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From KQED

San Jose Police Crack Down On Violence

The San Jose Police Department is cracking down on violent crime after the city's 25th homicide this year.

KQED Launches Affordable Care Act Guide

Are you confused about Obamacare? KQED and The California Report created a guide to help answer your questions about the Affordable Care Act.

A Vegetarian Cattle Rancher Defends Beef

Does beef get a bad rap? Red meat has been associated with heart disease, among other health problems, and critics point to the environmental toll taken by industrial beef production. Nicolette Hahn Niman, a longtime vegetarian, wouldn't disagree. But in her new book "Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production," the environmental lawyer and Bolinas-based cattle rancher lays out the case for grass-fed beef, which she says is actually nutritious and sustainable.

College Students Abuse Study Drugs for Exams

It's final exam season for colleges, and students are turning to stimulant drugs to deal with heavy workloads. According to a study presented at an international pediatric meeting, one in five students at an unnamed Ivy League school admitted to using "study drugs" like Adderall and Ritalin, which are typically used to treat ADHD. We take a look at the way these drugs are misused, the serious risks involved in taking them and why college students are doing it anyway.

PBS NewsHour

Why changes in health care costs vary widely around the U.S.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to the latest on expanding health insurance coverage and the real costs for people.

The law is called the Affordable Care Act. And while there’s been much attention on enrollment, there’s been less discussion about a key question, affordability. The first month of the new enrollment season through has gone a lot more smoothly than last year. More than 2.5 million people have selected a plan through the federal exchange so far.

But what about premiums and out-of-pocket costs?

Mary Agnes Carey covers this for Kaiser Health News. I sat down with her the other day to discuss the latest.

Mary Agnes Carey, welcome back.

MARY AGNES CAREY, Kaiser Health News: Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s talk first about enrollment. We understand there has been a surge in interest just in the first month. What are you seeing?

MARY AGNES CAREY: From November 15 to until December 10, which was the last set of reported figures, 2.5 million people have signed up for a health plan on healthcare.gov.

And, by comparison, this is what happened in the first three months of last year, when you had all those Web site problems. We’re not seeing those this year. But there seems to be real interest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Can you — so is it just the fact that the Web site is up and working? Is there something else going on here?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, it’s certainly more appealing to go to a Web site that actually works and sign in.

But we have had a year of information about the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps people that didn’t get in a year ago are seeing people that are in the Affordable Care Act and getting insurance and decided to sign up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what — and, just quickly, what is going — what is it that is smoother about the process? Is it the response? Is it — what is it? Is it the delay time?

MARY AGNES CAREY: If you had already been in the exchanges, a lot of your information on your application was pre-filled in for you. That made it faster.

The whole experience of getting on, comparison shopping, signing in and getting a plan, for the most part, has been phenomenally smoother. So, I think it’s just a smoother consumer experience. That has been their focus this year. They have talked about that quite a bit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And people have now heard that message?

MARY AGNES CAREY: They have heard that message. And they are going to continue to hear it because open enrollment doesn’t end until February 15.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s talk now about cost. This is a big piece of this puzzle.

What are you finding out? Because in some places we’re hearing premiums have gone up. In other places, they have gone down. What is Kaiser seeing there?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, what’s really interesting is health insurance, like politics, is local. You have variance between states. You have variance within counties internally.

There are some places where premiums are going up by 10 percent or higher. There are other counties where they are dropping by 10 percent or lower, and so you really have to get on there and examine to see what you can find.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what — and so how do you explain that? I mean, why — in the places where it’s going up, where are they?

MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, for example, if you look at my colleagues Jordan Rau and Julie Appleby did a story looking at the effect of competition and what’s happening around the country with these premiums.

They looked at some counties in Southern Indiana where the number of insurers went from one to four. It’s an increase in competition. And so the premiums dropped by 25 percent. But then they also took a look at Chattanooga, which is already one of the least expensive areas in the country to get insurance. While the number of insurance companies doubled there, the premiums still went up by 16 percent.

