Helping make the health care system work for you

Take a bite: Are processed foods a vital part of your diet?

The soup isle at a grocery store in Washington, D.C, Tuesday, November 22, 2011.

Maggie Starbard/NPR

A paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says processed foods are a vital part of our diet.

We've all heard the healthy eating advice: Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoid eating processed foods. Only buy foods with ingredients you can pronounce.

So would it surprise you to read that the American Society for Nutrition considers processed foods a vital part of the American diet?

In a new paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Society argues that processed foods contribute to the health of the U.S. population:

"We conclude that processed foods are nutritionally important to American diets. They contribute to both food security (ensuring that sufficient food is available) and nutrition security (ensuring that food quality meets human nutrient needs.)"

Critics jumped on the paper for lumping everything from roasted nuts and hummus to Lucky Charms and Cheez-Its when discussing processed foods. The authors do point out that diets rich in nutrient-dense foods – whether processed or not – are more likely to meet nutrition guidelines:


Timely care at VA surprises young veteran

Long Beach VA

Rebecca Plevin

Lance MacNiven visited the emergency department at the VA medical center in Long Beach when he tore his Achilles tendon.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is back in the headlines this week: Lawmakers in Washington are considering a $17 billion proposal to overhaul the department and improve health services for veterans.

Meanwhile, a young veteran from Los Angeles is still navigating the VA system. When Impatient readers first met 25-year-old Lance MacNiven in May, he was frustrated with the long wait times at the VA facilities in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"When I call for an appointment," MacNiven said at the time, "it's never been weeks; it's always been months."


MacNiven recently tore his Achilles tendon playing flag football. This time around, he's been pleasantly surprised by how much smoother and more timely his care and treatment has been.

"It was definitely more timely, I think because of the severity of the injury," MacNiven told me, when I visited him yesterday at his apartment in Playa Vista. He has a thick cast on his leg, which he propped up on a chair.


5 reasons your teenager should get the whooping cough vaccine

Mercer 19802

Shereen Meraji/KPCC

Beginning this week, LA Unified is offering vaccination clinics.

Believe it or not, LA Unified students go back to school in just two weeks. That means it's time to finish up any summer reading, to pull out the backpacks and other school gear and... to get vaccinated.

Below are five reasons teenagers should get vaccinated against whooping cough:

  1. It's the law! In California, all students entering 7th grade need proof of the whooping cough booster shot known as Tdap (which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria). Without it, they'll be barred from attending class. 
  2. The state is in the throes of a whooping cough epidemic. More than half the 6,170 cases reported so far this year have been among children and teens, ages 7 to 16, according to the California Department of Public Health. 
  3. The immunity conferred from childhood immunizations – or from the whooping cough itself – wears off in several years. That leaves older students susceptible to the highly-contagious respiratory disease. 
  4. Infected teenagers can expose younger family members to the disease, also known as "pertussis."  Infants too young to be vaccinated are most likely to suffer from severe and fatal forms of whooping cough.
  5. Your child may qualify for free vaccinations. Beginning today, the Los Angeles Unified School District is making it easy for uninsured children, kids on Medi-Cal and those of Native American descent to get vaccinated against the disease by offering them free vaccinations at clinics throughout the city. 


Impatient reader's dogged persistence wins Anthem drug approval

pills money medicine

Photo by Chris Potter via Flickr Creative Commons

David Garden will now pay $75 for a 90-day supply of Cymbalta.

Here's a happy tale of persistence rewarded. When I spoke to Impatient reader David Garden last month, he was getting samples of Cymbalta from his doctor, and carefully cutting them in half. He was threatening to fill his prescription of the drug – commonly prescribed for depression - through an illegal supplier in Canada.

It was all because he'd switched Anthem Blue Cross plans. He went from an employer-sponsored plan to one purchased on the Covered California exchange. He later learned that the new plan did not include Cymbalta, or its generic version, on its drug formulary.

Garden has a form of muscular dystrophy, and he takes the drug to alleviate the chronic neuropathic pain associated with his disease. Suddenly, a 90-day supply of the drug increased from a $25 co-pay to $512.77.


How to decode your health insurer's Explanation of Benefits

Employees pay directly for their health insurance in "defined contribution" plans.


Reading an explanation of benefits, or EOB, can be very confusing.

As loyal Impatient readers know, we're a month into #PriceCheck, a collaboration with KQED and Through this project, we're building a robust database of certain health care prices in California. We started by crowd-sourcing the cost of mammograms, and now we're focusing on all types of back MRI's.

We've invited you to participate in the project. To do this, you need to enter a couple pieces of information from your explanation of benefits, or EOB: The charged price, what insurance paid, and what you paid.

Widespread confusion

We know that navigating your EOB is not easy; in fact, it can be downright frustrating.  (Side note: That's just another reason why we're so thankful to everyone who has participated in the project so far!)

That frustration bubbled up last night during a Twitter chat focused on health costs transparency, co-hosted by our partner