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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Field Poll Shows Support Slipping for Two Health Propositions

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

A new Field Poll shows voter support dropping for two propositions on the November ballot.

Prop. 45 would give the state insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate hikes. Support has dropped from 69 percent early in the summer to 41 percent in the current poll. Twenty-six percent are opposed and 33 percent are undecided.

Prop. 46 would require drug testing of doctors and increase the cap on pain and suffering awards in medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Early this summer, support stood at 58 percent; today it is 34 percent, with 30 percent opposed and 29 percent undecided.

“This current poll is relatively big news on Prop. 46. I don’t think its chances of passage are all that great,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told the San Francisco Chronicle. He added that it’s harder to predict what might happen with Prop. 45. Continue reading

Government Funding Drops — and Scientists Give Up

Randen Patterson

Randen Patterson left a research career in physiology at U.C. Davis when funding got too tight. He now owns a grocery store in Guinda, outside Davis. (Max Whittaker/Prime for NPR)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

“I shouldn’t be a grocer right now. I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can’t. I don’t have an outlet for it.” Former UC Davis professor

But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

So, he’s giving up on science.

And he’s not alone. Federal funding for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade. There are far more scientists competing for grants than there is money to support them. Continue reading

Details of Autism Benefits — Like Provider Rates — Coming After Rollout

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, CaliforniaHealthline

At the first stakeholder meeting last week to review California’s new autism Medi-Cal coverage, state health officials said many details have yet to be worked out. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program.

New benefits, which include coverage of applied behavior analysis — also known as ABA therapy — begin next week.

Department of Health Care Services officials said many details — including the crucial figure of what the reimbursement rates will be — still need to be worked out. Rates will be discussed at the next stakeholder meeting Oct. 16, officials said. Continue reading

Watsonville Nursing Home Lawsuit May Drive Effort to Reduce Overmedication

 (Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

(Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ina Jaffe, NPR

A federal lawsuit against two Watsonville nursing homes may offer a new approach to dealing with the persistent problem of such facilities overmedicating their residents.

The lawsuit details multiple cases when the government says these drugs were inappropriately administered to patients. Watsonville is northeast of Monterey, in Santa Cruz County.

For instance when an 86-year-old man identified in the lawsuit as Patient 1 was admitted to Country Villa Watsonville West, he could speak clearly and walked in under his own power. Within days the facility began giving him Haldol and Risperdal, drugs used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and he became bedridden, stopped eating and developed bedsores and infections. Continue reading

Two Women on a Mission to Reform Assisted Living in California

Chris Murphy (L) and Christina Selder (R) of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Christina Selder and Chris Murphy of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform in San Diego conduct their crusade from a modest home office. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Many of us dream of starting a revolution. Few of us make it happen. One of the most dramatic stories of the last year belongs to a loose collection of activists, working to reform assisted living oversight in California. Together with lawmakers, these activists launched 17 bills in Sacramento, 12 of which passed, 2 of which have become law, so far.

It’s a big story, but let’s break off one piece, involving a couple women in San Diego with a passion for raw data, strong coffee and home-baked muffins.

About a decade ago, Chris Murphy’s mom was suffering from Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She couldn’t live on her own. Someone suggested Murphy check out an assisted living facility, and so she took a tour.

“This is really a cool place,” Murphy says she thought at the time. “Maybe my mother would like to live here. I would like to live here. I was sucked in by the chandeliers, and by the garden, and by the apparent appearance of the facility.”

Continue reading

Judge Rules Berkeley Must Change Soda Tax Language

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Update September 2, 6:05 p.m.: A judge ruled Tuesday that Berkeley officials must change the soda tax measure language because it is currently misleading.

Soda tax advocates say this change “doesn’t concern us at all.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the city’s statement that the tax would only be imposed on “high-calorie, sugary drinks” is “a form of advocacy and therefore not impartial.”

Grillo ordered the city to change the summary to say that the tax would apply to “sugar-sweetened beverages,” which he said is more neutral and less likely to create prejudice for or against Measure D.

Anthony Johnson and Leon Cain filed the lawsuit in August. Cain has previously attended Berkeley council meetings on behalf of the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign. Continue reading

How Will Your Hospital Fare in the Next Earthquake?

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

One thing about an earthquake: It focuses the mind.

In the wake of the Aug. 24 South Napa Quake, I became focused on hospital safety.

Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa sustained only minor damage from the earthquake — falling items and leaks. A statement released 13 hours after the earthquake said that “(n)one of these issues have prevented the hospital from triaging and treating patients. Queen of the Valley remains operational and continues to be able to accept and treat patients.” 

Legislation passed 20 years ago, in the wake of the Northridge earthquake, seeks to make Queen of the Valley’s performance the norm for hospitals statewide after a major earthquake. That 1994 legislation was itself an update to the 1973 Seismic Safety Act, which in turn was written in the wake of the Sylmar earthquake when several hospitals collapsed. Continue reading

California Prisons Adopt Plan to Restrict Segregation 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

In response to a court order, California prison officials proposed a new approach Friday to how they treat mentally ill inmates who break rules or commit new crimes. The judge who ordered the change immediately approved the plan.

Right now, if a mentally ill inmate refuses to follow orders or attacks another inmate or guards, the prison sends him to a segregation unit. In segregation, prisoners spend more time confined to their cells and must submit to routine strip searches for weapons and drugs. Advocates for inmates have long insisted the conditions only worsen mental illness. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton unequivocally backed them up.

In an April ruling, the judge wrote, “placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in California’s segregation housing unit can and does cause serious psychological harm” by worsening symptoms, inducing psychosis and increasing suicidal urges. Continue reading

High-Priced Drug Sovaldi Coming to California Prisoners with Hepatitis C

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By George Lauer, California Healthline

It’s the drug that can cure most people with hepatitis C in 12 weeks — but comes at a high cost: $1,000 a pill. Now, California Correctional Health Care Services, which oversees clinical care and drug prescriptions for 125,000 inmates at 34 prisons across the state, began using Sovaldi last month.

Made by Gilead Sciences of Foster City, Sovaldi has become part of the “community standard” for medical professionals treating patients with hepatitis C, according to prison officials. A full course of treatment runs about $84,000.

Hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to liver failure, cancer or other health problems, is often associated with intravenous drug use. Many of the estimated 3.2 million Americans living with hepatitis C in the U.S. are poor, imprisoned, elderly or all of the above, giving public systems a disproportionate share of hepatitis C patients. Continue reading

For Some, Medi-Cal Might Mean Ultimately Losing Their Homes

Anne-Louise Vernon in front of her home in Campbell. (Photo: Pauline Bartolone)

Anne-Louise Vernon in front of her home in Campbell. She recently enrolled in Medi-Cal then found out the state could use proceeds from her home to recover costs of her health care. (Photo: Pauline Bartolone)

By Pauline Bartolone, Kaiser Health News

Anne-Louise Vernon had been looking forward to signing up for health insurance under Covered California. She was hoping to save hundreds of dollars a month. But when she called to enroll, she was told her income wasn’t high enough to purchase a subsidized plan.

“It never even occurred to me I might be on Medi-Cal,” she said, in reference to the state’s version of Medicaid, “and I didn’t know anything about it.”

She says she asked whether there were any strings attached.

“And the woman said very cheerfully, “Oh no, no, it’s all free. There’s nothing you have to worry about, this is your lucky day.’” she recounts.

Vernon signed up for Medi-Cal on the phone from her home in Campbell. But months later, she learned online about a state law that allows California to take assets of people who die if they received health care through Medi-Cal after the age of 55. Continue reading