Author Archives: state of health

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Drops — First Time Since 1998; Look Up Your Calif. School

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Under California law, all kindergarteners must be vaccinated against a range of communicable diseases before they can start school. But California also permits parents to opt-out of vaccines on behalf of their children. The opt-out rate doubled over a seven year period ending last school year. But now, for the first time since 1998, the opt-out rate has declined, from 3.15 percent statewide to 2.5 percent.

A new state law appears to be the driver. Under AB 2109, parents who wish to opt out of vaccines must file a personal belief exemption or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal belief.

lookupThis school year, for the first time, parents must first meet with a health provider who explains the risks and benefits of both vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. Until the current school year, parents simply had to sign the statement without any consultation.

State senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) sponsored the bill and is pretty happy about the decline. He believes that requiring the meeting with a health care provider clears up confusion some parents have about vaccines. Continue reading

Look Up the Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Your Child’s School

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

When parents sign a personal belief exemption (PBE) in California, it allows them to legally send their child to school without being vaccinated.

Find the percentage of kindergarteners who are unvaccinated at your child’s school below. We’ve included data from the last eight school years. This tool includes reports from every kindergarten in the state, public or private, with 10 or more students.

Continue reading

Half of California’s Children Now Covered by Medi-Cal

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

Sarah Boone, a behavior analyst with the social services agency EMQ FamiliesFirst, evaluates Ernesto Santiago, 6, of San Jose for autism therapy services. (Barbara Feder Ostrov/Kaiser Health News)

By Barbara Feder Ostrov, Kaiser Health News

California’s Medi-Cal program has grown to cover nearly half of the state’s children, causing policymakers and child advocates to question the ability of the taxpayer-funded program to adequately serve so many poor kids.

In the past two years alone, the program has added nearly 1 million young people up to age 20, including those newly eligible for Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The increase brings the total number of young people on Medi-Cal to 5.2 million, more than ever before.

Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid and the largest program of its kind in the nation.

Many pediatricians and specialists already refuse to accept new Medi-Cal patients, at least in part because the program offers among the lowest payment rates in the country. New rate cuts took effect this January. Health care advocates say adding more children to the mix will only worsen the likelihood of timely treatment. Continue reading

Call the Midwife: A Home Birth Story

The author's wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

The author’s wife, Pippa, and their daughter, Caitlin, who was born at home, in 1982. (Courtesy: Nick Allen)

By Stephen Talbot

My wife, Pippa, gave birth like a giraffe, standing up.

I was astonished. This wasn’t quite the nativity scene I’d imagined. Then again, I should not have been too shocked. Pippa grew up in South Africa, she’s very keen on giraffes, and she likes doing things unconventionally.

I should also mention that this was happening at home, in our bedroom, in the middle of the night, and that no one else was around. Except for our two-year-old son asleep in another room.

Not to worry. Women have been giving birth in their homes, in their own fashion, for centuries, right? Well, actually, not so much these days, at least not in this country. A mere 1.36 percent of births in the United States in 2012 took place outside a hospital. Continue reading

Governor Appoints New Director of Health Care Services

Jennifer Kent was  most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California.

Jennifer Kent was most recently executive director of Local Health Plans of California. (Courtesy: DHCS)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed Jennifer Kent as the new director of the Department of Health Care Services, a $9 billion state agency that oversees the Medi-Cal program.

DHCS is the agency that oversees Medi-Cal.    
Kent had most recently been the executive director of Local Health Plans of California, an organization representing 14 not-for-profit public health plans across the state.

“I’m very excited,” Kent said. “It’s a big job, so I’m both thrilled and a little overwhelmed.”

Kent replaces Toby Douglas, who was DHCS director for the past four years. Kent has worked at DHCS in the past — in fact, she and Douglas were both deputy directors in the department at the same time. Kent worked at the department from 2004 to 2007. She headed legislative affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and has experience in both the public and private spheres of health care. Continue reading

Amnio Alternative: Blood Test Gives Women New Option for Prenatal Screening

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It's just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

Ultrasound is often used for prenatal screening. It’s just one of several prenatal screenings available to pregnant women. (Getty Images)

By Nell Greenfield-Boyce, NPR

When Amy Seitz got pregnant with her second child last year, she knew that being 35 years old meant there was an increased chance of chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome. She wanted to be screened, and she knew just what kind of screening she wanted — a test that’s so new, some women and doctors don’t quite realize what they’ve signed up for.

This kind of test , called cell free fetal DNA testing, uses a simple blood sample from an expectant mother to analyze bits of fetal DNA that have leaked into her bloodstream. It’s only been on the market since October 2011 and is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA does not regulate this type of genetic testing service. Several companies now offer the test, including Sequenom and Illumina. Insurance coverage varies, and doctors often only offer this testing to women at higher risk because of things like advanced maternal age.

“I think that I initially heard about it through family and friends,” says Seitz. “They had had the option of it given to them by their doctors.” Continue reading

Judge Rules on Medi-Cal Backlog, Orders Timely Access to Benefits

(s_falkow: Flickr)

(s_falkow: Flickr)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

On Thursday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to adhere to a 45-day limit for processing Medi-Cal applications.

The ruling by Judge Evelio Grillo was a victory for health care advocates in a lawsuit over the state’s extensive backlog in processing Medi-Cal applications. The Medi-Cal expansion and the first open enrollment period for Covered California brought millions of applications to the door of the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal.

Computer issues hampered the processing of many of those applications, and in March 2014 the backlog of unprocessed claims peaked at more than 900,000 applications. It took many months to clear the bulk of those applications. Some of them are still hanging fire almost a year later, said Jen Flory, senior attorney in the Sacramento office of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Continue reading

California Bill Would Allow Terminally Ill to End Their Own Lives

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014. (Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

Brittany Maynard, 29, terminally ill with brain cancer, ended her own life on Nov. 1, 2014.
(Compassion and Choices/BrittanyFund.org)

By April Dembosky

State lawmakers are renewing a call to give terminally ill patients more say over how and when they die. Senators Lois Wolk of Davis and Bill Monning of Santa Cruz introduced the “End of Life Option Act” on Wednesday. The bill would allow physicians to prescribe lethal medication to patients who request it.

If the bill passes, California would become one of six states that allow ‘aid in dying.’
“Seeing a daughter suffer and die slowly is torture,” said Robert Olvera, whose daughter, Emily Rose, died of leukemia last year at age 25.

The last four months of her life, she was bedridden, blind, and plagued by excruciating headaches that no medicine would alleviate. Olvera, a doctor, says his daughter wished she’d had the option to end her own life. Continue reading

For Greater Happiness, Avoid the ‘Busy-Ness’ Trap

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jill Suttie, Berkeleyside

In 2009, Christine Carter felt like she had it all. Working her dream job at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she was helping further the study and dissemination of the science of happiness. She had two wonderful kids, a best-selling book called Raising Happiness, a popular blog, and frequent requests for speaking engagements.

“Researchers call busyness ‘cognitive overload’ — which makes us worse at everything.”

Then she got sick. At first, it seemed like no big deal—just a little strep throat. But she took a round of antibiotics and didn’t recover; then she took more. Nine courses of antibiotics later, she still hadn’t healed. Instead, she ended up in a hospital with a severe kidney infection. The diagnosis?

“Exhaustion,” says Carter. “My body had basically lost the ability to heal itself.“

That’s when she realized something was really wrong. Her life had become completely out of whack, and it was taking its toll. Continue reading

Some Employers Say Same-Sex Couples Must Get Married

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

(David Lucas/Getty Images)

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

Will companies eliminate benefit programs for unmarried partners?

With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits. Continue reading