Monthly Archives: June 2012

Supreme Court Watch: Decision on Health Care Expected Shortly

We’re closely monitoring the events at the Supreme Court. The Justices will enter the courtroom momentarily. The health care decision will likely be the last of those issued today, according to

Someone asked the moderators there why healthcare is being decided on the last day of the term. The answer:

For one thing, it was only argued in late March and it often takes several months to write opinions in complicated cases. In addition, in big cases where there are multiple opinions, it takes a while for the dissents and concurrences to get written. Finally, the Justices often just take as much time as is available to polish their opinions in big cases.

For more on the possible implications for California see this excellent post by KQED’s Jon Brooks and Mina Kim.

California Moving To New Rules on Flame Retardants

A diagram from the state's current regulation on fire-safety of upholstered furniture (State Technical Bulletin 117)

California regulators say they’re committed to eliminating toxic flame retardants from baby products and couches within a year.

“It’s huge,” says Arlene Blum, a visiting scholar in chemistry at U.C. Berkeley and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute

“We in California have had a unique flammability standard since 1975,” Blum says. “That [standard] has been met with pound levels of chemicals that are like DDT or PCBs in our couches. And they’re chemicals that are continually migrating out of couches into dust and they’re ending up in our pets and our children … and in us.”

This week Tonya Blood, the head of the department that oversees furniture regulations, told a state senate committee the agency is committed to getting rid of the old standard and replacing it with new fire-safety rules that can be met without the use of chemicals. Continue reading

Tackling Mental Health Disparities Among California’s Latinos

Lali Moheno & her family worked the fields in Modesto. Three of her family members had untreated mental health problems. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Lali Moheno went to school in Texas as a kid. But she, her parents, and her six siblings would bus to Modesto, California every summers to work the fields. Then in late August or September, her parents would put her and her siblings back in a bus to Texas. Mohseno worked the fields all the way through graduating from the University of Texas.

“Life was hard,” said Moheno said during a press conference at UC Davis. “We had three family members who had mental health issues. But of course, in our family, we didn’t recognize it. They’d say, ‘Ese? Esta un poquito loco [Him? He’s a little crazy]. Don’t pay attention to him. We don’t know what to do with him. He just follows us into the migrant camps.”

Moheno said her family didn’t know that visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist was even an option. That’s why she became a health activist working with farmworkers in Visalia. And that’s why she participated in a series of community forums looking at Latino mental health care disparities.

“Often when someone suffers from depression, unfortunately some family members — and I have seen it in churches also — they say it’s because of the weak character that they have, or they haven’t prayed hard enough.”

The result of the forums is a UC Davis study released this week, Community-Defined Solutions for Mental Health Care Disparities. Researchers highlight a variety of methods to close the mental health care gaps for Latinos in California.

Latinos make up over one-third of the nation’s population, and they’re the largest racial or ethnic group in California. But they’re also one of the most under-served communities in the state when it comes to getting mental health care.

Access to health insurance, transportation and language services all play into it. As does stigma associated with getting mental health care. Access to care also fluctuates based on ethnicity: Latinos of Mexican descent are less likely to get mental health care than other Latino groups, like Puerto Ricans. The report says about eighty-five percent of Mexican immigrants who need mental health services remain untreated.

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Quick Read: Fresno County Amputation Rate Among State’s Highest

The amputation rate in Fresno County is almost 50 percent higher than the statewide rate. In this article doctors in the county struggle to explain the discrepancy. There is consensus that these amputations are due to diabetes but why is the number so out of whack? Some point out that nearby counties with the same socioeconomics and numbers of diabetes patients have lower amputation rates. The article quotes local cardiologist Dr. Rohit Sundrani, who blames the numbers on lack of immediate treatment: “Sundrani said that too often, low-income patients without insurance or on Medi-Cal, the state-federal health insurance program, can wait weeks for appointments with primary-care doctors, and the wait can be even longer for referrals to specialists — if someone can be found who accepts the government reimbursement, which is among the lowest in the country.”

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People in Fresno County are more likely to have toes, feet and legs amputated than almost anywhere in California, a ranking that has doctors and podiatrists debating what can be done to prevent the loss of limbs.

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Sometimes When School Is Out, So Is The Food

Kids line up for a free summer meal through a Chico Unified School District program. (Photo: Patrice Chamberlain)

To understand some of the powerful hunger issues in our state, go no further than the Silicon Valley YMCA.

The Y runs summer youth programs in Gilroy. Vice president of programming and community development Mary Hoshiko Haughey says last summer they had a boy in the middle school group who wasn’t eating his lunch.