So even competition sometimes doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get a lower price.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there something in common, though, about the places where prices have gone up or have gone down? Can you find anything in common with these places?

MARY AGNES CAREY: It could be — if prices are dropping, it could be more insurers got in. Some insurers held back in 2014 and they decided to wait to see what the marketplace was.

For a place where premiums are increased, it could be you have a monopoly insurer that has got a big piece of the market or an insurer that got in on 2014, looked at the claims experience, and think — they may have thought, I didn’t price this right. I need to raise my premiums.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about — Mary Agnes, what about rural vs. urban? Is that making a difference?

MARY AGNES CAREY: It absolutely does.

In an urban area, you tend to have more competition. That tends to keep prices down. But in the rural areas, you tend to have fewer provide — fewer insurers, rather, and that can make prices go up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this — was there a way to predict that this was going to happen? Or is it just the vagaries of the marketplace?

MARY AGNES CAREY: I think it’s the vagaries of the marketplace.

And you have to remember before the Affordable Care Act became law, you had all sorts of price variation in the individual market. You might have had premiums that went up 8 or 10 percent a year. So now you’re looking at — for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation did a study where they looked at all the counties across the country.

And for the benchmark silver plan, that’s the second cheapest Silver plan, they have an average increase of 2 percent. So, again, that’s a national number. But when you get down and look at counties, you could see a lot of variance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And HHS, Department of Health and Human Services, put out a report saying the premiums are rising about 5 percent, but that has evened out, average across the country.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Right.

And that’s where these averages, they are interesting and they are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. That is where people really have to shop around. This is a message you have heard from HHS officials. You will continue to hear it. If you are currently have coverage on the exchanges, you have got to get back in there and look, because, if there is more competition in your area, your prices may change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a reminder, we’re not just talking about premiums here, because there are other — it’s deductibles, it’s co-pays.

MARY AGNES CAREY: You have got to look at all the money that is going to come out of your pocket to get health care. It’s not just the premiums. And that’s a really important message, because people sort of look at that premium — and it’s understandable and they focus on it — but there are, as you say, a lot of things, your co-pays, your deductibles, your cost-sharing. It’s the total package that you have got to think about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News, we thank you.

MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you.

The post Why changes in health care costs vary widely around the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Hugs help protect against the common cold, research finds

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New research shows that hugs reduce stress, which leaves bodies vulnerable to infection. (Photo by Flickr user Tania Cataldo)

Flu season is upon us, and doctors are predicting that this year’s epidemic could be especially severe. What steps are you taking to protect yourself from disease this winter? Stocking up on hand sanitizer? Chugging orange juice? Avoiding handshakes and crowded subway cars? How about hugging your friends?

Wait, what? A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that frequent hugging helps reduce individuals’ susceptibility to infections associated with stress, and reduces the severity of symptoms if an infection is contracted by providing increased social support.

Their findings, published in the journal “Psychological Science,” were based on a study of 404 healthy adults. After completing a survey designed to establish their perceived level of social support, participants were asked how often they experienced interpersonal conflicts, and how often they often they received hugs during a series of phone interviews. The researchers then exposed participants to a common cold virus and monitored them for symptoms.

“We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses,” Sheldon Cohen, lead author of the study, explained in a release. “We tested whether perceptions of social support are … effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection.”

Not only did perceived social support reduce participants’ risk of infection, but among those infected, participants who reported greater levels of social support and received more frequent hugs experienced less severe symptoms. According to Cohen, “this suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress.”

It is not clear whether the reduced risk of infection is a result of the physical act of hugging itself, or the intimacy and support associated with the gesture. Either way, it is a good excuse to give your loved ones an extra squeeze this winter.

The post Hugs help protect against the common cold, research finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Climate change could cut 18 percent of world food production by 2050

Farmers and ranchers struggle as Texas endures historic drought. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Farmers and ranchers struggle as Texas endures historic drought. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Farmers are already suffering from droughts worsened by global climate change.

A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that by 2050, global climate change could cut world food production by 18 percent.

