Monthly Archives: June 2013

Will Proposed Obamacare Fines Help or Hurt California Workers?

By Kelley Weiss, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

A proposed law seeks to close the so-called "Walmart Loophole." (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A proposed law seeks to close the so-called “Walmart Loophole.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For many businesses Obamacare is downright intimidating. The requirement to provide coverage to full-time employees or potentially face thousands of dollars in fines is what’s really worrying some large companies.

Most employees at large businesses already receive health insurance through their employer. But there are still some exceptions.

Barbara Andridge is a sales associate at a Walmart near Sacramento. She’s not sure if she’s eligible for the company’s health insurance program because her hours are all over the map — from eight hours one week up to 36 hours the next.

To qualify for company benefits she says she’d have to be working at least 30 hours per week.

“We don’t support big companies that can afford health care costs for their employees simply pushing those costs onto taxpayers.”

“I really had to sit down and think about my hours and if I’m going to have enough hours to qualify to have health care all year,” Andridge says.

With no guarantee of hours Andridge decided to enroll her six-year-old son in Medi-Cal, the government health insurance program for low-income Californians. Andridge plans to apply for herself soon as well.

Some health care advocates are concerned there will be even more employees like Andridge applying for Medi-Cal once Obamacare kicks in next year. They fear companies will limit hours for workers just to avoid having to pay for their health insurance.

“Employers should not be able to skirt their responsibility simply by exploiting a vulnerability in the law,” says Steve Smith with the California Labor Federation. Continue reading

In Impoverished Eastern Coachella Valley, Data Brings Change

By Lisa Morehouse

Known locally as Duroville, Desert Mobile Home Park, near Thermal, CA, is in the heart of Eastern Coachella Valley. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

Desert Mobile Home Park, near Thermal, CA, in the heart of eastern Coachella Valley. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

About 40 miles from the Southern California resort town of Palm Springs is an abundant agricultural region, the Eastern Coachella Valley. It’s in the middle of a desert, but because of irrigation, the land there is rich.

Most of the people who live there are not.

The economy depends on the labor of the region’s farmworkers, many of whom struggle financially. For years, this desert valley has also been known as another kind of desert:  a data desert. Though many here know the area is rife with environmental hazards and social vulnerabilities like poverty and limited English-proficiency, there hasn’t been plentiful information about environmental risks, air quality, or residents’ social capital and resources. Without data identifying problems, it’s difficult to make a case for improvements.

But a new report released Wednesday documents the overlap of environmental and social access problems in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley analyzes public data tracking environmental issues (including pollution, air quality, and water quality) and overlays that information with data on residents’ social and economic resources (such as poverty rates, education levels, unemployment, and health). Continue reading

Budget Deal Restores Some Health Programs — While Slashing Others

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

After years of devastating cuts to the health and human services budget, this year’s small surplus brought restoration of some programs.

Mental health programs will get a one-time boost of $140 million. The adult dental program, Denti-Cal, cut back in 2009 and leaving tooth extraction as just about the only service being covered, has been restored, albeit partially. Benefits won’t start until next May.

But lost in the deal was a proposal to provide some therapies to 500 children with autism. Those children had lost some services when the state moved them from Healthy Families and to Medi-Cal.

Then there’s the issue of funding to county health programs. Counties bear the cost for providing health care to the uninsured. Gov. Brown has been arguing since he introduced his budget in January that counties will gain federal money in January under the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act and so the state could reduce its own health funding to counties. But counties have fought that idea, saying that there would still be plenty of uninsured people after Jan. 1 — and that now is not the time to cut the safety net. Continue reading

‘One Step Away From Disaster’: Medical Bills Hit African-Americans Hardest

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

mike-portrait-2000

Mike Jackson has diabetes and high blood pressure. His eye was damaged after he cut back on insulin because he couldn’t afford it. (Bryan Terry/NPR)

For many years, high medical bills have been a leading cause of financial distress and bankruptcy in America. That pressure may be easing ever so slightly, according to a survey released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But 1 in 5 Americans still face hardships due to medical costs — and African-Americans continue to be the hardest hit.

A poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 24 percent of African-American families say they’ve had problems paying for needed prescription drugs. The poll is part of NPR’s ongoing series, The View From Black America.

Mike Jackson is one of those people. Jackson, 52, lives in Oklahoma City and works for a major insurance company. He has high blood pressure and hypertension, and has been diabetic for 15 years.

Treating these chronic health problems isn’t cheap. Jackson’s medical bills add up to nearly $500 a month. “Diabetes alone — just the two medications alone for diabetes would have run $325 a month,” he says. Continue reading

Video: President Obama on the Health Law

President Obama addressed reporters Friday morning in San Jose about the Affordable Care Act.

While not included in the video, the president also answered two questions about the government’s controversial surveillance program. The president defended the program.

