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

KQED Launches ‘PriceCheck’ to Make Health Costs Transparent

(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Update June 30: Early PriceCheck data show Bay Area mammogram prices range from $125 to $801

Original Post:

Say you’re shopping for a new computer or a new car, and you want to get the best price. Within a matter of minutes on Google, you would have a pretty good idea of the price range for the product you want.

But in health care? Forget it.

Shining light on a system where the costs of the same procedure might range from $0 to $1,100. That’s just one example.

It’s well known to health policy types, but less so to consumers, that health care prices are utterly lacking in transparency and wildly variable.

If you’ve ever looked at a bill for a health care procedure — and been astounded by the numbers you see — or thought that you would like to find the best price on an elective procedure – and been astounded that there’s no easy way to compare prices — KQED is launching a new project for you.

Today we bring you “Price Check,” a community-created guide to health costs. Since no database yet exists where consumers can easily look up costs, we’re commencing the work of creating one. But we need your help.

This summer and into the fall, we’re turning to you, our community, to share — anonymously — what you have paid for some common procedures. We’re starting with mammograms. (More on “why mammograms?” in a moment.) Continue reading

Another Step Closer to Autism Therapy as Medi-Cal Benefit?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

CMS officials last week approved a state plan amendment for the state of Washington that includes autism therapy as a Medicaid benefit.

It’s the second state in a month to receive that go-ahead from the federal government, and it means autism coverage should be a Medi-Cal benefit in California, as well, according to Kristin Jacobson, president of Autism Deserves Equal Coverage, a not-for-profit autism advocacy group.

The budget passed this week by the California Legislature omitted autism therapy as a Medi-Cal benefit.

Autism advocates hope one day soon CMS will make it clear that applied behavior analysis treatment — known as ABA therapy — should be a required benefit for all states receiving Medicaid, including California. Continue reading

Covered California Questions Health Insurance Initiative

Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee, seen here at a November, 2013, press conference. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

UPDATE: June 20

KQED’s April Dembosky attended the Covered California board meeting Thursday afternoon where the board expressed concern that a voter initiative on the upcoming November ballot could compromise its authority. The initiative would give the state’s insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate increases in health insurance premiums.  But Covered California already negotiates rates with insurance plans. How would the initiative, if passed, affect Covered California?

Covered California board member Susan Kennedy called on agency staff to conduct an intensive analysis of the initiative’s potential impact Covered California’s ability to operate — and to get it done soon.
Continue reading

California Caregivers Sue Their Employer for Wage Violations

Plaintiff Ginger Rogers with one of her attorneys, Hina Shaw, reviewing the complaint that was filed today against Kindred Healthcare and affiliates. (Photo: Sara Feldman)

Plaintiff Ginger Rogers (right) with one of her attorneys, Hina Shaw, reviewing the complaint that was filed today against Kindred Healthcare and affiliates. (Photo: Sara Feldman)

Professional caregivers filed a class action lawsuit in California Wednesday on behalf of hundreds of workers throughout the state. They say their employer, Kindred Healthcare and its affiliates, shorted them on wages, overtime, and breaks.

Ginger Rogers, a caregiver with 25 years experience, says Kindred Healthcare hired her in 2012 to look after a patient at a skilled nursing facility in Castro Valley, outside San Francisco. She says she asked her supervisor if she could leave her patient’s bedside to take a lunch break. The supervisor told her no, adding that coffee breaks weren’t allowed either, according to the complaint filed in Alameda Superior Court today.

“That’s illegal,” says Hina Shah, co-director of the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University, who is representing Rogers and the other plaintiffs. “The law mandates two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of work. But more importantly, the type of work that these caregivers are doing is physically and mentally demanding, and to require someone to work 12-hour shifts without any kind of break is very detrimental to their health and is onerous.” Continue reading

California Assembly Rejects Sugary Drink Warning Label

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

By Fenit Nirappil, Associated Press

A bill that would have made California the first state in the nation to require warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks was effectively killed Tuesday.

