Autism Benefit Finally a Reality for Children on Medi-Cal

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism and has benefited greatly, Wilson says, from Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, now covered by Medi-Cal. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

By David Gorn

California health officials today are launching a new benefit for thousands of children with autism who are covered by Medi-Cal, California’s low-income health program.

“He’s doing things other kids can do. And it’s those little moments, it makes you just so grateful.”

That makes California the first state in the nation to implement new federal standards on autism care.

The new benefit includes coverage of the clinical standard of care for autism treatment — Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy. That treatment has shown significant results for a cross-section of children with autism.

Of the 5 million children on Medi-Cal in California — that’s roughly half the state’s total children — there are an estimated 75,000  who likely have autism spectrum disorder. Of those children, experts expect about 12,000 children to access the new benefit, based on utilization figures from programs in other states. Continue reading

Remaining Uninsured Face Challenges in Cost and Simply Signing Up

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

By Lisa Morehouse

When the Affordable Care Act rolled out last fall, Californians enrolled in both Covered California and expanded Medi-Cal in high numbers. But there are still millions in the state without health insurance. Undocumented people don’t qualify for Obamacare benefits. Many others still find coverage too expensive, or face other obstacles in enrolling.

One of those people is Leaburn Alexander. I meet up with him at 6 a.m. as he is finishing his shift as the night janitor at a hotel near the San Francisco Airport. He clocks out just in time to catch the hotel’s shuttle back to SFO, where he will catch a bus.

“Right now I’m on the beginning of my commute,” he tells me. “After an eight hour shift, my commute is like 2 and a half hours.”

I accompany Alexander on his commute to East Palo Alto, about 20 miles south. It actually takes three hours, on the hotel shuttle plus three more buses. He does this commute 5 days a week. Continue reading

Field Poll Shows Support Slipping for Two Health Propositions

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

A new Field Poll shows voter support dropping for two propositions on the November ballot.

Prop. 45 would give the state insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate hikes. Support has dropped from 69 percent early in the summer to 41 percent in the current poll. Twenty-six percent are opposed and 33 percent are undecided.

Prop. 46 would require drug testing of doctors and increase the cap on pain and suffering awards in medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Early this summer, support stood at 58 percent; today it is 34 percent, with 30 percent opposed and 29 percent undecided.

“This current poll is relatively big news on Prop. 46. I don’t think its chances of passage are all that great,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told the San Francisco Chronicle. He added that it’s harder to predict what might happen with Prop. 45. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
Continue reading

Government Funding Drops — and Scientists Give Up

Randen Patterson

Randen Patterson left a research career in physiology at U.C. Davis when funding got too tight. He now owns a grocery store in Guinda, outside Davis. (Max Whittaker/Prime for NPR)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

“I shouldn’t be a grocer right now. I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can’t. I don’t have an outlet for it.” Former UC Davis professor

But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

So, he’s giving up on science.

And he’s not alone. Federal funding for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade. There are far more scientists competing for grants than there is money to support them. Continue reading

First Death Reported from the Napa Quake

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

A 65-year-old woman who suffered a head injury when a television struck her during last month’s earthquake in California’s wine country has died — the first death attributed to the magnitude-6.0 quake, sheriff’s officials said.

Laurie Anne Thompson was at her Napa home during the Aug. 24 earthquake when she was hit, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office. She did not go to the hospital until the next day when she felt dizzy and experienced a decline in mental function.

Sheriff’s officials said she died Friday at a hospital of an intracranial hemorrhage.

“Her condition continued to deteriorate over time and, unfortunately, she passed away,” Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said. Continue reading

Covered California Income Verifications Lead to Canceled Coverage

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

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

By Judy Lin, Associated Press

Some Californians who purchased individual health coverage through the state’s insurance exchange are suddenly being dropped or transferred to Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program for the poor that fewer doctors and providers accept.

Covered California, which is responsible for determining and directing Californians to an appropriate health plan, has no estimate of how many people are affected, saying only that the changes are occurring as incomes are checked to verify the policyholders can purchase insurance through the exchange.

Since the shifts often happen without warning, there’s confusion and anger among policyholders.

Glendale resident Andrea Beckum learned last month that she and her husband had been shunted to Medi-Cal only after getting a call from their insurance broker telling them their Anthem Blue Cross policy had been canceled. Continue reading

Kaiser Agrees to Pay $4 Million Fine Over Mental Health Care

Kaiser Permanente's lower rates on the California health exchange for 2015 may be meant to attract customers. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Kaiser had been fighting the fine, levied last year by the California Department of Managed Health Care. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Kaiser Permanente agreed to pay a $4 million fine over claims that it did not provide adequate access to mental health care services for its patients.

The state’s Department of Managed Health Care levied the fine last year, citing survey results that indicated patients had to wait excessively long periods between therapy appointments, and that they were effectively dissuaded from seeking individual treatment.

Kaiser had contested the fine, calling it “unwarranted and excessive.” The two parties were scheduled to give opening statements before an administrative law judge on Tuesday in Kaiser’s appeal, but Kaiser faxed a letter to the court Monday evening saying it will pay the full fine, and asked the judge to dismiss the case. Continue reading

Details of Autism Benefits — Like Provider Rates — Coming After Rollout

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, CaliforniaHealthline

At the first stakeholder meeting last week to review California’s new autism Medi-Cal coverage, state health officials said many details have yet to be worked out. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.

New benefits, which include coverage of applied behavior analysis — also known as ABA therapy — begin next week.

Department of Health Care Services officials said many details — including the crucial figure of what the reimbursement rates will be — still need to be worked out. Rates will be discussed at the next stakeholder meeting Oct. 16, officials said. Continue reading

UCSF’s First Undocumented Medical Student Begins Training

Jirayut "New" Latthivongskorn, a newly-minted medical student at UCSF.

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn, a newly minted medical student at UCSF. (Courtesy: Jirayut Latthivongskorn)

By Mina Kim

I first met Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn a little over two years ago. He was completing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and had dreams of going to medical school.

But he had no idea if he’d ever get there. Latthivongskorn is an undocumented immigrant.

His parents brought him to the U.S. from Thailand on a tourist visa when he was 9 years old, and the family never left. Continue reading