Policy

Actions by people in power – lawmakers, regulators and the like – can make a difference to your health, for better or for worse. We keep you informed

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UC Davis Experiments with Fast-Tracking Medical School

(UC Davis Gateways Project/Flickr)

(UC Davis Gateways Project/Flickr)

By Pauline Bartolone, Kaiser Health News

Some doctors in California will soon be able to practice after three years of medical school instead of the traditional four. The American Medical Association is providing seed money for the effort in the form of a $1 million, five-year grant to UC Davis.

Student Ngabo Nzigira is in his sixth week of medical school and he’s already interacting with patients, as he trains under the guidance of a doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.

In a traditional medical school, Nzigira wouldn’t be in a clinic until his third year. In this accelerated course, students can shave up to $60,000 off their education debt. Still, Nzigira initially had hesitations. Continue reading

Map: See What Different Providers Charge for Common Health Care Procedures

Here’s a truism: Health care costs are wildly variable and utterly confusing. That’s why KQED joined forces with KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com to launch PriceCheck. For the last six weeks we’ve asked you to submit your costs for common procedures. To compare apples-to-apples, we asked how much your provider charged, how much your insurer paid and how much you paid for common procedures. And you’ve responded!

You’ve showed us that back MRIs can cost anywhere between $255 and $3,700 in the Bay Area. And that screening mammograms range from $125 to $801.

We’ve also surveyed hundreds of providers for cash prices — also known as self-pay — throughout California. Now you can sort through our data below as well as search on our site. Please help us build our database by submitting your health care costs.

Continue reading

Long-Sought Autism Therapy A Medi-Cal Benefit, State Says

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

State officials Tuesday said autism therapy clearly is a covered Medicaid benefit, and they hope to submit a state plan amendment by Sept. 30 to start the process to make it a benefit for those under age 21, enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid.

According to René Mollow, deputy director of benefits and eligibility at the Department of Health Care Services, Medi-Cal children are entitled to applied behavior analysis — known as ABA therapy.

“Right now we’re working on the development of a state plan amendment. We want to engage the stakeholders in developing that,” Mollow said. “We’re looking to have it submitted at the end of September, and having it retroactive to July 1.” Continue reading

Online Information About Assisted Living Facilities Hard to Come By

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn't find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri, 70, says she couldn’t find any information online when she had to find an assisted living facility for her mother in California. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Lorchid Macri wasn’t sleeping. Her elderly mother was wandering out of the house in the middle of the night, forgetting to turn the stove off. Macri had to keep watch over her 24/7.

“Dementia is a cruel disease,” Macri says.

She says the stress of caring for her mother was overwhelming. It wasn’t until she landed in the hospital herself — losing the sight in her right eye for 10 days — that she was ready to confront the fact that it was time to place her mother in assisted living.

“It’s gut wrenching to put someone that you love and who has cared for you in a facility with strangers,” she says. Continue reading

A Walk Through Assisted Living Facilities in California

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

TV lounge at Westchester Villa, an assisted living facility in Inglewood, in Los Angeles County. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

This week, lawmakers in Sacramento get busy on 15 bills that together constitute the most comprehensive overhaul of assisted living facility regulation in three decades. But for many Californians, it’s not even clear what an assisted living facility is. People often ask if assisted living is the same thing as a nursing home. It’s not.

In nursing homes, people get round-the-clock medical care from licensed nurses. Assisted living comes in because not everyone who needs help also needs that level of care. Sometimes that assistance doesn’t even involve a facility. Sometimes people can receive assistance and remain living in their own homes.

Say you’ve noticed your mother is walking with a new shuffle and dropping things, or that dad is mixing up his medications — and getting argumentative when you bring it up. Something is going on that must be addressed, even though your parent is still physically healthy and wants to be independent. Continue reading

California Prisons to Restrict Pepper Spray, Segregation of Mentally Ill Inmates

 Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

Bunk of an empty segregation cell at California State Prison-Sacramento. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

California prison officials proposed major policy changes Friday to curtail when and how correctional staff use pepper spray on mentally ill inmates or segregate them from the general prison population.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) planned to vest mental health clinicians with greater say in whether correctional staff may use force or segregate inmate patients. The agency also set strict time limits on the segregation of mentally ill inmates who had committed no serious violations or crimes in prison.

CDCR proposed these changes to comply with a court order issued by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton. Judge Karlton ordered the changes to California’s policies in April, after a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Continue reading

Down to the Wire: Lawmakers Have 4 Weeks to Act on Assisted Living Reforms

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, in a retirement home corridor. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

(Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

By Polly Stryker

The assisted living industry in California is big business: More than 7,500 licensed facilities provide care for more than 175,000 people statewide. Starting Monday, and over the next two weeks, The California Report will bring stories about assisted living facilities in the state.

Assisted living is an alternative to more expensive — and often more institutional — care in a skilled nursing facility. In assisted living, staff help seniors with daily needs, such as meals, medicine-taking and bathing. The homes range from small mom-and-pop places with six beds to corporate chains with over 100 beds. A growing number offer dementia care.

But while these facilities are licensed, the laws regulating them have not had a major update since 1985, and California has lagged behind other states in updating its rules. Continue reading

National Soda Tax Bill Introduced in Washington

Richmond voters will decide next November on a soda tax. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

National bill would create an excise tax on sugar, as opposed to San Francisco and  Berkeley measures which tax ounces of beverage. (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

For the first time since 2009, legislation proposing a national tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is under consideration in the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act — or SWEET Act — on Wednesday.

Tax would create a “built-in incentive” for soda makers to reduce sugar concentration.
The bill would levy an excise tax on sugar content in beverages. This is different from the taxes proposed in San Francisco and Berkeley, which would levy a tax per-ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage.

Under the SWEET Act, manufacturers would pay a tax of one cent per teaspoon of sugar or other sweetener added to most beverages. For point of reference, a 20-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. The tax works out to just under a penny-per-ounce of beverage. Drinks such as milk, infant formula, alcoholic beverages and many juices are excluded. Continue reading

Resistance to Translating Prescription Drug Labels

(Getty Images)

Right now, drug labels appear only in English in California, yet 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. (Getty Images)

Every Saturday morning, a steady stream of Chinese and Vietnamese patients line up at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in Sacramento. Most of them speak little to no English.

Patient assistance director Danny Tao says people come here to get free medical consultations and drug prescriptions. But, he says that when patients take those prescriptions to be filled, they don’t understand the instructions on the label.

“They go pick them up, and we don’t exactly know if they’re taking it or not — or if they know how to take it,” Tao said. Continue reading

CDC: California Inmates Should Be Tested for Valley Fever Immunity

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga in the Central Valley, where inmates have been hit hard by Valley Fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

Aerial view of Avenal State Prison near Coalinga, one of two Central Valley prisons where inmates are at high risk from Valley fever. (Buzzbo/Flickr)

By April Laissle

Federal health officials say the state must take steps to reduce the outbreaks of Valley fever at its prisons. Their recommendations come after 30 inmates in California died from the illness since 2008.

The fungal infection is caused by spores in the soil and can cause fever, chest pain and swelling. Two Central Valley prisons, Avenal and Pleasant Valley, have had especially high rates of the disease. Last year, California officials agreed to transfer high-risk inmates from the two prisons.

Now, experts from the Centers for Disease Control suggest new inmates should be tested for immunity. They say susceptible inmates should not sent to the two Central Valley prisons. Continue reading