This Year’s Flu Shot Less-Than-Perfect, But Get It Anyway

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

This Oakland child received a nasal spray flu vaccine at a clinic in Oakland. (James Tensuan/KQED)

By Rob Stein, NPR

As expected, this year’s flu vaccine looks like it’s pretty much of a dud.

The vaccine only appears to cut the chances that someone will end up sick with the flu by 23 percent, according to the first estimate of the vaccine’s effectiveness by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC had predicted this year’s vaccine wouldn’t work very well because the main strain of the flu virus that’s circulating this year, known as an H3N2 virus, mutated slightly after the vaccine was created. That enables the virus to evade the immune system response created by getting vaccinated. Continue reading

Play Explores What It Means to Be a Fan of a Violent Game

Dwight Hicks rehearses at the Berkeley Rep for his upcoming show "X's and O's: a Football Love Story in Berkeley, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. The play is about concussions and football. (James Tensuan)

Former 49ers player Dwight Hicks (left) rehearses at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for the upcoming show X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story). The play examines American passion for a dangerous sport. (James Tensuan/KQED)

By April Dembosky

Football injuries are a badge of honor. A broken sternum, a busted knee, a pierced kidney: each a piece of evidence proving tenacity on the field.

The play delves into a cultural conversation of what it means to be a football fan.
In a scene in X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story), a play having its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre this month, a trio of retired players crosses the stage in a round-robin, bragging about the quantity and severity of their injuries.

“I had 22 surgeries,” says one man.

“Oh, we’re counting? I had 37 surgeries,” counters another, only to have a third trump them both: “Sixty-four surgeries,” he says definitively.

Then the trio repeats: “Blew out both Achilles.” “Separated shoulder.”  “Broken collarbone: Tape it up and back in the game.” Continue reading

Disneyland Measles Cases Now at 26

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

The number of measles cases linked to having visited Disneyland parks in mid-December has climbed to 22 in California, according to state data. There are four more cases in other states — two in Utah and one each in Colorado and Washington.

While the incubation period for people who visited the parks between Dec. 17-20 ended on Jan. 10 — meaning that anyone who was at Disneyland in that time frame would have gotten sick by now — the Los Angeles Times is reporting that an unvaccinated, infected woman took two flights after she became ill.

The woman was in her 20s, the TImes reported, had visited Disneyland in December and became ill on Dec. 28.  Continue reading

Filing Your Taxes? Here’s How To Prove You Have Health Insurance

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

In addition to the normal thrills and chills of the income tax filing season, this year consumers have the added excitement of figuring out how the health law figures in their 2014 taxes.

The good news is that for most people the only change to their normal tax filing routine will be to check the box on their Form 1040 that says they had health insurance all year.

“Someone who had employer-based coverage or Medicaid or Medicare, that’s all they have to do,” says Tricia Brooks, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

The law requires people to have “minimum essential coverage,” but most types of insurance qualify. Continue reading

Kaiser Mental Health Workers Launch 7-Day Strike

Kaiser Permanente’s medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

By April Dembosky

Mental health clinicians at Kaiser are walking off the job Monday, commencing a week-long, statewide strike. Their main complaint: Kaiser isn’t hiring enough therapists and psychologists to see patients in a timely manner.

But the strike also comes after four years of contract negotiations between Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers have yielded few agreements.

“We’ve tried one and two day actions in the past. Kaiser is not paying attention to that,” says Clement Papazian, a social worker at Kaiser and a local union representative. “We feel like it’s the appropriate time to escalate these actions.”

Kaiser called the strike “unnecessary and counterproductive.”

John Nelson, Kaiser’s vice president of government relations, says the the hospital system is meeting its patients’ mental health needs, even after Kaiser has taken on thousands of new patients under the Affordable Care Act.

“Since 2011, we’ve grown membership by eight percent in California. We’ve increased the number of therapists in California who work at Kaiser Permanente by 25 percent,” Nelson said. “That’s quite an accomplishment.” Continue reading

Gov. Brown: ‘Not A Lot Left in Budget’ to Cover Undocumented

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his $164.7 billion budget proposal Friday and while health figures big, the governor also stopped short of funding some key advocacy goals.