Environmental scientists suspect that managing water supplies will be the toughest challenge for farmers in the future. Current irrigation systems can’t cope with the changing weather patterns, Reuters reported Thursday. The study recommended that irrigation systems worldwide should be expanded by more than 25 percent.

Modeling that expansion is complicated, the authors point out, due to competing data and scenarios on how rainfall patterns will change. The authors recommend investment in irrigation infrastructure after 2030.

“If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But the news isn’t completely bleak — a warming climate means northern climates may be able to grow more food. If international food markets adapt appropriately, global food production could rise by 3 percent by 2050, the study found.

PBS NewsHour’s Coping With Climate Change has been covering ongoing droughts in California and Texas which have dried up crops and ranches.

The post Climate change could cut 18 percent of world food production by 2050 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

The secret ingredient for getting through holiday stress? Gratitude

Getting through the holidays can be emotionally draining, especially when you're the caretaker for a loved one.
         Taking the time acknowledge what you're grateful for can help you focus on the positives of the season. Photo by Kiyoshi
         Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Getting through the holidays can be emotionally draining, especially when you’re the caretaker for a loved one. Taking the time acknowledge what you’re grateful for can help you focus on the positives of the season. Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The other day I was talking with Mark, a brain tumor survivor and former archaeologist. Once a world traveler and recognized expert in his field, he now lives with debilitating seizures, and with anxiety-producing word-finding difficulties. He told me, with a sigh, that his doctor said he should feel grateful to be alive. His wife of 15 years joined our conversation. She was grateful to have her husband by her side, but she was also anxious to leave for a three-day holiday trip — a fun getaway with her sister, and a much needed break from caregiving. We were at a local residential respite center (a service not available in all states but fortunately a quality program available in this town), where her husband’s medication, personal care and safety would be taken care of in her absence. Mark eventually shared with me that his holiday gift to his wife was to agree to the respite center stay. A gift of gratitude for the love and care she provides him.

Navigating through a jolly holiday season and wishes for a wonderful new year when living with a chronic, debilitating health condition or caring for someone might have you thinking, “this is no holiday!” But researchers are documenting how expressing thanks can lead to a healthier, happier and less-stressed life. Noted expert Robert Emmons defines gratitude in part as, “… an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.”

Family caregivers are often portrayed as the epitome of goodness, and rightly so. Time and again spouses, adult children, other relatives and friends who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer and other health conditions, dig deep to put the needs of another before their own needs. They move personal life priorities to the back burner — work, family, travel, their own health — to ensure the safety and well-being of another person. But no well is bottomless and no caregiver can give in a limitless manner, always being kind, helpful, supportive, compassionate, honest and more, without doing harm to themselves. In this season of giving, acknowledgement of the giving that goes on all year long can get overlooked.

As a caregiver, there are ways to cultivate a greater sense of satisfaction coupled with a culture of gratitude this holiday season, both for the person receiving care and for yourself. To get a start, try these exercises to help focus your actions:

Connect with people: Holiday time is both about spending time with people we truly enjoy, but also with those to whom we feel obligated. Here’s a very specific exercise to help identify who receives your precious time during this season. Write down the names of family and friends with whom you’re likely to spend significant time this holiday season. Put a (*) by the names with whom you have a relatively simple, uncomplicated, mutually beneficial relationship. Mark an (x) by those people who make you feel uncomfortable (tense, inferior, frustrated, guilty, etc.). Ideally, would you like to spend (1) more, (2) less, or (3) about the same amount of time with each person on your list? Put a 1, 2 or 3 after each name.

Embrace the season’s activities: We often enter into the holidays wanting to be inclusive and accommodating. Every year family and friends gather to share meals and exchange gifts. Why should this year be any different? Write down all of the activities you look forward to or anticipate doing as part of the holidays. Here are a few to help you get started: Buy gifts, decorate, make travel plans, plan and shop for holiday meals, cook, bake, clean, host guests, host grandchildren, volunteer for charitable causes, participate in spiritual or religious activities, participate in special family traditions (gather at the family cabin, make tamales, sing at the local nursing home) and more. The list may sound both endless and compelling. Now revisit your list. Put a (*) by the activities that make you smile and feel content. Mark an (x) by the activities that you do not have time to fully enjoy, or that seem to have lost their meaning or become a burden for you, the person you care for or your extended family.

