Monthly Archives: September 2013

Government Shutdown or Not, Covered California Opens Tuesday; 5 FAQs Answered

Mark Chekal-Bain, district director for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act at Lifelong Medical Health Center. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Mark Chekal-Bain, district director for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act at Lifelong Medical Health Center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

“California is open for business,” crowed Mark Chekal-Bain at an event hosted by Lifelong Health Center, a medical clinic in downtown Oakland. Chekal-Bain works with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland).

Tuesday is D-Day for Covered California. At 8 a.m., the marketplace is scheduled to open for enrollment, more than three-and-a-half years after passage of the Affordable Care Act. Even if Congress can’t come to agreement about the federal budget, the federal government will only partially shut down. The marketplaces will open as scheduled.

“We will be enrolling people into affordable health care,” Chekal-Bain said, including Medi-Cal and private insurance plans available on the marketplace. “All of us at the local, state and county levels are committed to helping you.”

[Related: Covered California Is Now Open, Has First Enrollee]

A handful of government types and advocates spoke, but perhaps the most moving was Amy Shrago. She’s a legislative analyst with Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, but she has a personal connection to Obamacare. Continue reading

Vaccine Refusals Fueled California Whooping Cough Epidemic

Students leaving a vaccine clinic after being vaccinated against whooping cough at a middle school in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Student leaves a vaccine clinic at a Los Angeles middle school after being immunized against whooping cough. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

When the whooping cough vaccine was invented in the 1940s, doctors thought they had finally licked the illness, which is especially dangerous for babies. But then it came roaring back.

In 2010, a whooping cough outbreak in California sickened 9,120 people, more than in any year since 1947. Ten infants died; babies are too young to be vaccinated.

Public health officials suspected that the increased numbers of parents who refused to vaccinate their children played a role, but they couldn’t be sure.

Vaccine refusal was indeed a factor, researchers now say. They compared the location and number of whooping cough, or pertussis, cases in that outbreak with the personal belief exemptions filed by parents who chose not to vaccinate for reasons other than a child’s health. (Some children with compromised immune systems aren’t able to be vaccinated.)

Pertussis is very contagious, spreading quickly through a community. So the researchers had to map not only the location of outbreak clusters, but also when they appeared. Continue reading

Good Read: California Raced To ‘Set the Pace’ on Obamacare Implementation. Did it Pay Off?

California’s efforts at expanding health coverage to the uninsured go back at least to the early 1990s. Advocates, politicians and bureaucrats brought lessons learned from those earlier, failed efforts and used them to “speedily roll out the national law.” California Healthline unpacks those lessons learned and looks ahead — as we barrel toward Oct. 1.


Back in 2010 — before two elections, before the Supreme Court ruled, before the word “crisis” stopped following the words “California budget” — Kim Belshé settled on a guiding principle: ” 2014 is tomorrow.” And now, it almost is. The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate takes effect in less than 100 days.

Read more at: www.californiahealthline.org

Days Away From Signing-up, Many Californians Still Don’t Understand Obamacare

Women knit as they attend a Senior Information & Resource Fair in South Gate, California September 10, 2013 . The event included a discussion of how the Affordable Care Act, also called 'Obamacare' will impact senior citizens and what insurance plans will be available to them. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Women knit as they attend a Senior Information & Resource Fair in South Gate, California September 10, 2013 . The event included a discussion of how the Affordable Care Act, also called ‘Obamacare’ will impact senior citizens and what insurance plans will be available to them. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

In five days, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act goes live in California — the state-run insurance marketplace Covered California. Yet, most Californians eligible to participate, are confused.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday, finds three in four state residents eligible for government-subsidized private plans are either unaware they quality, or wrongly believe they don’t qualify.

This survey was taken just about a month ago.

KQED’s Mina Kim spoke to Mollyann Brodie, the Director of Public Opinion and Survey Research and Senior Vice President for Executive Operations at Kaiser Family Foundation, about the survey. Continue reading

3 Out of 4 Uninsured Californians Eligible, But Unaware of Obamacare Benefits

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News

As uninsured Californians head into a new era of health coverage, they’re worried about costs and unaware of the help they’ll get from the government, a new survey finds.

The survey, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that three out of four Californians who earn modest incomes and could buy government-subsidized private coverage wrongly believe they’re not eligible for federal assistance or simply don’t know if they qualify.

In addition, many undocumented immigrants, who constitute about a fifth of the state’s uninsured population, erroneously believe they will be eligible for coverage. The law specifically bars them from getting coverage from the state’s new health insurance marketplace, which opens next Tuesday, for coverage beginning Jan.1, 2014.

