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


Fresno Pilots Asthma Program Aimed at Tapping Investors for Funds

Maura Vasquez tells health educator Nunu Sixay during a home visit on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, that her son, Jovani Garcia-Vasquez, 6, has not visited the emergency room since learning that administering his medication more regularly could help alleviate his asthma symptoms (Heidi de Marco/KHN).

During a home visit Maura Vasquez (R) tells health educator Nunu Sixay that her son, Jovani, 6, has not been to the E.R. since learning that administering his medication more regularly could help alleviate his asthma. (Heidi de Marco/KHN).

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Inside her single-story home in the dry and dusty Central Valley, Dalia Mondragon scarcely sleeps. Several times a night, she tiptoes into her children’s rooms to make sure their chests are peacefully rising and falling.

Under the approach, investors fund a social impact bond; if a social program saves money — investors make money.

“I feel like any time they could stop breathing,” she says.

Mondragon and all four of her children have asthma -– a disease that has sent them to the hospital more times than she can count. So she is more than willing to open her home to Nunu Sixay, an asthma prevention worker trying to figure out what is triggering the attacks. On a recent visit, Sixay found some possible culprits: mold in the bathroom and aerosol furniture polish in the kitchen.

Sixay’s work visiting low-income families like the Mondragons is part of a public health experiment to help asthmatic children breathe easier and stay out of costly emergency rooms – with the aim of getting investors to pay for it. Continue reading

Five UC Hospitals Now Designated for Ebola Care

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

The five medical centers of the University of California will serve as designated Ebola treatment centers should a person in the state become ill from the virus.

While public health officials are calling on all hospitals in California to redouble preparations for screening and isolating patients at risk for Ebola, those who are confirmed to have the virus will be transferred to a UC medical center in San Francisco, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, or San Diego.

“As a public university, stepping up to a public health crisis, like a potential Ebola outbreak, is what we do,” says Brooke Converse, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. “Our overall mission as the University of California is to serve Californians and serve the taxpayers and the public.” Continue reading

Gov. Brown Meets with Nurses Over Ebola Preparedness

Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials meet with California nurses to discuss Ebola preparedness. (Brad Alexander/Office of the Governor)

Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials meet with California nurses to discuss Ebola preparedness. (Brad Alexander/Office of the Governor)

Gov. Jerry Brown met with top public health officials and nursing union leaders Tuesday to discuss efforts to prepare for Ebola. The meetings came on the heels of new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday night.

There are no known cases of Ebola in California. But after two nurses in Texas became infected after treating an Ebola patient there, the CDC is now recommending that hospitals provide better protective equipment for health workers, and hands-on training for how to put it on and take it off.

But the California Nurses Association (CNA) says the guidelines don’t go far enough. Continue reading

Portrait of Health, Well-Being in California’s Latino Children

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

(Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr)

Just over half of all children in California are Latino — that’s more than 4.7 million kids under age 18. In a major new analysis, researchers found a diverse picture of their health and well-being, not just when compared against white children, but also within the Latino population itself.

More than 94 percent of California’s Latino children were born in the U.S., and most of them were born in California.

Fewer Latino children overall achieve a minimum standard of basic health care or family and community environment when compared against white children, and children in households where Spanish is spoken at home have even lower rates. Continue reading

In Berkeley, Soda Tax Measure Is New Front in Social Activism

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

Mario Savio stands on top of police car in front of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall on Oct 1. 1964. The protest is considered the birth of the Free Speech Movement. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, The Bancroft Library).

By Erika Kelly

Berkeley, the originator of movements ranging from Free Speech to Healthy Eating has a new cause: taking on the soft drink industry. On November 4th, the city’s voters will decide whether to tax sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

‘My entire family has been a part of activism around Berkeley.’
— Dr. Vicki Alexander

No such tax has ever passed anywhere in the nation.

