin’s rate is 65 per 100,000.

Sonoma County’s interim health officer, Karen Holbrook, says the number of cases reported each week has peaked and is now declining.

“It’s not what the state is experiencing as a whole, but we are coming down,” Holbrook says. “Will that hold indefinitely remains to be seen.”

Holbrook says California is seeing a whooping cough epidemic partly because the disease is cyclical, with cases spiking every three to five years. Continue reading

Latina Small Business Owner Enters the Insurance Marketplace

Under the Affordable Care Act Sandra Lopez, 41, owner of Las Fajitas in Newport Beach, obtained health insurance for the first time since arriving in the U.S. in 1990. (Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News).

Under the Affordable Care Act Sandra Lopez, 41, owner of Las Fajitas in Newport Beach, obtained health insurance for the first time since arriving in the U.S. in 1990. (Heidi de Marco/Kaiser Health News).

By Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News

Alongside one of Newport Beach’s canals, blocks from the beach, Sandra Lopez is finally living her idea of the American dream.

For years Lopez took home remedies or asked friends to bring her medicine from Mexico.
In 1996, six years after crossing the border from Mexico without papers, she began working at Las Fajitas, a popular Mexican restaurant as a cashier and cook. With the help of her boss, she received a work visa in 2001.

Eleven years after that, she bought the business – a bustling establishment where Lopez knows most customers by name. Mexican lanterns hang from the ceiling, and cheers from a soccer match on TV fill the room.

Lopez, now a legal resident, said the income from her small business fluctuates monthly. “People think that because you own a business, you have lots of money…that life is easy,” she said. “But it’s hard work and I have so many bills to pay.” Continue reading

Work as Refuge? Working Mothers Report Better Health

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

Life at the office can look really appealing sometimes. (Getty Images)

I love it when my job intersects with the rest of my life.

NPR is reporting Tuesday about a fascinating survey that found that women who work full time “reported significantly better physical and mental health than moms who part time.” They heard from more than 2,500 mothers in the 2012 survey.

In addition, people appear to be more stressed at home than they are at work.

Oh, and mothers who worked part time said they enjoyed better health than their counterparts who didn’t work at all.

Really? As the mother of two children who worked part time for several years before taking this job, I was all-in on this story. Could I really be enjoying peak health while working full time and — yes — still raising those kids. (Disclosure that my husband does help: Thanks, dear!) Continue reading

Kaiser, Nurses Union Brace for Upcoming Contract Battle

(April Dembosky/KQED)

Members of the California Nurses Association rallied in Sacramento in May to raise awareness around what they say are patient care concerns in California hospitals. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Going to a nurses union meeting is a little bit like going to an evangelical church service.

Contract talks begin next week on new four-year contract.
“We all have to stand up, and it’s a struggle,” says nurse Veronica Cambra, reporting a grievance at Kaiser Hospital in Fremont as though she’s giving testimony. “And we will overcome this, okay?”

The rest of the nurses respond with the passion of a devout congregation, humming “Mmm hmmm,” and “That’s right,” through the series of speeches.

The union heads at the front of the room interject now and then to rally the group around a unifying message.

Continue reading

PriceCheck: What Insurance Companies Are Paying for Mammograms

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

(Illustration: Andy Warner)

It’s been almost three weeks since we launched our PriceCheck project, and women statewide are continuing to share what they — or their insurance companies — have paid for a mammogram.

Is your insurer paying $134 or $1,200?    

I talked about PriceCheck and our most recent data with Rachael Myrow on The California Report Thursday morning.

It’s been fun to see people’s mouths fall open when I tell them the range we’re seeing that insurers pay for mammograms across California:  $134 on the low end to $1,200 on the high end. Continue reading

Feds Want California to Clear Medi-Cal Backlog

State officials have until Monday to submit plan. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

State officials must submit plan by Monday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

Tired of waiting for states to reduce their backlogs of Medicaid applications, the Obama administration has given California and five other states until Monday to submit plans to resolve issues that have prevented more than 1 million low-income or disabled people from getting health coverage.

600,000 people signed up, but not yet enrolled, in Medi-Cal.

“CMS is asking several state Medicaid agencies to provide updated mitigation plans to address gaps that exist in their eligibility and enrollment systems to ensure timely processing of applications and access to coverage for eligible people,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. He said the agency will monitor states’ progress in solving the problems getting people enrolled in the state-federal insurance program for the poor.

In addition to California, the other states are Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee. Continue reading

Like Other Animals, We Need Stress — in Moderation

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ask somebody about stress, and you’re likely to hear an outpouring about all the bad things that cause it — and the bad things that result. But if you ask a biologist, you’ll hear that stress can be good.

In fact, it’s essential.

But people who responded to NPR’s poll talked mostly about the downside of stress.

For example, the adrenal glands of all animals have evolved to pump out stress hormones in unexpected situations — the hormones spur action and increase fuel to the brain, helping the animal react to danger appropriately. Those hormones also flow to memory centers in the brain, to help the critter remember those notable moments and places.

“If it turns out to be dangerous and if the animal actually turns out to survive danger, then it will be aware of this as a potentially dangerous place,” explains Bruce McEwen, head of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at The Rockefeller University. “In that sense, stress is good.” Continue reading

Anthem Blue Cross Sued Over Covered California Doctor Networks

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)

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Statewide insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross misled “millions of enrollees” about whether their doctors and hospitals were participating in its new plans, and failed to disclose that many policies wouldn’t cover care outside its approved network, according to a class action lawsuit filed Tuesday.

As a result, many consumers are on the hook for thousands in medical bills, advocacy group says.

As a result, many consumers have been left on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills, and have been unable to see their longtime doctors, alleges the suit by Consumer Watchdog based in Santa Monica.

Anthem spokesman Darrel Ng declined to comment directly on the lawsuit. He said Anthem has agreed to pay the claims of those who received treatment from inaccurately listed doctors during the first three months of the year.

However, that policy would not be extended for enrollees who discovered after March 31 that their doctors had been incorrectly listed, he said. Continue reading

School Nursing in Small-Town California: Much More Than You Think

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Bernice Arnett, school nurse for the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, is in charge of student health at the district’s seven public schools. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: School nursing is more than Band-Aids and ice packs. Nurses help students with complex medical conditions and tough home lives. Bernice Arnett is a nurse for seven schools in Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District — two Central Valley towns just south of Modesto. This month, our ongoing health series called Vital Signs focuses on prevention. Arnett talks about how she’s working to keep students and families in her community healthy.

By Bernice Arnett

There have been days where I have visited all seven sites in one day. But I was doing reactive nursing rather than proactive nursing. There were times that I’d have to actually triage in my head what I should go do first.

You treat the whole student. Sometimes you treat the whole family. And a lot of times, families are desperate. They don’t know where to turn. Continue reading

San Francisco Supes Approve Laura’s Law, Can Compel Mentally Ill Into Treatment

(jivedanson/Flickr)

(jivedanson/Flickr)

Update 10pm by Isabel Angell

San Francisco Supervisors passed a version of Laura’s Law today that compels treatment for certain mental health patients. Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sponsored the legislation, said Laura’s Law will be an “important tool” for the city.

“I do believe we need to do more as a city and we need to do more to help those who are clearly suffering and cannot help themselves. In order to make a difference here at the local level, we have to continue to challenge ourselves and the status quo,” Farrell said before the vote.

A last-minute amendment from Supervisor Jane Kim that added an external evaluation after three years helped the ordinance pass 9-2. Supervisor Eric Mar, who cast one of the “no” votes, called mental health treatment a civil rights issue.

Continue reading