Monthly Archives: October 2013

Farmworker Women Gather in Tulare County

(J. Stephen Conn/Flickr)

(J. Stephen Conn/Flickr)

Nearly a thousand farmworker women will gather Friday in Tulare, one of California’s poorest counties, for the annual Farmworker Women’s Conference. They’ll learn about education, social services and have an opportunity to discuss their lives and the health challenges they face.

Lali Moheno of Visalia started this San Joaquin Valley conference 11 years ago because she wanted to help other women farmworkers. Moheno’s mother spent decades picking cotton and grapes. She died without any medical insurance to treat her leg injuries and diabetes. Moheno sought to help educate other women and share tactics to improve their lives.

“You will be a better person, a better mom, a better voter, a better woman,” Moheno said, “if you learn to think on your own — if you learn take control of your life and not let other people control your life.” Continue reading

Website Brings Discounts, Cost Transparency to Dental Care

(Pepino1976/Flickr)

(Pepino1976/Flickr)

Like health care, dental care matters, too. While about 14 percent of Californians lack health insurance, 39 percent lack dental coverage, according to a 2009 brief from the California HealthCare Foundation.

Even if you have dental insurance, it often has coverage limits and varying levels of out-of-pocket spending requirements that differ from health insurance, as a recent Los Angeles Times report noted:

First, it’s specifically designed to encourage preventive treatment. That’s why most dental plans pay 100 percent for preventive services, such as cleanings, X-rays and checkups. Basic restorative services such as fillings and periodontal cleanings are generally covered at 80 percent, and you’ll commonly get just 50 percent reimbursement for procedures such as implants and crowns.

In addition, they commonly come with low annual maximums that place a cap on what the plan pays toward care — the typical range is $1,000 to $1,500.

Even with coverage, the high cost of dental procedures prevents many people from seeking care. In a recent study of Los Angeles residents conducted by Empirica Research, 51 percent with dental insurance say they’ve delayed care because of cost. That number jumps to 68 percent among those without coverage.

Now, a new website, Brighter.com, has launched a free (to consumers) service to help connect people with dentists — at a discount. “The mission was to provide quality, affordable care to everyone,” said Jake Winebaum, Brighter’s CEO. “Brighter is the first marketplace where dentists are competing for patients based on quality, price and convenience.” Continue reading

How the Medicare Part D Rollout Was the Same — and Different — From the ACA

Medicare Part D is also known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It went into effect on January 1, 2006. (Getty Images)

Medicare Part D is also known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It went into effect on January 1, 2006. (Getty Images)

By Dan Diamond, California Healthline Contributing Editor

With the possible exception of one phrase — “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” — defenders of Obamacare have repeatedly invoked the same warning:

Don’t be too critical of the Affordable Care Act’s new marketplaces. Medicare Part D had a rocky rollout, too.

“The level of frustration for those using [medicare.gov] was pretty high in 2005, just like today.”  

“In terms of confusion, lack of knowledge, and misinformation, the current situation with exchanges resembles the situation that prevailed when Part D enrollment opened,” Daniel McFadden, a UC-Berkeley economist and Nobel laureate, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

Part D, “at the time that it was passed was actually less popular than the Affordable Care Act,” President Obama said in an NPR interview on Oct. 1, the day the new marketplaces launched.

There are similarities between the two programs, from the political fight over their enactment to the difficulties in making the laws a reality. But the laws differ in some important ways, too, including ones that supporters haven’t fully acknowledged.

So what can we take away from Part D? Here’s a quick guide to lessons from the drug plan’s rollout.

Websites’ Difficulties Continue reading

New ACA Fracas: Did the White House Know People Would Face Insurance Cancellations?

President Obama makes remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Obama makes remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan.”

That’s been President Obama’s talking point since 2009, before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010.

But millions of Americans are receiving notices of policies being cancelled, NBC reported on Monday night and — citing four unnamed sources “deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act” — further argued that the administration has known this would happen for the last three years.

From NBC:

None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010, will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered. Continue reading

Traditional Healer Treats Body and Mind

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Juana Gomez (right) is a traditional Mixteca healer from Mexico. She lives with her daughter, Johanna Gomez (left), in Madera, Calif. and provides health care to many farm workers. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Some recent immigrants avoid visits to western doctors. Instead, they call on traditional healers who speak their language, use familiar medicinal plants, and share their cultures. As part of our ongoing series of first-person health profiles called “What’s Your Story?” we hear from Juana Gomez, a Mixteca traditional healer from Oaxaca, Mexico. Gomez now lives in Madera, in California’s Central Valley, where many of her patients are undocumented farm workers. Her daughter, Johanna Gomez, translates her story. Reporter: Sasha Khokha

By Juana Gomez

We have the purple basil and we have the green basil. The basil is a very, very sacred plant from my ancestors.

It’s very important to know the classification of each plant because even though they are plants and they are natural and they have healing powers, they work just as medicine and you have to be really careful with them.

My mom says that the most she sees here are males that work on the fields. She says that it is very common for them to come because it’s a combination of not being able to have a restroom close enough, it’s a combination of the heat, the long hours that they’re sitting, the vibration of the tractors. So, there are many, many factors.

