California Prisons to Restrict Pepper Spray, Segregation of Mentally Ill Inmates

 Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

California prison officials proposed major policy changes Friday to curtail when and how correctional staff use pepper spray on mentally ill inmates or segregate them from the general prison population.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) planned to vest mental health clinicians with greater say in whether correctional staff may use force or segregate inmate patients. The agency also set strict time limits on the segregation of mentally ill inmates who had committed no serious violations or crimes in prison.

CDCR proposed these changes to comply with a court order issued by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton. Judge Karlton ordered the changes to California’s policies in April, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Continue reading

How Much for a Back MRI in the Bay Area: $255 or $3,700?

(Getty Images)

People can easily save $1,000 or more just by going to another facility, sometimes only a few minutes drive away. (Getty Images)

Editor’s note: In June, KQED launched PriceCheck, a crowdsourcing project on health costs. We’re working in collaboration with KPCC, public media in Los Angeles, and ClearHealthCosts.com, a New York City startup looking at health costs.

Last week in our PriceCheck project, we turned to MRIs. We asked you, the members of our audience, to share what you have paid for a back MRI. The goal is to shine a light on the notoriously opaque world of health care costs.

One person saved $1,270 on a back MRI, just by asking.

What we’ve found is even more startling than the prices we already collected on screening mammograms. Most of our results so far are from the Bay Area, so I’m focusing on that variation. For a comparison looking at the entire state, check out this post from our ClearHealthCosts.com partner. Continue reading

Down to the Wire: Lawmakers Have 4 Weeks to Act on Assisted Living Reforms

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, in a retirement home corridor. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

By Polly Stryker

The assisted living industry in California is big business: More than 7,500 licensed facilities provide care for more than 175,000 people statewide. Starting Monday, and over the next two weeks, The California Report will bring stories about assisted living facilities in the state.

Assisted living is an alternative to more expensive — and often more institutional — care in a skilled nursing facility. In assisted living, staff help seniors with daily needs, such as meals, medicine-taking and bathing. The homes range from small mom-and-pop places with six beds to corporate chains with over 100 beds. A growing number offer dementia care.

But while these facilities are licensed, the laws regulating them have not had a major update since 1985, and California has lagged behind other states in updating its rules. Continue reading

California’s 2015 Obamacare Premiums Will Increase Modestly

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screen shot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Officials with Covered California, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, say premiums will go up an average 4.2 percent statewide in 2015 for the 1.4 million Californians currently enrolled in insurance through the exchange.

Peter Lee, executive director of the agency, was clearly delighted. “This is good news for Californians,” he said, “and an example of how Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are working to make health insurance affordable.”

Lee said premiums would vary by people’s age and where they live in California. Californians will have a choice of plans from the state’s four major insurers: Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Kaiser and Health Net — as well as six regional players: Chinese Community Health Plan, L.A. Care, Molina Healthcare, Sharp Health Care, Valley Health Care and Western Health Advantage.

Lee said that for the million-plus people currently insured through the exchange:

  • 16 percent: will see rates remain stable or go down
  • 35 percent: will see premiums increase 1-5 percent
  • 36 percent: will see increases of 5-8 percent
  • 13 percent: will see increases over 8 percent, some as high as 15 percent

Continue reading

West Nile Virus Making Its Summer Trek Across California

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West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

By Brittany Patterson

A year ago this month, my 80-year-old grandmother, an active and healthy woman, began feeling feverish, lethargic and complained of a headache. A trip to the emergency room after days of suffering from a persistent fever yielded nothing, and the doctors sent her home with some Tylenol and an order to rest.

Later that night, my grandfather awoke to anguished screams from my grandmother. He rushed to call 911 and as he waited for the ambulance to arrive he watched in agony as my grandmother cried and babbled incoherently on the floor next to their bed.

My grandmother was hospitalized for 32 days. For the first 20 or so the doctors couldn’t deduce the cause of her mysterious symptoms. Finally, after rounds of tests and antibiotics and scans, we had our diagnosis: West Nile virus. Continue reading

National Soda Tax Bill Introduced in Washington

Richmond voters will decide next November on a soda tax. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

National bill would create an excise tax on sugar, as opposed to San Francisco and  Berkeley measures which tax ounces of beverage. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

For the first time since 2009, legislation proposing a national tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is under consideration in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act — or SWEET Act — on Wednesday.

Tax would create a “built-in incentive” for soda makers to reduce sugar concentration.
The bill would levy an excise tax on sugar content in beverages. This is different from the taxes proposed in San Francisco and Berkeley, which would levy a tax per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage.

Under the SWEET Act, manufacturers would pay a tax of one cent per teaspoon of sugar or other sweetener added to most beverages. For point of reference, a 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. The tax works out to just under a penny-per-ounce of beverage. Drinks such as milk, infant formula, alcoholic beverages and many juices are excluded. Continue reading

Survey: 3 Million Californians Newly Insured Under Obamacare

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 Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

A significant portion of previously uninsured Californians gained medical coverage through the nation’s health care law – about six in 10 during the state’s first open enrollment, according to a survey released Wednesday.

All told, about 3.4 million people who didn’t have health insurance before sign-ups began last fall are now covered, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The largest share of the previously uninsured — 25 percent — enrolled through the state’s Medi-Cal program, which has long covered poor families but was expanded this year to include adults without children. Nine percent purchased private plans through the subsidized insurance marketplace, Covered California, which opened in October. And 12 percent became insured through their jobs, the researchers found. Continue reading

CA Insurance Commissioner: Insurers Will Keep Health Rates Low, Fear Prop. 45

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new analysis from the Department of Insurance confirms what has been reported since the Covered California exchange opened last October: Some people saw steep premium increases after the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the department’s analysis non-subsidy eligible individuals saw average increases ranging from 22 to 88 percent, depending on their age and where they lived. The review was done of all health plans — including those managed for the Department of Managed Health Care — and looked at premiums from California’s four largest carriers, Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser, Blue Shield and Health Net.

The release appeared to be politically timed. Covered California’s rates for next year are due on Thursday, and the rumble is that new premiums will show only modest increases. Continue reading

UCSF, John Muir Health to Partner, Create Bay Area Health Network

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which recently announced voluntary buyouts ahead of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (cseeman/Flickr)

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which has announced an affiliation with UC San Francisco. (cseeman/Flickr)

UC San Francisco and John Muir Health, which primarily serves patients in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, announced Tuesday that they will form a new company and, in their first joint move, develop a regional health network.

‘We want to offer a Kaiser-like or Sutter-like alternative in the marketplace.’

Both companies will remain independent. The new network will be an accountable care organization (ACO), which will provide patients access to hospitals, doctors and other providers from the two organizations.

An ACO is a formal network of both doctors and hospitals. They share medical responsibility and financial responsibility for patients. The goal is to provide higher quality care at a lower price and limit unnecessary spending. Continue reading

Resistance to Translating Prescription Drug Labels

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Right now, drug labels appear only in English in California, yet 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. (Getty Images)

Every Saturday morning, a steady stream of Chinese and Vietnamese patients line up at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in Sacramento. Most of them speak little to no English.

Patient assistance director Danny Tao says people come here to get free medical consultations and drug prescriptions. But, he says that when patients take those prescriptions to be filled, they don’t understand the instructions on the label.

“They go pick them up, and we don’t exactly know if they’re taking it or not — or if they know how to take it,” Tao said. Continue reading