“This was the first day of the program, and our staff asked ‘Why aren’t you eating?’ ‘What would you like?'” Haughey recalled. “And he said, ‘I can’t eat because I need to make sure my brother and sister are eating. Do they have food in their program too? Otherwise I have to save it for them.’ And finally we put him on the phone with them at another site and they said ‘yes, we’re eating,’ so he finally did too.”

Haughey paused. “It’s an example of the adult issues that our young children are taking on. He wasn’t going to eat unless he knew his siblings would.”

It’s also an example of the importance of the summer meal programs that are offered throughout the state. Some school-based programs directly continue the work of the School Lunch Program and Summer Food Service Program that serves free and reduced meals to low income students throughout the year. Others are sponsored by food banks or summer youth program sites.

The Silicon Valley Y is part of the California Summer Meal Coalition, which is working to increase awareness of the USDA summer nutrition programs offered through the California Department of Education.

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California Budget Proposal Would Move 880,000 Children Off Healthy Families

A kindergartner visits the dentist, one of the services parents and advocates are worried about accessing when they switch to Medi-Cal. (heraldpost/Flickr)

Jacqueline Dandeneau understands why children’s health advocates are so upset.

The Humboldt County resident, and mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was a longtime subscriber to Healthy Families. That’s California’s medical insurance program for kids whose parents make just too much to qualify for Medi-Cal, but struggle to afford private health insurance payments.

“We were a ‘Healthy Families’ family and very happy to be so. The paperwork was easy and we had great dental access,” said Dandeneau.

Then, came the economic downturn, their fortunes changed for the worse and their coverage changed to Medi-Cal.

Dandeneau says in their county there are few providers and they are waiting up to a year for appointments.

“We have to drive 3 hours to go to Redding,” said Dandeneau, pointing out it’s a challenging system for working parents struggling to juggle commitments. “So I see right now the system is taxed as it is. We as a Medi-Cal family can’t get enough coverage as it is. Let alone if we have all the Healthy Families kids fall into that service.”

Wendy Lazarus with Children’s Partnership says the idea that all of the 880,000 children in Healthy Families would immediately be moved in Medi-Cal as part of the budget solution was a big surprise. Continue reading

EPA Study Explains Link Between Smog, Heart Problems

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

Nine of the ten regions with the most ozone pollution are in California. High ozone has now been linked to health problems. (eutrophication&hypoxia/Flickr)

Smog has been linked to heart problems and even death, and new research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins to explain why.

Researchers found that healthy young adults who have been exposed to ozone – which is a major component of smog – experience physiological changes that could be linked to heart ailments in vulnerable populations, such as elderly people with cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the study “provides a plausible explanation for the link between acute ozone exposure and death,” lead author Robert B. Devlin said in a statement.

The study has special implications for Californians, who are exposed to some of the highest ozone levels in the country.

Of the 10 regions in the country with the most ozone pollution, nine are in California, with Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside topping the list, according to the American Lung Association.

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Demystifying Questions Around the Supreme Court’s Coming Health Care Decision

Supreme court rules in the Affordable Care Act decision (photo: s_falkow/Flickr)

This morning came and went without a health care decision. One of the experienced lawyers following the proceedings was asked when a decision had ever been so anticipated:

I am pretty sure that the answer … is NEVER. In Bush v. Gore, it all moved so quickly and we didn’t know when we would get a decision.

Barring a highly unusual deferral until the next term, the final health care decision will come out on Thursday morning around 7:00 AM pacific time.

Like all controversial issues this one goes by many names. The law under consideration started life as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” but was nicknamed “Obamacare” by Republicans. Now some Democrats are trying to reclaim “Obamacare” for their own.

There’s not just a lot of jockeying about the name. The complex legal intricacies have inspired plenty of explainers and Q&A’s around the web today. Here are some of the highlights.

The L.A. Times ran a piece that looked specifically at the legal issues at stake and why the Court could consider this as a tax law case, throwing a wrench in things.

The Washington Post has a blog post aptly titled “Everything you need to know about Obamacare and SCOTUS in one post.”

But if that’s not enough, here’s this consumer guide from Kaiser Health News.


Quick Read: Young Adults Could Lose Coverage if Health Law Overturned

Even some Republicans who hate most things about the Affordable Care Act admit that they support allowing young people to stay on their parent’s insurance plans. It has become so popular that some insurance companies have said they will keep the policy even if Obama’s healthcare law is overturned by the Supreme Court. But there may be unforeseen tax consequences to both the employee and the employer.

One of the most popular parts of the health overhaul law is a provision that lets parents keep children on their insurance policies until age 26. Several big insurers say they plan to keep that in place even if the Supreme Court strikes down the rest of the law.

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