For starters, there’s no money set aside in the budget to provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants. The “Health for All Act” was re-introduced in December, after falling short in the legislature last year. But when Brown was asked specifically about covering the undocumented, he said “There’s not a lot of money left in the budget. … It’s very tight.”

Then there are the million undocumented immigrants in California estimated to be eligible for deferred action under President Obama’s executive order. Advocates say that these immigrants, once approved for deferred action, become eligible for Medi-Cal, as long as they qualify by income. Continue reading

Why Obamacare Means One of the Most Complicated Tax Seasons Ever

This is the first year people without health insurance could face big penalties. (Getty Images)

This is the first year people without health insurance could face big penalties. (Getty Images)

By April Dembosky

Most days in early January, tax preparation offices are dead. Most people won’t get their W-2 or other tax documents until later this month.

It’s all about the penalty for not having health insurance.

But at one H&R Block office in San Francisco, office manager Sue Ellen Smith is expecting things to pick up fast. The IRS commissioner declared back in November that this tax season will be one of the most complicated ever.

“This year taxes and health care intersect in a brand-new way,” Smith said.

This is the first year that people who do not have health insurance will have to pay a fine, and Smith says that fine could be bigger than most people expect.

She takes the example of Ray and Vicky. They’re a fictional couple from an H&R Block flier. Together they earn $65,000 a year. Neither has health insurance. Continue reading

Nine Measles Cases Tied to Disneyland Parks

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

(Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images)

Nine people who visited Disneyland or Disneyland California Adventure Park during December have confirmed measles cases, state health officials said Wednesday. Seven of the patients live in California and two live in Utah.

State and county health officers are investigating an additional four suspected cases, two in Utah and two in California. All the patients visited the parks in Orange County between Dec.15-20, California Department of Public Health officials said.

“If you have symptoms, and believe you may have been exposed, please contact your health care provider,” Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer, said in a statement. “The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated.” Continue reading

Plenty of Responsibility, But No Required Training, for In-Home Caregivers

Oliver Massengale took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver six years ago. He says he hasn’t had time for himself in years. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

Oliver Massengale took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver six years ago. He says he hasn’t had time for himself in years. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Born just a year apart, Oliver Massengale and his brother Charles grew up together. Now, in a two-story home in Compton, they are growing old together. But Charles Massengale, 71, can do little on his own.

The former tree trimmer has severe brain damage from a 30-foot fall, as well as dementia, diabetes and high blood pressure. Six years ago, Oliver took over as his brother’s full-time caregiver. He’s paid about $10.00 an hour by the state.

It was not a job he was trained to do.

“I didn’t have a clue,” said Oliver, a retired grounds manager at a college. “I was just so afraid of what I was doing.”

He constantly worried –- about giving Charles the wrong medication, about him getting bedsores, about his blood pressure. And he had no idea how easily his brother could fall over. One day, he was cooking and Charles was on a stool at the kitchen counter. Continue reading

It’s Union vs. Union in Proposed Hospital Sale

O'Connor Hospital in San Jose is one of the six hospitals operated by Daughters of Charity that is being sold. (Courtesy: O'Connor Hospital)

O’Connor Hospital in San Jose is one of the six hospitals operated by Daughters of Charity that is being sold. (Courtesy: O’Connor Hospital)

By April Dembosky

Unions are sparring every day this week over the fate of six safety-net hospitals in California, showcasing how splintered the health care labor movement has become.

At issue is the same of the financially-distressed hospitals currently owned by the nonprofit Daughters of Charity. The leading buyer is for-profit Prime Healthcare.

The state attorney general’s office is hearing testimony at each of the six hospitals this week before it approved or denies the sale. Because the hospitals are owned by a non-profit, the state is tasked with making sure the sale to a for-profit company benefits the public interest.

Unions are divided over whether Prime is the right candidate for the job. Continue reading