Monthly Archives: April 2014

Report: High Rates of Pesticide Use Near Many California Schools

Central Valley farmworkers and environmentalists protest pesticide spraying on farms near schools, from outside an elementary school in West Fresno at risk.  (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Central Valley farmworkers and environmentalists protest pesticide spraying on farms near schools, from outside an elementary school in West Fresno at risk. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

A new state report shows tens of thousands of California students attend schools very close to farms where heavy amounts of pesticides are used.

Farmworkers and pesticide reform groups say the data is long overdue.

This is the first time the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has comprehensively surveyed pesticide use near the 2,500 schools in 15 California counties with the most pesticide use. CDPH defined “near” as within 1/4 mile, a “common distance” when pesticides are used near schools. Monterey, Ventura, Tulare, and Fresno counties had the most students and schools located within a quarter-mile of where pesticides are used.

Latino school children are 91 percent more likely than white students to attend schools near fields with heavy pesticide use. Continue reading

Obamacare in Jail: How San Francisco Policy Helps Inmates

A new law permits San Francisco Sheriff Department staff to enroll people into health plans. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

A new law permits San Francisco Sheriff Department staff to enroll people into health plans. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is implementing a new city law allowing its staff to enroll inmates into health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi believes that making sure people have health coverage when they’re released will help prevent them from committing another crime and coming back.

“I believe that will go a long way to helping us improve public safety by using a public health strategy,” he said.

Health insurance sign-ups available to all inmates at the San Francisco county jail.

He estimates this will help save taxpayers millions of dollars.

One inmate – Sophia – recently requested help signing up for health insurance. Sophia, who asked that her last name not be used, was caught driving a stolen car in January and sentenced to three months in the county jail. She says that was because she stopped getting treatment for her substance abuse and mental health problems when her health insurance expired. Continue reading

Silicon Valley Health-Tech Wrestles with the FDA

The FDA's recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andme rattled health-tech executives. (Hong Chang Bum/Flickr)

The FDA’s recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andme rattled health-tech executives. (Hong Chang Bum/Flickr)

By Christina Farr

Health care entrepreneurs are a different breed than most entrepreneurs. Rather than hunkering down to build a cool product, they need to think about regulation and red tape — right from the start.

Ignoring the FDA and pushing ahead with a product is not a viable option.  

As boring as it may sound, health-tech founders need to develop a relationship with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This process might drag on for some time, as this authority has the unenviable job of overseeing an explosion of new medical technology, whether it’s a new electronic health record or a device that turns your smartphone into an ear scope.

As the recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andMe demonstrated, ignoring the FDA and pushing ahead with a product is not a viable option.

In recent years, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs have become increasingly critical, attacking the agency’s antiquated processes in a string of interviews and op-eds. Continue reading

California Senate Holds Soda-Labeling Bill Over Costs

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

A bill to put warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks in California is on hold for now. After clearing one committee vote earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee suspended the SB 1000 Monday, over the cost of enforcing the measure.

The proposed labels would warn people that “drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay,” and would apply to all sugary drinks that have more than 75 calories per 12 ounces.

KQED News host Mina Kim spoke with Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) Monday afternoon about the committee’s decision.

The appropriations committee made the move largely over the estimated $390,000 in enforcement costs that the state will face if the bill becomes law.  While Monning said that the committee’s decision to move the bill to the so-called suspense file is “common procedure,” the Los Angeles Times reported that Monning intends to rework the bill to reduce those costs before reintroducing it for another vote later this spring. Continue reading

Yes, California Leads in Obamacare — But the Marathon is Just Beginning

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

By Dan Diamond, California Healthline

Joel Ario says he meant it as a compliment.

It was January 2011, and Ario — the White House’s point man on exchanges at the time — was having dinner with Diana Dooley, California’s newly installed HHS secretary. And seeking to praise California, Ario told Dooley that her state had emerged as one of the nation’s “pace cars” when it came to implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The enrollment numbers are terrific, “but it’s too early to hang the Mission Accomplished banner.”
Dooley quickly corrected him, Ario recalled in an interview with California Healthline this week.

“[Dooley] told me, ‘Pace cars don’t actually win the race,'” Ario said. “‘We want to be the lead car.'”

Forty months later, California’s clearly pulled ahead of the pack. No state signed up more residents during Obamacare’s first open enrollment period, or grew its Medicaid rolls by a larger amount.

But not all glitters in the Golden State. While Covered California drove national enrollment — nearly one in five of all 8 million national ACA sign-ups went through the state’s insurance exchange — its faltering website and sometimes spotty service made for an occasionally bumpy ride. Continue reading

Despite Obamacare, Why Some Choose to Skip Health Insurance

Scott Belsha says he opted out of buying health insurance because he has never had it and has managed to stay healthy (Stephanie O'Neill/NPR).

Scott Belsha says he opted out of buying health insurance because he has never had it and has managed to stay healthy (Stephanie O’Neill/NPR).

By Stephanie O’Neill, NPR

Despite a surge in enrollment in the two weeks before the April 15 deadline to enroll for health insurance under the federal health law, many more Californians still haven’t signed up, and they’re unlikely to.