Here’s the transcript of his remarks:

OBAMA: These leaders from California’s government, the California Endowment, and major Spanish-language media outlets have joined together to help implement the Affordable Care Act here in California and to educate folks about how to sign up and shop for quality affordable plans. And their efforts have already shown some excellent results in the biggest insurance market in the country. Continue reading

President Obama to Speak in San Jose on Health Law

Remarks expected to focus on outreach and enrollment to Latinos, young people

President Obama at a White House ceremony in February. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Obama at a White House ceremony in February. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Obama is expected to deliver remarks about the ongoing implementation of his signature health law, the Affordable Care Act, Friday morning in San Jose.

Last month the state’s health insurance marketplace, Covered California, released preliminary plans and premiums they expect to offer. Average premiums for these plans were lower than had been anticipated. Senior administration officials say they are “encouraged by what we see in California” in terms of “competitive choices.”

Starting Jan. 1, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay a fine. Under the health law, many Americans will be eligible for subsidies to help them buy health insurance.

Administration officials say the goal is to enroll 7 million people nationwide and that “it’s important that we get 2.6 to 2.7 million young, healthy people.” These younger, healthier people are necessary in a large pool of enrollees to spread risk and avoid the possibility that insurance rates will spike in the future. One in three of these young people are in just three states: California, Texas and Florida. Continue reading

Distance a Barrier for Rural Californians with Health Problems

If you live in a small far-northern California town like Susanville, seen here, you may need to travel more than one hundred miles for health care. (ceiling/Flickr)

If you live in a small far-northern California town like Susanville, seen here, you may need to travel more than one hundred miles for health care. (ceiling/Flickr)

Editor’s Note: The barriers to getting health care can be bad enough in urban areas, where poverty, lack of insurance and cultural divides are serious barriers to care. But if you live in rural parts of California there’s a serious barrier of a different kind: distance. As part of our first-person series “What’s Your Story?” we hear from Kelly Frost of Redding about how the care you need may be hours away from your home.

Being on dialysis is tough enough without having to travel two or three hours each way just to get to the clinic. But when you live in the far reaches of Northern California, that is exactly what you must do. I sometimes sit with my wife when she does her dialysis treatment. We are lucky because we live only about 10 minutes away from the clinic in Redding. But every morning, the “remotes,” people who live on farms or in rural towns, climb into the mini-vans and come from Trinity County to the west; Mount Shasta, Weed, and Alturas to the North; and some from as far away as Susanville, near Reno.

They get up in the middle of the night, travel several hours, sometimes in bad weather, sit for treatment for three hours, and go home. Then in two days they do it all over again. When the weather turns, or there is an accident which closes the interstate, the problem compounds. Sometimes, they can’t get to Redding, or worse yet, they get here and can’t get home. Packing a lunch and three days of meds is standard fare for most. You’ve got to think ahead. Have a plan, a place to stay until the roads open. The dialysis center has some funds to help with a motel or a meal, but not much. Not for everyone, and not for more than a day. Continue reading

Thousands Expected for Rally to Block Medi-Cal Rate Cuts

By David Gorn, California Healthline

(seliaymiwell/flickr)

Protesters are calling on the governor to restore $1 billion in health care funding. (seliaymiwell/flickr)

Thousands of doctors, dentists, patients, health care professionals and other protesters are expected to gather Tuesday outside the Capitol Building to support the idea of reversing a 10 percent Medi-Cal provider rate cut. Organizers say it will be the largest health care protest in Sacramento history.

“We have people hopping on buses in Oceanside at 4 in the morning to get here,” said Molly Weedn, director of media relations for the California Medical Association. “People are coming from all over the state, and we’ve seen support from both sides in the Legislature. All of this [support] shows that the public doesn’t want Medi-Cal to be cut, so that’s why we’re doing this.”

It has been a tough couple of weeks for proponents of reversing the rate cut made in 2011 and not yet implemented because of court battles.

On May 24, the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court ruled the Medi-Cal cut to be legal, and lifted the injunctions on its implementation. That means the lawsuits to reverse the reduction now have only legal recourse, and that’s an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Continue reading

Confused About Obamacare? Check Out KQED’s Guide

(Andy Warner/KQED)

(Andy Warner/KQED)

The clock is ticking.

It’s now less than seven months until Obamacare goes fully into effect. On Jan. 1 most Americans will be required to have health insurance or pay a fine. Here in California, 7 million people are uninsured.

Whether you love it, hate it or are just plain confused, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Many people have questions about how the ACA affects themselves and their families. But it can be hard to find a central place to get your questions answered.

For example, if you want to find out about the new marketplace, you can visit Covered California, the state’s new health insurance marketplace. But that won’t help you if you get your insurance through your job, or if you’re on Medicare or Medi-Cal. You could probably learn a lot from the federal government’s website about the health law, but that’s not specific to California.

That’s why we produced Obamacare Explained: A Guide for Californians. We describe, in Continue reading