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Video: Why the New Autism Benefit Is So Important to Medi-Cal Families

By Jeremy Raff

Effective this week, Medi-Cal now covers a key autism therapy, and some 12,000 kids stand to benefit statewide. One of the children who will benefit is Timothy Wilson, a bubbly 6-year-old who will now be able to get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income. ABA is the clinical standard of care for autism.

Timothy was 2 when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t say mama, didn’t say dada,” said Jazzmon. He threw tantrums and hardly made eye contact. “You just see all your dreams go by the wayside.”

The Wilsons enrolled him in the Regional Center of the East Bay, where children under 3 receive state-funded services. He began ABA therapy, which breaks down everyday skills into bite-sized, learnable portions, then uses repetition, memorization and rewards to reinforce or discourage behaviors. Parents learn to lead their child in the therapy as well. In the video, Jazzmon works with Timothy — or Bubba as she calls him. Seeing him now, it’s hard to believe how affected he was at a younger age.

Jazzmon praises Timothy during an Applied Behavioral Analysis session.

Jazzmon praises Timothy during an Applied Behavioral Analysis session. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

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Students Struggle to Access Mental Health Services on UC Campuses

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. In the last six years, the number of students seeking health at counseling centers has increased 37 percent across the UC system. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students throughout the University of California system are having trouble accessing mental health care, and health services directors are raising alarms that increased staffing and funding could be warranted to meet demand.

“The increased need for mental health services on our campuses is outstripping our ability to provide those services,” said Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services for the University of California. “It is a major problem. It’s not only a problem for UC, this is a national issue.”

In the last six years, the number of students seeking help at university counseling centers has increased 37 percent, according to data presented at UC Regents board meeting on Thursday.

“This is real. Students are having difficulty accessing mental health services on campus,” said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Self-Insured Health Plans. “They’re waiting longer to get an appointment. They’re having fewer appointments within the course of therapy, and more are needing to be referred off campus.” Continue reading

State Health Officials Say Enterovirus Now Sickening Children in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

State health officials have confirmed that a strain of virus that has been causing respiratory illness in children in other parts of the country is now spreading in California.

Four children — three in San Diego County and one in Ventura — have recently been discharged from the hospital after contracting enterovirus D68.

In a call Thursday afternoon with reporters, officials with the California Department of Public Health said that after a Centers for Disease Control warning earlier this month to be on alert for cases, the agency called for hospitals to send specimens from any children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness. That testing uncovered the four cases.

The children, who are both boys and girls, range in age from 2 to 13.

Enterovirus is in the same viral family as the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, health officials said. Symptoms can include fever — although they hastened to add that fever may not be present. Runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and body and muscle aches are common. Some children may have difficulty breathing, especially children with a history of asthma. There is no vaccine against enterovirus.

Health officials said that more cases are anticipated after more testing is completed. “It’s a very good chance in the next week or so that we may identify several other places in the state that have positive cases right now,” said Dr. Carol Glaser with the agency’s center for infectious diseases. “Our lab has been receiving several dozen specimens throughout the state just in the last few days, and that work is ongoing.”

The illness is usually not severe, but health officials say parents should seek prompt medical attention for children with breathing difficulties, especially children with asthma. Three of the four Southern California hospitalizations were in children with asthma.

No deaths from enterovirus D68 have been reported nationally.

Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit Over Medi-Cal Backlog

(s_falkow: Flickr)

(s_falkow: Flickr)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

California’s lingering backlog of Medi-Cal applications has left hundreds of thousands of people unable to access the health care they are entitled to receive, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a coalition of health advocates and legal services groups.

A Tulare County man had applied for Medi-Cal but died of a pulmonary embolism while waiting for the state to confirm his eligibility.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, says the state is failing to process applications within 45 days as required by law. Some applicants have been waiting to receive their Medi-Cal cards since the end of last year, according to the suit. The applicants include children, pregnant women and adults with life-threatening health conditions, who advocates say are either postponing treatment or paying cash to see doctors.

Medi-Cal is the state’s version of Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for low-income Americans. About 11 million people receive Medi-Cal benefits in California, including 2.2 million who applied since January. Roughly 350,000 applications are still pending. Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Covered California Launches 2015 Outreach Campaign

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)

Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, kicked off its marketing and outreach campaign Monday for the upcoming 2015 open enrollment period. Officials say they forecast enrolling 1.7 million people, about 500,000 more than are presently signed up.

Peter Lee, the agency’s executive director, acknowledged the work ahead. “It won’t be easy,” he said. “In many ways, it will be harder than last year.”

For starters, the next open enrollment runs three months compared to last year’s six month period when more than three million people signed up either for Covered California or to Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Continue reading

Autism Benefit Finally a Reality for Children on Medi-Cal

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Jazzmon Wilson with her son Timothy, 6, who has autism and has benefited greatly, Wilson says, from Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, now covered by Medi-Cal. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

By David Gorn

California health officials Monday are launching a new benefit for thousands of children with autism who are covered by Medi-Cal, California’s low-income health program.

“He’s doing things other kids can do. And it’s those little moments, it makes you just so grateful.”

That makes California the first state in the nation to implement new federal standards on autism care.

The new benefit includes coverage of the clinical standard of care for autism treatment — Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy. That treatment has shown significant results for a cross-section of children with autism.

Of the 5 million children on Medi-Cal in California — that’s roughly half the state’s total children — there are an estimated 75,000  who likely have autism spectrum disorder. Of those children, experts expect about 12,000 children to access the new benefit, based on utilization figures from programs in other states. Continue reading

Remaining Uninsured Face Challenges in Cost and Simply Signing Up

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

Leaburn Alexander works two jobs and does not have health insurance. Here, he is on the start of his 3-hour commute home from the job he works as an overnight hotel janitor. (Lisa Morehouse/KQED)

By Lisa Morehouse

When the Affordable Care Act rolled out last fall, Californians enrolled in both Covered California and expanded Medi-Cal in high numbers. But there are still millions in the state without health insurance. Undocumented people don’t qualify for Obamacare benefits. Many others still find coverage too expensive, or face other obstacles in enrolling.

One of those people is Leaburn Alexander. I meet up with him at 6 a.m. as he is finishing his shift as the night janitor at a hotel near the San Francisco Airport. He clocks out just in time to catch the hotel’s shuttle back to SFO, where he will catch a bus.

“Right now I’m on the beginning of my commute,” he tells me. “After an eight hour shift, my commute is like 2 and a half hours.”

I accompany Alexander on his commute to East Palo Alto, about 20 miles south. It actually takes three hours, on the hotel shuttle plus three more buses. He does this commute 5 days a week. Continue reading

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

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
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