California Lawmakers Scrutinize Psychotropic Drug Prescriptions to Foster Kids

In California, 63,000 children and teenagers are in foster care in private homes or group homes run by the state.

A quarter of them were prescribed potent psychotropic drugs.

That sobering statistic was unearthed in a Bay Area News Group investigation last year, which analyzed a decade of state statistics. The drugs include Lithium and Depakote as well as anti-psychotics such as Haldol, Risperdal and Abilify. Continue reading

Keeping A Watchful Eye On Farmworker Health

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Ephraim Camacho, a community worker with California Rural Legal Assistance, hands out brochures on the Affordable Care Act, heat illness, and wage theft at a farmworker health fair in Huron, Calif. (Jeremy Raff/KQED).

Editor’s note: California’s farmworkers face a litany of health hazards on the job: working bent over and carrying heavy loads of produce is hard on the back, hips, and knees; long hours in the sun can mean heat exhaustion, or worse. Employers don’t always provide the state-mandated access to shade, drinking water, and restrooms. The state’s regulatory agencies can’t keep a very close eye on such a large area.

To help fill this gap in enforcement, community health worker Ephrain Camacho drives the back roads with a pair of binoculars, pulling over wherever he sees a crew of workers to make sure they have the workplace protections they’re entitled to. As part of our community health series Vital Signs, we followed him to a health fair near Fresno to learn more about his work and about farmworker health.

By Ephraim Camacho

We call it ‘reading the land.’ You park on the side of the road and observe. The first thing we look for is the porta-potties, drinking water, and the shade.

If we see that there are not enough toilets, or that they’re lacking drinking water, or even drinking cups, we enter the field and talk to the employer about voluntary compliance. Continue reading

California Catholic Leadership Challenges State Abortion Order

 Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anti-abortion advocates rally in front of the Supreme Court awaiting the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores in July. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Associated Press — California’s Catholic leadership has filed a federal civil rights complaint over a state requirement that health insurance cover abortions.

The California Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops and archbishops, sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It contends that California’s Department of Managed Health Care discriminated against those morally opposed to abortion and requests an investigation.

The complaint is under review, said Rachel Seeger, spokeswoman for the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights.

The state agency didn’t immediately comment. Continue reading

Our Vaccine Database Methodology

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Entering kindergarteners in California are required by state law to be vaccinated against a range of diseases. While the overwhelming majority of children are vaccinated, some parents opt-out of vaccines for their children. In California, this “personal belief exemption rate” (PBE) has doubled over seven years.

State of Health published a database where people can look up any school in the state to see the PBE rate for its kindergarteners.

We obtained data from the state from its kindergarten assessment of vaccination rates which is conducted each fall. The data shown in our post cover eight years, from the 2007-2008 school year through the 2014-2015 school year, the most recent year for which survey data are available. More than 500,000 children in 8,000 public, private and parochial kindergartens in California are included in the survey annually. The assessment is done at the school level and reported to local health departments and to the state. Continue reading

Unions Fight Sale of Safety-Net Hospitals

Six safety-net hospitals owned by the Daughters of Charity Health System — four in the Bay Area and two in Los Angeles — are for sale. The company says it’s out of money and needs another organization to take over.

The mission of Daughters of Charity hospitals is to take care of the poor and needy. CEO Robert Issai says that three-quarters of the patients are covered by government health programs, which pay significantly less than private insurers.

“We’ve always had that 25 percent of commercial business to make ends meet,” he said.

But a lot of that dried up when the recession hit in 2008. People lost their jobs and their insurance. Then the government cut back too, slashing reimbursement rates. Continue reading

Two California Counties Sue Narcotics Makers in Deceptive Marketing

Two California counties — Orange and Santa Clara — joined forces and filed a lawsuit this week against five of the largest prescription narcotics manufacturers. The Los Angeles Times summarized the case this way:

(T)he lawsuit alleges the drug companies have reaped blockbuster profits by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweighed the risks, despite “a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary.” The effort “opened the floodgates” for such drugs and “the result has been catastrophic,” the lawsuit contends.

Thursday on KQED News, Tara Siler spoke with Robert Bohrer, a professor at the California Western School of Law in San Diego. The lawsuit does not challenge the FDA approval of these drugs. Instead the case alleges that the companies broke state laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance.

Continue reading

Two Different Reactions to Obamacare

The 2014 enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act closes tonight. For some people the new health law is a godsend. Others barely noticed its existence.

Donna Zeuli and her husband lost their insurance when he retired two years ago. Private insurers denied them both because of pre-existing conditions and the COBRA plan offered through his union was too expensive. So they decided to take their chances and wait for Obamacare to take effect.

Then, last fall, Zeuli had a mini stroke at her home in Magalia, Calif., in the foothills of Chico, and was rushed to the ER.

“You can’t believe the angst I had about not having insurance,” says Zeuli, 55. “The only thing I could think about was how much is this going to cost me. Do the minimum. But make sure I’m not gonna die.” Continue reading

Survey: Alcohol and Tobacco Ads Target California’s Children

California’s kids are overexposed to ads for alcohol, tobacco and junk food. That’s according to a new survey from public health departments throughout the state. They sent hundreds of teens and young adults to thousands of corner stores throughout the state to record what kinds of products and advertising they find.

Twenty-two year old Luisa Sicairos saw shelves lined with products like marshmallow-flavored vodka, fried chips, and plenty of sugary drinks in her neighborhood in San Francisco. She says the young, slim models that appear in ads next to these products and on the labels send a mixed message.

“It’s still bombarding us with all this stuff on how we should look, and then they’re saying, oh, but you should be drinking soda,” she says. Continue reading

At-Home Test Good Alternative to Colonoscopy, Study Confirms

If you’re like most of my colleagues in the newsroom, you read that headline and thought, “GREAT! What is the alternative test?!”

Here’s the quick background: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer killer in the U.S. A colonoscopy is an excellent screening tool. But more than one-third of people who are supposed to get it (that’s people ages 50-75) don’t.

Why? I think you can guess.

A colonoscopy is an invasive screening test that can involve missing one to two days of work, an inconvenient preparation process and then a “colonoscope is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen,” the American Cancer Society says. Continue reading

6 Insightful Tweets on the ACA

It’s early days here in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Friday morning, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt, an expert in health insurance policy, sent out a series of tweets. He said he hoped they were “concise thoughts on enrollment mix and the ACA.” Indeed, the tweets are a quick and insightful read:

Continue reading