Prop. 46, Inspired By Tragedy, Pits Doctors Against Lawyers

After Troy and Alana Pack were killed by an impaired driver, their father became an advocate for change, ultimately writing Prop. 46 on November's ballot. (Photo Courtesy: Bob Pack)

After Troy and Alana Pack were killed by an impaired driver, their father became an advocate for change, ultimately writing Prop. 46 on November’s ballot. (Photo Courtesy: Bob Pack)

Troy and Alana Pack had spent the day at their neighborhood Halloween party in Danville. Ten-year-old Troy went as a baseball player, and seven-year-old Alana was a good witch. In the afternoon, they changed out of their costumes and set out for a walk with their mother down Camino Tassajara. Destination: 31 Flavors.

“Alana, she liked anything with chocolate,” says their father, Bob Pack. “Troy, for sure, bubble gum ice cream, ’cause he liked counting the bubble gums that he would get.”

Bob Pack stayed home to rest. His family made it only half a mile down the road before his phone rang: “I received a call from a neighbor screaming there’d been an accident. And I raced down there,” he says.

A driver had veered off the road and hit Troy and Alana head on. Pack was doing CPR on Troy when the paramedics arrived. Continue reading

Immigrants Scramble to Prove Eligibility for Covered California

A report from Berkeley's Greenlining Institute called on Covered California to make its enrollment website available in more languages than English and Spanish.

(Screen shot from the Spanish-language version of the Covered California website.)

By Daniela Hernandez, Kaiser Health News

When Fabrizio Mancinelli applied for health insurance through California’s online marketplace nine months ago, he ran into a frustrating snag.

The deadline is midnight, Tuesday, for those who were notified to provide documents proving their legal status.

An Italian composer and self-described computer geek, Mancinelli said he was surprised to find there wasn’t a clear way to upload a copy of his O-1 visa. The document, which grants temporary residency status to people with extraordinary talents in the sciences and arts, was part of his proof to the government that he was eligible for coverage.

So, the 35-year-old Sherman Oaks resident wrote in his application that he’d be happy to send along any further documentation. Continue reading

Shining Light on the Cost of Diabetes Test Strips

(Victor/via Flickr)

Test strips — the white strip in the photo above — vary dramatically both in cash price and in insurance coverage. (Victor/via Flickr)

Since early this summer, KQED and our partners, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com, have been crowdsourcing the costs of common health care procedures.

‘Every time someone moves to a new insurer, the pricing will be different on test strips. Nobody is going to send you a breakdown.’

If you’re one of the 29 million people in America who has diabetes, we’re turning now to you. We know that many people with diabetes must check their blood sugar, also called glucose, level several times a day.

For those of you who don’t have diabetes, the reason for frequent checking is because in diabetes, sugar can build up in the bloodstream because the body is not able to process it. That can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the disease, many people with diabetes must check their glucose level several times a day to make sure it is neither dangerously high nor dangerously low.

To check their blood sugar, people with diabetes have a glucose meter. Each time they test their blood, a test strip is inserted into the meter. Then they use a special needle to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter displays the result. Continue reading

Governor Signs Bill Giving $3 Million to Doctors Medical Center

State officials have until Monday to submit plan. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill giving $3 million to financially troubled Doctors Medical Center in western Contra Costa County. The hospital has been in danger of closing for weeks.

SB883 appropriates the money from the state’s Major Risk Medical Insurance Fund to the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which oversees Doctors Medical Center. It is considered “bridge funding,” according to a release from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), an author of the bill, so that the hospital and health care district have time to identify more secure funding.

“Doctors Medical Center is the safety net hospital for Richmond, San Pablo and other West Contra County communities. Its closure would leave a community in need without emergency care, cardio, dialysis and other critical hospital services,” Skinner said in a statement.
Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

Marijuana Legalization Move Begins (Again) in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, took the first formal steps Wednesday toward a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California.

The group officially filed papers with the secretary of state to register a new committee, the Marijuana Policy Project of California. The registration allows the committee to start soliciting and spending funds.

Ballot language will not be drafted until early 2015, but the goal is to regulate pot in a similar way to alcohol, the group says. Continue reading

Medi-Cal Backlog Will Be ‘Down Significantly’ in Six Weeks

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

At an Assembly Committee on Health hearing yesterday, Department of Health Care Services Director Toby Douglas said the backlog of Medi-Cal applications — at one point in March topping 900,000 unprocessed eligibility claims — now is down to about 250,000 applications and will be “down significantly” from that by the start of November.

Douglas answered a number of concerns at the hearing, including announcing a shift in DHCS policy regarding asthma and allergy testing, as well as Denti-Cal and special-needs dental care issues.

The counties and DHCS, Douglas said, reduced the Medi-Cal application backlog by 650,000 over six months — more than 100,000 a month. A similar pace in the next month-and-a-half would get it down to about 100,000 applications. Continue reading

At Native American Health Center, the Prescription Is Vegetables

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

By Brittany Patterson

In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, 20 people sit inside a colorful classroom at the Native American Health Center. They listen attentively as Leah Ricci gives a lecture on the merits of fiber and where to get it. As far as lectures on fiber are concerned, this one is pretty rousing.

“I didn’t like vegetables and fruit, but now we’re all eating more of them.”

“Can anyone name some foods that are high in fiber?” she asks.

Immediately the participants begin to throw out suggestions.

“Beans. Apples. Greens. Seeds.”

“What do all of these foods have in common?” Ricci asks.

“They all come from plants,” shouts out Paula Marie Parker.

Parker and the others are all students in a program at the Native American Health Center called VeggieRx, which teaches participants about nutrition and the merits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables and physical activity in their lives and the lives of their families. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

Continue reading

Drought May Be Driving Increase in West Nile

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir on January 28, 2014 in San Jose, California. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have low water levels. Santa Clara County reservoirs are at 3 percent of capacity or lower. California Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency to speed up assistance to local governments, streamline water transfers and potentially ease environmental protection requirements for dam releases. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public health experts say the state’s historic drought is partly to blame for the recent rise in West Nile virus infections. Cases this year have more than doubled to 311, compared to the same time last year.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. They contract the virus when they feed on infected birds, then spread it to other birds they bite next. A shortage of water can accelerate this cycle.

“When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne diseases at the state department of public health.

Also, the water sources that do exist are more likely to stagnate. Stagnant water creates an excellent habitat for mosquitoes to breed. Continue reading