Cultivate a sense of goodwill towards yourself and others: At this time of year there is more pressure to appear happy and joyful. Feeling and expressing your true feelings, especially if these truths appear negative to others, can be discouraged and seen, at the least, as not acting in the spirit of the season. Here are some of the feelings that family caregivers have expressed to us, as well as some from those on the care receiving end of the relationship. See if any of these fit for you: Ambivalence, anxiety, anger, boredom, disgust, embarrassment, exhaustion, frustration, happy, grateful, grief, guilt, impatience, irritability, jealousy, loving, lack of appreciation, loneliness, loss, an opportunity to give back, peaceful, resentment, sadness, satisfaction, scared, thankful, tired, worried, hopeful. List any other feeling you know to be true for you. Now put a (1) by the feelings that get in the way or disrupt your life, a (2) by the feelings that just are there but don’t really get in the way, and a (3) by the feelings that you want to cultivate to feel more often.

What is doable and what reflects wishful thinking? To complete this exercise, draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left side of the page note your 1’s from the first exercise, now write down the (*)’s from the second exercise, and add the 3’s from the third exercise. List the remaining items on the right side of the page. When you have finished scan your lists. What steps can you take to include more of the people, activities and feelings from the left side of the page into this holiday season or the near future? What items reflect wishful thinking but more realistically represent something to hope for some time in the future?

Here are few examples of actions to take this season:

The gift of listening: Putting everything else aside to focus your full attention on a loved one. Listen to them tell you about their life; ask questions about the origin of family stories and rituals, share a chuckle over past adventures.

Communicate gently but honestly: Tell the person you care for or the person who cares for you, sensitively but honestly, what you need and how you would like to meet that need. It’s better than speaking angrily or resentfully when the other person doesn’t know why. Sometimes you might just need some time away from the care situation. Try these suggestions for communication with someone living with brain impairment.

Revisit expectations: If you are caring for a family member living with moderate to severe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, making heroic efforts to include your relative in a holiday gatherings can be tense and exhausting. Sometimes it can work wonderfully when family members and friends pitch in so that you can take a break to enjoy yourself. But, too often caregiving tasks and anxiety about actions by the person with dementia can drain any enjoyment from your time at the event. Encourage family and friends to spend time with your family member with dementia by visiting the person where they live, rather than at loud, busy family gatherings. A smaller gathering in more familiar surroundings gives visitors and hosts a much greater chance for meaningful time together. Here are more tips for navigating dementia care during the holidays.

Cultivate gratitude in your life: What would it feel like to focus more of your thoughts on what is good in life? If you have time, consider keeping a gratitude journal, writing down a few items each day. You’ll find a link to more about this project in the resource guide below. Reading just a few sentences from your journal before you go to bed and when you wake up can help you to focus on the good in your life. As a way to communicate within the family, some people create a “gratitude bowl” where everyone in the household jots down things they are grateful for on a slip of paper and places them in the container. Read a few of the slips out loud each day when you’re together at meal time or post a note on the refrigerator.

Navigating the holidays on top of all of the other daily activities of life for those living with chronic illness can be fraught with frustration and a sense of disappointment. Giving thought to what is truly important for you and your family, while taking steps to communicate your interests to others can open up opportunities for you to have a less stressful and more satisfying season.

We wish you Happy Holidays!

Information and resources:

Family Caregiver Alliance
415-434-3388
800-445-8106
Email: info@caregiver.org

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free education materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars, and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.

Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease specific organizations and more.

Helpful FCA Publications

Leah Eskenazi, MSW, is Director of Operations at Family Caregiver Alliance.

The post The secret ingredient for getting through holiday stress? Gratitude appeared first on PBS NewsHour.