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

RECENT POSTS

California Prisons Begin ‘Use-of-Force’ Reforms for Mentally Ill Inmates

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury. Continue reading

Report: California State Employees Get Relatively Generous Health Insurance

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Health insurance plans offered to state employees in California and elsewhere are relatively generous, with government picking up a large share of deductibles and co-pays, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was a first-of-its kind survey of state government health insurance plans nationwide. It found that state plans paid on average 92 percent of a typical enrollee’s health care costs, which is equivalent to the best offerings — “platinum” plans — that the public can purchase on one of the new health insurance exchanges.

In California, Pew found that figure was 95 percent and that 68 percent of plan members had no annual deductible.

Putting the report into a broader context that can make the data easily understood is difficult. Continue reading

State Reconsiders Letting Catholic Universities Limit Abortion Coverage

Santa Clara University's employee health insurance will stop covering 'elective' abortions next year unless state officials change their minds. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

Santa Clara University’s employee health insurance will stop covering ‘elective’ abortions next year unless state officials change their minds. (Michael Zimmer/Flickr)

By Grace Rubenstein and Mina Kim

State officials are reviewing whether they made the right call when they approved health plans that limit abortion coverage.

California law has strongly protected abortion rights for decades. But in recent years, the state’s Department of Managed Health Care — which oversees health insurance — has approved a handful of plans that exclude coverage for “elective” abortions. That is, abortions that aren’t necessary to protect the health of the mother.

Those insurance-plan approvals occurred quietly, with little public attention. Until last year, when officials at two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, told faculty and staff that the schools would now only cover abortions that are “medically necessary” for the mother’s health. State officials had approved those insurance plans.

The decision surprised and angered hundreds of Santa Clara faculty members, who tried and failed earlier this year to get the school’s Board of Trustees to reverse the decision. And it also appeared to reverse decades of legal precedent in California. Now, officials from the Department of Managed Health Care say they’re going back and reviewing the policy.
Continue reading

Are The Proposed Assisted Living Reforms in California Enough?

CAPTION COMING (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

A “crime book” maintained by the San Diego advocacy group Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform. (RCFE is short for Residential Care Facility for the Elderly.) This book contains cases of what CARR calls “egregious neglect” at San Diego assisted living facilities. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Over the last 25 years, the number of assisted living facilities in California has nearly doubled. The homes are intended to care for relatively independent, healthy seniors, but that doesn’t describe a lot of the people living in them today.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the population they serve,” says Deborah Schoch of the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting. Schoch says the system was set up to meet the needs of people who could use some extra help with the tasks of daily living –- and it does. But many of those people need a lot of help.

The system, she says, is caring for people “who are frail, who may have dementia, who may be wheelchair bound, who may not be able to turn on their own in bed.”

Continue reading

Crime in Assisted Living: What Happens After

Stacy Siriani's father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Stacy Siriani’s father suffered a serious injury while in an assisted living facility in San Diego. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

When families place a loved one in an assisted living facility, there’s an expectation that if something goes wrong, there will be consequences. Mistakes will be addressed. If crimes are committed, they will be prosecuted. Or at least investigated by law enforcement.

But that’s not always what happens.

Take the case of Stacey Siriani of San Diego County. Her experience with assisted living began four years ago when she got an awful phone call from Houston. Her father was involved in an auto accident that left him brain damaged.

“It was very tough,” she recalls. Siriani is an only child; her father is a widower. There was nowhere else to turn for support.

Continue reading

Why Advocacy Groups Oppose Bill Limiting Use of Antibiotics in Animals

The California Public Interest Research Group held a press conference opposing the bill last week in Berkeley.

Garo Manjikian and Corie Radka of CALPIRG speak at a press conference opposing SB835 in Berkeley on Wednesday. CALPIRG is among a dozen organizations calling on the California legislature to take stronger action regulating the use of antibiotics in livestock. (Courtesy: CALPIRG)

By Joe Rubin

Amid growing concern of the use of antibiotics in livestock, California’s Assembly will consider on  Monday a bill to limit their use. But a coalition of a dozen health and consumer advocacy groups — the very groups that often back such measures — are pressing lawmakers to vote it down. The groups say the bill is not aggressive enough and want California to take a more forceful role in the way antibiotics are regulated in meat production.

The bill, SB 835, sponsored by San Mateo Senator Jerry Hill, is an endorsement of last year’s Food and Drug Administration policy shift. The FDA has asked drug companies to voluntarily stop distributing anti-microbial drugs used for the purpose of fattening animals. Around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S are used in the livestock industry. Drug companies say they are complying with the new guidelines.

But critics say the Hill bill, like the FDA guidelines, leaves a glaring loophole. Many of the antibiotics used for growth promotion are also used for disease prevention, making for more of a label change than a fundamental shift, critics say. Indeed drugs like tylosin, which have been used for decades as a growth-promoting feed additive for pigs and cows, remain readily available and in use. Continue reading

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