“This has been, for so long, a political debate,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a Sacramento-based consumer advocacy group. “We’re just starting to move it into a practical reality. Now that the benefits are close at hand, there is a concerted effort to educate people about what their benefits are.” Continue reading

Food Stamps Cuts Would Harm Vulnerable Californians, Advocates Say

By Elaine Korry

Thousands of Californians could lose food stamp benefits under a plan approved by congressional Republicans last week cutting the federal program by approximately $40 billion over ten years. California already has the lowest food stamp participation rate in the nation. Advocates for the poor are alarmed, and they say the GOP plan would hurt veterans and former foster youth, among others.

An estimated four million Californians receive food assistance through a state-administered program called CalFresh. The bill, which passed by a 217-210 margin, would protect benefits for the poorest households with children (who comprise about 80 percent of food stamp recipients in California), but restrict benefits for unemployed childless adults after three months.

GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents a district stretching from Truckee to the Sequoia National Forest, says he voted on behalf of every California household that pays $720 a year in taxes to support CalFresh. “I think they’ve got a right to ask in return that those who are on the program make a good faith effort to get off it, and that’s what this bill does,” he said.

More than 360,000 out-of-work Californians could lose CalFresh benefits, unless they enroll in vocational courses or a county jobs program. “The bill restores a requirement that able-bodied adults work, or look for work, or at least be training for work in order to receive this assistance,” said McClintock. Continue reading

Some Say Obamacare’s ‘Affordable’ Coverage Isn’t So Affordable

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, a lot of emphasis has been placed on enrolling the so-called “young invincibles,” young people who tend to be healthy. The new Covered California insurance marketplace opens next Tuesday, and outreach workers across the state are spreading the news about new options and the coveted subsides, available from the federal government in the form of tax subsidies to make insurance more affordable.

But “more affordable” is relative. Kaiser Health News today tells the story of Michelle La Voie, a single mom making $38,000 a year and supporting two teenagers. She wants health insurance, but even with the subsidy she would likely get, she’s still not sure she can afford it. From KHN:

La Voie … would still have to pay $191 a month, or about 6 percent of her income toward the premium. She could also face as much as $2,000 in potential out-of-pocket costs for hospital care and prescription drugs, if she needs those things.

“What’s the point of having [a policy] if I can’t afford to use it?” asks the 47-year-old librarian in upstate Franklinville, New York, referring to the co-pays and deductibles that she might incur if she sought treatment.

Continue reading

Federal Health Officials to Launch Study of Valley Fever

A bull kicks up dust on a farm south of Bakersfield. Valley fever spores are carried by the wind in the dry, desert southwest, including California's Central Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A bull kicks up dust on a farm south of Bakersfield. Valley fever spores are carried by the wind in the dry, desert southwest, including California’s Central Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

By Rachel Cook, Reporting on Health Collaborative

The leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health announced they will launch a clinical trial to get a better understanding of how to treat valley fever. The announcement was made Monday as part of a two-day symposium on valley fever being held in Bakersfield.

The randomized control trial will cost millions of dollars and involve roughly 1,000 patients, and it could help determine the best practices for treating the fungal infection.

“It will take some time to mount this trial, to plan it, to put it forward,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH. “But I just want to assure all of you from this part of California that we’re serious about trying to get some of those answers even in the face of difficult budget times,” Collins said.

California’s San Joaquin Valley is a valley fever hot spot.

“What we’ve seen is a steady increase in the number of diagnosed cases of valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “We don’t know why that’s happened and there’s a lot that we need to learn.”

Continue reading

Swapping COBRA For Obamacare Likely A Windfall For Big Business And Consumers

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News

Health-law provisions taking effect next year could save U.S. employers billions of dollars in expenses now paid for workers who continue medical coverage after they leave the company, benefits experts say.

Insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act are expected to all but replace COBRA coverage in which ex-employees and dependents can remain on the company plan if they pay the premiums.

Offered a choice between heavily subsidized coverage under Obamacare or paying full price with COBRA “most people are going to choose the exchange.”

“As soon as the law was passed, the question among employers and benefits people was: Is there still going to be a reason for COBRA?” said Steve Wojcik,  vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health, an employer group. Offered a choice between heavily subsidized coverage in the health act’s insurance exchanges or paying full price under COBRA, he said, “most people are going to choose the exchange.”

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, known as COBRA and intended to furnish coverage between jobs, is a burden for employers as well as participants. Continue reading

How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?

An updated estimate says at least 210,000 patients die from medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals a year. (Getty Images)

An updated estimate says at least 210,000 patients die from medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals a year. (Getty Images)

By Marshall Allen, Pro Publica

It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient’s death, the numbers come out worse.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.

That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

The new estimates were developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA‘s space center in Houston who runs an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America. James has also written a book about the death of his 19-year-old son after what James maintains was negligent hospital care.

Continue reading