Many people are uninterested, confused or skeptical.

Scott Belsha, from Long Beach, Calif., falls in the skeptical category.

“I’ve been consumed with living my life, and I’m fortunate to be healthy,” he says. He works as a musician and carpenter, and he’s never had health insurance. His parents, who own a small business, always paid cash for medical care, most of which they were able to get from a doctor friend.

“I haven’t ever been to the hospital or broken a bone,” he says. “But I’m 34, and I should probably start thinking about it.” Continue reading

State’s Walk and Bike Infrastructure Poised for Healthy Update

(Getty images)

(Getty images)

Far more Californians are choosing biking or walking to get around these days. Over the last 10 years, the number of trips Californians made on foot and by bike doubled, according to the latest California Household Travel Survey.

Every $1 million invested in bikeways, returns between $1.2 million and $3.8 million in health care savings.
Now the state has launched the Active Transportation Program (ATP). Caltrans funds, combined with other regional and federal grants will create a $360 million pot of money that will be awarded to program applicants this August.

The money will be targeted at projects like bike lanes and safer intersections for pedestrians, but also non-infrastructure programs like bike-to-work events and community engagement.

Jeanie Ward-Waller is the California advocacy organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. She said this is the most money by far that has been offered to improve walk/bike routes. Continue reading

FDA Proposes First Regulations for E-Cigarettes

The FDA is proposing regulations that would rein in the e-cigarette industry. (Getty Images)

The FDA is proposing regulations that would rein in the e-cigarette industry. (Getty Images)

By Rob Stein (NPR) and Rachel Dornhelm

The Food and Drug Administration Thursday proposed regulating e-cigarettes for the first time.

The agency unveiled a long-awaited rule that would give it power to oversee the increasingly popular devices, much in the way that it regulates traditional cigarettes.

“It’s a huge change,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters in a briefing before the official announcement of the agency’s plans. “We will have the authority as a science-based regulatory agency to take critical actions to promote and protect the health of the public.”

The proposal will be subject to public comment and further review by the agency before becoming final. But once that happens the rule would impose new restrictions, including:

  • A ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors
  • A prohibition on distributing free samples
  • A ban on selling e-cigarettes in vending machines unless they are in places that never admit young people
  • A requirement that e-cigarettes carry warnings that they contain nicotine, which is addictive
  • E-cigarette manufacturers would be required to disclose the ingredients in their products
“This announcement starts the process that will give us the authority to actually get out there and regulate e-cigarettes.”

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), who has asked for congressional hearings on the topic, called the regulations today “long overdue.” In a statement she said she wants to see wider governmental control of the $2 billion industry, especially provisions that govern advertising to minors and former smokers.

“Although the proposed rule does make long awaited changes such as restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, there are important pieces missing — such as child-proof packaging. Too many children have ended up poisoned by the devices,” Speier said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also immediately responded to the FDA’s move and called for further action. Continue reading

Waiting For Medi-Cal To Kick In

Teresa Martinez, 62, works as a hairdresser at a Koreatown hair salon. She earns about $10,000 per year and cannot afford to buy private health coverage (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).

Teresa Martinez, 62, works as a hairdresser at a Koreatown hair salon. She earns about $10,000 per year and cannot afford to buy private health coverage (Photo by Heidi de Marco/KHN).

by Anna Gorman, KHN

For most of Teresa Martinez’s life, buying health insurance has been out of the question. She works at a Koreatown hair salon, earning about $10 per cut – not nearly enough to afford private coverage.

With a long list of ailments including dizziness, blurry vision and leg pain, she eagerly applied last year for a county program that would cover her for free until Obamacare set in.

“I thought at long last, I would be able to go to the doctor and get what I need,” said Martinez, 62, who lives in East Los Angeles. “I was so excited. But that was short lived.”

The state has 45 days to process the Medi-Cal applications but it often takes longer and the waiting period varies — sometimes widely — by county.

Without any explanation, Martinez received a denial letter from the Healthy Way Los Angeles, a temporary coverage program for low-income people. Later she applied for Medicaid — known as Medi-Cal in California — which was expanded under the Affordable Care Act to include people like Martinez without dependent children.

But a health clinic worker told her she may have to wait months for approval — and to hold off on appointments until she has her official card.

Nearly 2 million Californians have gained coverage with the expansion of the Medi-Cal program for poor and disabled people, including those who transitioned from temporary programs like Healthy Way LA. Continue reading

Expert: Millions More Uninsured Will Get Coverage in Next Three Years

Covered California application in Chinese.

Covered California application in Chinese.

Now that the final numbers from Covered California’s first open enrollment period are in, experts are already looking ahead to the next steps.

Nearly 1.4 million Californians have signed up for health care coverage through the exchange. Another 1.9 million are now covered by the expanded Medi-Cal program. That’s almost 3.5 million state residents.

And yet 5.8 million Californians remain uninsured.

Gerald Kominski, professor of Health Policy and Management and director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said these numbers are on target with early projections. Continue reading