Helping make the health care system work for you

With high-deductible health plans come demands for price transparency

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In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As KPCC health correspondent Stephanie O'Neill reported last week, it's open enrollment season for the more than 150 million Americans with job-based health insurance.

That's certainly the case here at Southern California Public Radio. On Friday, I attended a benefits meeting, where I learned the specifics of our health plan options.

As a young, healthy person with few medical issues, I'll probably stick with a high-deductible plan – with a health savings account to hopefully cover my deductible. (What's a high-deductible plan? Check out O'Neill's handy health insurance glossary.)

Apparently, I'm in good company. In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.


FAQ: Covered California's next open enrollment begins Saturday

California Releases Health Care Enrollment Numbers For Month Of October

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Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.

California’s second health insurance enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act begins tomorrow. The three-month window marks the only time – except in the case of "qualifying life events" such as getting married or changing jobs – that a person can buy individual or family insurance for 2015.

Health policy experts say now is the time to shop and compare for the nearly 1.2 million Californians who bought 2014 insurance through Covered California, and for those who bought individual plans outside the exchange. 

Those who do nothing will be automatically enrolled in their existing plan.

"Pay your premium in December and you’re good to go on Jan. 1," says Peter Lee, Executive Director of Covered California. "But we encourage people to shop and see if there is a better option for them."


Overall, Tdap shot safe for mom and baby, study finds

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The Tdap shot - which protects against pertussis - is not associated with preterm birth, small birth weight, or hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, according to a new study.

As loyal readers of this Impatient blog know well, a whooping cough epidemic swept across the Golden State this year.

Infants too young to be vaccinated are most vulnerable to this disease, also known as pertussis. So to protect them, the state health department, as well as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (the group that develops vaccine recommendations for the country) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently began recommending that all pregnant women in their third trimester get the Tdap shot, which protects against pertussis, as well as diphtheria and tetanus.

This new strategy allows moms to pass antibodies onto their babies, protecting the infants until they're old enough to get vaccinated.

But as a new article in the Journal of American Medicine explains, there has been limited data on whether Tdap vaccination during pregnancy affects the health of mothers or their babies… until now.


More kids are being hospitalized with mental illness. Why?

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Only 700 of the state’s acute psychiatric hospital beds are devoted to patients under age 18.

The number of California kids hospitalized with a mental illness has been steadily climbing since 2007. In fact, for California kids ages 5 to 19, the rate of hospitalization due to mental illness increased about 43 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to figures from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The graph below, from, shows the striking increase in youth hospitalizations. I've sifted through some of the best research and reporting on this topic, and found some complicated explanations for why this trend might be occurring.


Why hospitalized?

Among children admitted to hospitals for mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis are the most common primary diagnoses, according to an analysis by researchers at UCSF’s Benioff Children's Hospital, and published in April in the journal Pediatrics.


How accurate are your diabetes test strips and glucose monitors?

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Diabetics must constantly check their blood sugar levels with a glucose meter and test strips. Some have concerns about the accuracy of these devices.

Last month, we asked people with diabetes to share what they pay for their test strips. It's part of our ongoing #PriceCheck collaboration.

We've heard that the cost of test strips can vary greatly. We've also heard that these test strips - and the blood glucose monitors they're used with - can provide inaccurate data. As we've dug into this topic, people with diabetes and clinicians have told us that the inaccuracy of these strips and glucometers is a huge – and life-threatening – issue.

Accuracy questioned

Strip Safely is an online campaign intended to raise awareness about the inaccurate blood glucose test strips and monitors on the market – and spark change. Here's how it describes this problem:

"Patients using meters that fail to meet accuracy standards face increased risks. Inaccurately high meter readings may cause patients to take too much insulin resulting in insulin shock. Conversely, meters that incorrectly show low results may keep patients from taking enough insulin. To [sic] little insulin may cause high blood glucose and possibly risky diabetic ketoacidosis."