Author Archives: Jon Brooks

Covered California to Request Evidence of Lawful Presence in U.S.

CCHP enrollment counselor Kristen Chow explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a Chinese-language caller. Currently, more than 90 percent of the HMO's members are ethnically Chinese. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

CCHP enrollment counselor explains Covered California and federal subsidies to a caller. (Marcus Teply/KQED)

Some enrollees who get their health insurance through Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, will be getting notices in the next few weeks requesting evidence that they are lawfully in the country.

Yesterday, many news outlets reported on the Obama administration’s announcement that it was sending letters to about 310,000 people who have signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but whose documentation of citizenship or legal immigration status was at odds with government records. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to cut off health insurance for up to 310,000 people who signed up through the HealthCare.gov system unless they can provide documents in the next few weeks showing they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Those individuals have until Sept. 5 to send in additional information that could confirm they are in the U.S. legally, a condition of using the online insurance exchanges to obtain coverage.

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As Aging White Man, Robin Williams Was Particularly at Risk for Suicide

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

You don’t really expect a professional baseball player to be the one person to articulate the effect Robin Williams had on much of the general public, but that was my feeling when I read this quote in today’s San Francisco Chronicle from Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who had once been thrilled to receive a congatulatory handshake from Williams. Said Lincecum:

He made things feel like they weren’t so bad.”

Remembering some of Williams’ early manic groundbreaking appearances on television and movies, the statement rang true, as did the chilling irony in its description of a man who seemingly had everything but clearly thought that things were that bad, after all.

The suicide rate for white men increased almost 40 percent between 1999 and 2011.

Considering his suicide, it’s not surprising that Williams’ publicist said Monday that the comedian suffered from severe depression. Williams also struggled with substance abuse issues for decades. Since his death, a national conversation has ensued on the insidious effects of depression, and how it can prove fatal even in those who, to the outside world, seemingly have everything to live for.

Around the country, media organizations have been interviewing mental health experts on the subject. The Chronicle talked to some who worried about the impact of Williams’ suicide on those struggling with depression. “I get concerned about people wondering if people as promising as him with all these resources available can’t make it, what are the chances for them?” Patricia Arean, a UCSF clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor, told the paper.

She said many people who are depressed often can’t find their way to the appropriate treatment if what they’re currently doing to address their condition isn’t working. Continue reading

Therapists, Patients Criticize Kaiser Over Long Delays for Therapy

Kaiser Permanente's newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente’s newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

This is the second of two parts about mental health services at Northern California Kaiser.

In January 2013 a woman named “Nina” had a terrible falling out with her father. Soon after, she found out he had incurable cancer and was going to die. In the ensuing weeks, she tried to patch things up, but with the pressures inherent in the last months of a dying man, was unable to attain any form of closure. Some six months after their fight, he was gone.

“People are suffering, and I fear some of my patients will commit suicide for lack of ongoing treatment.”

“Nina,” who did not want us to use her real name for reasons of privacy, had been prone to depression. Zoloft had helped, but the now irreparable family rift left her severely depressed, with occasional thoughts of suicide. “I was in a state of constant emotional pain and confusion,” she says. “It was affecting all aspects of my life.”

She went for an intake appointment at the psychiatric department at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, with the expectation she’d be able to see a therapist for individual appointments during this severe emotional crisis. She requested those sessions, but the intake therapist told her Kaiser only offered group therapy.

“I said I’m not comfortable talking about my situation with a bunch of strangers,” Nina says. “She very kindly tried to make me aware of the value of group therapy. But I knew in my heart it wasn’t where I wanted to be.” Continue reading

Sonoma Co. Supervisor Takes Issue with Kaiser over Mental Health Services

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

This is Part 1 of a series on issues surrounding Kaiser Permanente’s mental health services.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane is frustrated with Kaiser Permanente.

“Kaiser better change the way they do business when it comes to mental health services.” — Shirlee Zane, Sonoma Co. Supervisor

“I can tell you I have heard a lot of stories within the last few days about these types of incidents over and over again,” she says, “of people who were so wronged by their treatment, by either being referred out of the system or by saying, ‘We don’t have the appointments.’”

She’s referring to allegations of long delays for mental health services at Kaiser Permanente, accusations the health plan has been dealing with for several years. Now, Zane is trying to leverage a very personal tragedy — the suicide of her husband — into pressing Kaiser on reforming its mental health practices. Continue reading

My Five-Week Saga Enrolling in Covered California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a journalist I’ve covered the Affordable Care Act on and off since it was a gleam in President Obama’s eye. The melodrama of the fierce legislative fight; the subsequent relentless attacks against it; the Supreme Court case; and the catastrophic rollout of healthcare.gov — good times for the news media, though not necessarily the American public.

My first unwelcome surprise came when I input all my information, and the system told me I wouldn’t get a subsidy despite the fact that I knew I was eligible.

But of course, the difference between covering something as a journalist and experiencing it as a citizen is substantial. Last year, in part for health reasons, I gave up my full-time job with KQED News. No more long hours: check. No more crazy deadlines: check. No more health insurance: check … my blood pressure. Because our COBRA costs were going to be astronomical, like 40-percent-of-income astronomical. And my health history rendered me uninsurable on the individual market. At least, on the old insurance market.

All of this made me one of the many poster-children for Obamacare, under which insurance companies, starting Jan. 1, would be required to insure my middle-aged ass, and the government was going to help pay for it to boot. Whether this is a victory for common sense and decency, the end of democracy as we know it, or simply a bad idea, I couldn’t say — and still can’t. I only know that the only rational financial decision, personally, was to try getting an exchange plan through Covered California. Continue reading

No Obamacare Invoice? Keep Trying to Pay But Don’t Worry, Says Covered California

No one knows just how many Californians have not yet received their insurance invoice. Insurers say they have added staff to deal with large volume of new enrollees. (Getty Images)

The deadline to pay your premium for a health insurance plan bought through Covered California, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been extended to Jan 15. While insurance went into effect Jan. 1 for those who enrolled, you must pay the first month’s premium by Jan. 15 or you you will not be covered.

“If there was a good faith effort by an enrollee to start an application by Dec 23, everyone is honoring that,”- Covered California spokesperson Anne Gonzalez

As that date fast approaches, some enrollees who are well aware of the deadline and are ready, willing, and able to pay have been experiencing a problem: they can’t because their insurance company hasn’t sent them an invoice yet.

Until this week, this was my situation. I waited well over a month between the time I enrolled in a plan through Covered California and the insurance company I selected — Kaiser — sent me an invoice. I kept checking with Kaiser, and they kept telling me they had yet to receive the information from Covered California. And Covered California kept telling me to keep checking with Kaiser. Continue reading