Sen. Bill Monning’s SB1000 failed on a 7-8 vote as his fellow Democratic lawmakers doubted whether a label would change consumer behavior. It needed 10 votes to pass.

Certain sodas, energy drinks and fruit drinks would have included a label reading, “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.” Continue reading

Low-Income Latinas Turn to Group Visits for Prenatal Care

Araceli eats fruit during a break following an exercise on healthy eating during a Centering Pregnancy group in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

During a Centering Pregnancy group prenatal appointment in San Francisco, Araceli (left) eats fruit following an exercise on healthy eating. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

Once a month, Irma Vásquez goes for prenatal check-ups at a clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District. But her appointment looks nothing like a doctor’s appointment. Instead of getting one-on-one care, she meets with 12 other Latina immigrants for a group visit.

Studies show group prenatal care leads to better birth outcomes.
The women meet at a community clinic and first take their own blood pressure, weigh themselves, and write down the results. Then they take turns seeing a midwife in a makeshift exam area in the corner of the room. The midwife checks each baby’s heart rate and talks privately with each woman.

Afterward they all sit in a circle and talk — in Spanish — about everything from eating healthy to dealing with domestic problems at home. Finally, there’s group meditation. Vásquez says this is her favorite part.

“It clears your mind of all the things that are going on around you, going on outside,” she says in Spanish. “It makes you more relaxed.” Continue reading

6 Questions About Contraceptives, the ACA, and the Supreme Court

Customers entering a Hobby Lobby store in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Antioch. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).

Customers entering a Hobby Lobby store in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Antioch. The owners of the company are evangelical Christians and object, on religious grounds, to providing certain types of birth control. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images).

By Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News

One of the most watched issues before the Supreme Court this term may turn on the question of religious freedom. But it will also likely determine how women will be able to access a key provision of the Affordable Care Act – one seeking to guarantee no-cost prescription contraception in most health insurance plans.

The justices’ ruling on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Sebelius, two cases that are being considered together, is expected by the end of this month. The court will decide whether those companies, and potentially all other for-profit companies, must abide by the so-called contraceptive mandate. It’s a complicated legal thicket, so here is some background.

1. What is the contraceptive mandate?

The health law requires that most insurance plans provide preventive care services without out-of-pocket expense to beneficiaries. The Obama administration included all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration as part of a package of preventive services for women. Continue reading

School Lunch Debate: What’s At Stake?

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

By Allison Aubrey and Jessica Pupovac, NPR

School lunches have never been known for culinary excellence. But to be fair, the National School Lunch Program — which provides free or reduced lunches to about 31 million kids every day — has never aimed to dazzle as much as to fill little bellies.

In 2010, Congress gave the Federal School Lunch Program a nutrition make-over. New regulations called for:

  • Increasing the amount of whole grains served in school cafeterias
  • Shifting to fat free or low-fat milks
  • Limiting the amount of calories that can come from saturated fats to 10 percent
  • Offering fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
  • Implementing caloric minimums and maximums for each meal

Those were just the first steps. By the school year starting this fall, schools are also required to: Continue reading

Cross Country from D.C. to San Francisco, Complaints About Health Costs

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork.  (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

Dudley Pratt (left) talks to reporter Jenny Gold at a gas station in Fenner, Calif. His complaint is health insurance paperwork. (Ilana Lipsett/Kaiser Health News)

By Jenny Gold, Kaiser Health News

Recently, I moved from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. I drove the Southern route and decided to conduct an informal survey.

“I wish it would be cheaper mainly — more affordable.”

I asked folks I met along the way a question relevant to the health care reporting I’ve been doing for the past five years: What bugs you most about your medical care?

Few people I talked with — at gas stations, coffee shops, grocery stores, parking lots, bars and everywhere in between — even mentioned the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare by name. But I heard again and again how health policy issues I’ve been reporting on in Washington are affecting their lives.

What did I find out? Continue reading