The effort is bringing out progressives in Berkeley who have lobbied for social change for decades. Berkeley city leaders and health advocates have joined a coalition to support the measure, in hopes of igniting a nationwide fight against soda consumption. Meanwhile, the beverage industry is spending big to defeat the measure. Continue reading

Election 2014: San Francisco, Berkeley Consider Soda Taxes



When it comes to the 2014 election, the Bay Area is ground zero on a fight being watched across the country. Both Berkeley and San Francisco voters are considering soda taxes.

They’re not the first cities to try to slap a tax on sugary beverages. In California alone Richmond and El Monte tried similar measures in 2012 — and failed. New York City tried to ban large servings — and failed.

If either one of the current measures passes it will be first in the country. The two proposals are similar, yet key differences might make one or the other more likely to be passed. Continue reading

Spike in ER, Hospitalization Use Short-Lived After Medicaid Expansion

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

While the Medicaid expansion may lead to a dramatic rise in emergency room use and hospitalizations for many of the previously uninsured, that increase is largely temporary and should not lead to a dramatic impact on state budgets, according to a new analysis from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released Wednesday.

Researchers reviewed two years of claims data from nearly 200,000 Californians who had enrolled in public programs in advance of the expansion of Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid, in January. These programs were designed to ease the expansion of Medicaid by providing insurance to low-income adults who were not eligible for Medi-Cal at that point but would be when the health law’s expansion went into effect earlier this year.

Researchers then divided the group into four categories, based on the researchers’ assessment of each group’s pent-up demand for health care.

In July, 2011, after being enrolled in California’s Low Income Health Program, the so-called “bridge to reform,” the group with the highest pent-up demand had a rate of costly emergency room visits triple — or more — that of the other groups. But from 2011 to 2013, that high rate dropped by more than two-thirds and has remained “relatively constant,” according to the analysis. Continue reading

Ebola Now an Issue in Nurses’ Contract Bargaining

(Centers for Disease Control via Getty Images)

(Centers for Disease Control via Getty Images)

Nurses’ calls for better hospital preparation around Ebola have landed on the bargaining table. California’s powerful nurses’ union has been bargaining with Kaiser Permanente for months over a new contract, and is now adding to its list of demands better training, protection, and insurance coverage for nurses who may treat patients infected with Ebola.

Diane McClure, a nurse at Kaiser’s South Sacramento facility, says nurses still had no meaningful training more than a month after a patient was admitted to the hospital for a potential Ebola infection, though he later tested negative for the virus.

“Kaiser felt all they had to do was pull up some CDC flyers and put them on the lunchroom tables or up in the bathrooms,” she says. Continue reading

Prop. 45 Fight Worthy of Television Drama

Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series "House of Cards." (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series “House of Cards.” (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The power play behind Proposition 45 could be fodder for an episode of House of Cards:

Dave Jones might not like this comparison, but he’s the Frank Underwood in this fight.

“Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value,” so goes protagonist Frank Underwood, who plays the menacing House majority whip scheming to get closer to the president.

You’d never think there’d be such positioning over who gets to regulate health insurance.

But this is California. And no less than three state agencies want to have a say in this one. Continue reading

Darrell Steinberg, Termed Out, Leaves Health Care Legacy in California

Sen. Darrel Steinberg has served in the California legislature for 14 years. (Lorie Shelley, Senate Photographer)

Sen. Darrell Steinberg has served in the California legislature for 14 years, including six years as president pro tem. (Lorie Shelley, Senate Photographer)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

It only seems like Darrell Steinberg (D) has been in the California Legislature forever. Really, forever has just been 14 years.

The senator had made mental health issues a priority.

For health care advocates, Steinberg’s presence has cast the longest shadow in the 21st century, helping advance health causes on multiple fronts — including autism care, mental health services, foster care and homeless services.

Steinberg was elected to the Assembly in 1998, the Senate in 2006 and became Senate President Pro Tempore in 2008. In that 16-year span, he took a two-year break from the Legislature, from 2004 to 2006. He built a reputation as a deal-maker, a horse trader, a broker of political compromises.

Along the way, he helped shape and muscle into existence some of the cornerstone mental health laws in the state. In 2004, Steinberg wrote and backed the voter-approved California Mental Health Services Act, passed in 2004 as Proposition 63. Continue reading