Most of the people that come do have physical illness, but many times they are not sick with the physical illness. They are more sick of a spiritual need because of the sadness of leaving their people behind.  Maybe they left their wife and their kids over in their native countries. Continue reading

Is San Francisco Primed to Approve a Soda Tax?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener says he will propose a 2 cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. If the board passes his proposal, San Francisco voters will see it on the ballot next November.

This tax is double the amount proposed last year in elections in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte. Those were a penny-per-ounce each and both were defeated by voters.

In addition to the amount of the tax, there’s another major difference between Wiener’s proposal and the two that failed. In Wiener’s plan, revenues generated by the tax — an estimated $31 million per year — would be earmarked for children’s recreation and nutrition programs. In Richmond and El Monte, revenues would have gone to the general fund. Voters were skeptical that soda tax revenues would ever really fund children’s health programs, despite city council resolutions that they would.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he thinks the plan has “a very good chance” before San Francisco voters, specifically because of the earmarked funds. Continue reading

Recipe For Strong Teen Bones: Exercise, Calcium and Vitamin D

Exercise helps build strong bones for a lifetime, says one expert. (KG Sand Soccer/Flickr)

Exercise helps build strong bones for a lifetime, says one expert. (KG Sand Soccer/Flickr)

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

It’s really only a sliver of time when humans build the bulk of their skeleton. At age 9, the bones start a big growth spurt. And by the time puberty ends, around 14 or 15 years old, the adult-sized skeleton is all but done, about 90 percent complete.

But doctors say a lot of children aren’t getting what they need to do that. Calcium and vitamin D are essential, sure, but so is lots of time jumping and running.

“It’s the magic window of time when bone is built.”
“It’s the magic window of time when bone is built,” says Dr. Laura Tosi, an orthopedic surgeon who directs the pediatric bone health program at Children’s National Health system in Washington, D.C. And when it comes to bones, “bigger is definitely better,” she says. “The wider and thicker the bone, the harder it is to break or tear.”

Just about everybody knows that calcium and vitamin D are essential to build strong bones. But children and teenagers are all too often shunning the foods that would help them get enough calcium and vitamin D to build those bones.

Federal health officials recommend that children between the ages of 9 and 18 get 1,300 milligrams of calcium every day. That translates into four to five glasses of milk or the equivalent. According to Dr. Neville Golden, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, most teens are not drinking anywhere near that amount. Continue reading

Good Read: Q & A with Andrew Kolodny — Busting Pain Medicine Myths

In light of the FDA’s move to consider new restrictions on opioids such as hydrocodone, this interview with Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House Foundation, is particularly insightful. It gets past the tug-of-war between efforts to avoid deaths by overdose (which have been climbing) and ensuring those suffering from debilitating, chronic pain still have access to painkillers. If doctors write fewer prescriptions for opioids, what other legitimate options are there for treating pain? Plenty, says Kolodny.


Dr. Andrew Kolodny is the Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President at Phoenix House Foundation in New York. He’s also a go-to source for journalists looking for perspective on the nation’s prescription drug abuse problem. He first contacted me a year ago when I interviewed writer Maia Szalavitz about her thoughts on painkiller addiction.

Read more at: www.reportingonhealth.org

FDA Seeks to Tighten Control on Hydrocodone Painkillers Like Vicodin

(futurowoman/Flickr)

(futurowoman/Flickr)

By Rob Stein, NPR

The Food and Drug Administration Thursday announced that it wants the federal government to impose tough new restrictions on some of the most widely used prescription painkillers.

The FDA said it planned to recommend that Vicodin and other prescription painkillers containing the powerful opioid hydrocodone be reclassified from a “Schedule III” drug to a “Schedule II” drug, which would impose new restrictions on how they are prescribed and used.

OxyContin, another opioid painkiller, is already a Schedule II drug, defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration as “potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence”.

In a statement posted on its website, the agency said it was taking the step after becoming “increasingly concerned about the abuse and misuse of opioid products, which have sadly reached epidemic proportions in certain parts of the United States.” Continue reading

Just One in Three Students Deemed “Fit” in State Evaluation

Among other issues, physical education programs and recess have been cut back in recent years because of budget cuts, (Getty Images)

Among other issues, physical education programs and recess have been cut back in recent years because of budget cuts, (Getty Images)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

Only one in three California students earned a “fit” rating in the annual physical fitness test given to more than 1 million fifth, seventh and ninth grade students, according to 2012-13 test results released Wednesday.

About 26 percent of fifth graders, 32 percent of seventh graders, and 37 percent of ninth graders scored in the “Healthy Fitness Zone,” a measure defined by the creators of the California Physical Fitness Test, for all six areas: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength, and flexibility.

In the test, a 10-year-old boy, for example, would be evaluated on his ability to perform a minimum of 12 curl-ups and seven push-ups within a specified time and to run a mile as fast as possible, or run back and forth in a 20-meter distance for as long as possible. Students 13 and older are given the option of walking a mile as fast as possible. Continue reading