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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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

Mental Health Training for Police Officers Helps Defuse Crises

An impromptu memorial in Isla Vista, Calif. for a victim of the mass shooting May 23, 2014. (Diane Block/KQED)

An impromptu memorial in Isla Vista, Calif. for a victim of the mass shooting May 23, 2014. Incidents such as these have raised the issue of how well law enforcement officers are trained to deal with people with severe mental illness. (Diane Block/KQED)

By Stephanie O’Neill

Debbie is a Ventura County mother of a 23-year-old son diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At times his condition becomes so severe that he gets delusional and requires hospitalization.

“They weren’t threatening; they didn’t scare him. It stayed really, really calm.”
“He doesn’t understand that he’s ill and that he needs help,” Debbie says. “He thinks he’s fine.”

Debbie, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, says when that happens, she calls the sheriff’s department for help — as she did earlier this year. Their response, she says, was heartening.

“The police officers … were so great, because they kept telling him, ‘You’re not in trouble, we’re here to help you,’ ” she says. “So they weren’t threatening; they didn’t scare him. It stayed really, really calm.” Continue reading

San Francisco Supervisors Put Soda Tax on Ballot

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a November ballot measure to tax soda and sugary drinks Tuesday afternoon, but not with the unanimous vote they were looking for.

If passed by a two-thirds majority of San Francisco voters, the new legislation will tax soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages at two cents per ounce and direct the revenue to the city’s public health and recreation and parks departments and the school district.

The board voted 6-4 this afternoon to place the initiative by supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar before voters, with supervisors Jane Kim, Katy Tang, Norman Yee and London Breed voting against it. Continue reading

Admissions Resume at Stockton Prison Health Facility

Aerial view of the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. (Photo: California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation)

Aerial view of the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. (Photo: California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation)

By Julie Small

The federal receiver who manages medical care in California prisons reopened admissions Monday at a Stockton facility for the state’s sickest inmates. The receiver’s decision ends a temporary court-ordered suspension at Stockton’s California Health Care Facility.

“We are going to slowly begin admitting medical patients.”

In early 2014 the federal overseer of medical care in California prisons suspended all transfers to the $800 million prison medical complex because of unsanitary conditions. Receiver Clark Kelso found doctors and nurses at the facility lacked essential supplies, such as bandages and catheters for incontinent inmates. He also found that staff was too small to provide around-the-clock care to the hundreds of inmates at the prison with complex medical conditions.

Spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe said Monday that after a series of improvements, the Stockton prison may accept inmates again. Continue reading

Long Way to Go Before State May Authorize Autism Therapy as Benefit

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

State officials on Friday said they have not determined whether or not to offer applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) as a Medi-Cal benefit to children with autism.

Federal officials earlier this month issued guidance on the subject, saying it is covered for Medicaid beneficiaries under age 21 as part of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program.

“Under the Medicaid state plan, services to address [autism spectrum disorder] may be covered under several different … benefit categories,” the CMS guidance said. For children, it said, “states must cover services that could otherwise be covered at state option under these categories consistent with the provisions … for Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment services (EPSDT). Continue reading

Feds Want California to Clear Medi-Cal Backlog

State officials have until Monday to submit plan. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

State officials must submit plan by Monday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

Tired of waiting for states to reduce their backlogs of Medicaid applications, the Obama administration has given California and five other states until Monday to submit plans to resolve issues that have prevented more than 1 million low-income or disabled people from getting health coverage.

600,000 people signed up, but not yet enrolled, in Medi-Cal.

“CMS is asking several state Medicaid agencies to provide updated mitigation plans to address gaps that exist in their eligibility and enrollment systems to ensure timely processing of applications and access to coverage for eligible people,” said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. He said the agency will monitor states’ progress in solving the problems getting people enrolled in the state-federal insurance program for the poor.

In addition to California, the other states are Alaska, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee. Continue reading