News on health, wellness and health care

California lawmakers and nurses are taking a hard look at charitable health care provided by hospitals with non-profit tax status.

Different hospitals have different practices when it comes to care for those who have trouble paying. For example, a patient may get free care in one hospital, but be charged at another.

At least, that’s what a recent report from the California State Auditor suggests.

Democratic State Senator Ellen Corbett chaired a committee this week that is looking into creating standards for the tax exempt status.

A bill before California lawmakers this week would create a new publicly-funded health plan for low-income residents. Creating a ‘basic health program’ is a state option under the federal health law. It would cover some of the people otherwise eligible for California’s health benefit exchange.

Ken Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Labor Center did an analysis of the plan. He says the program would be more affordable than the health exchange, which could result in more people covered overall. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

California hospitals experienced a 10 percent drop in the number of serious infections over the past year, but a number of San Joaquin Valley hospitals are still above the state average, when compared with similar hospitals elsewhere in the state.

Some California lawmakers are calling for a closer look into a state fund for county mental health programs.

The Mental Health Services Act has brought in more than $8 billion since it was enacted in 2004. Republican State Assemblyman Dan Logue says he requested an audit of the funds after he heard reports of money spent on activities not clearly connected to mental health.

“If the basics are being sacrificed for programs that have proven and have shown no benefit whatsoever, then there needs to be a reevaluation of where these funds go.”

California Lawmakers Decide on Health Bills This Month

Aug 6, 2012

California state lawmakers return to the Capitol this week and they’ll deal with a number of health bills.

A handful of bills would incorporate provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act into California law. They deal with everything from Medicaid expansion, to setting rules governing how health premiums are set, to determining minimum benefits. Anthony Wright is from Health Access.

Nearly two million Californians should receive a health insurance premium rebate this week. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the rebates are the result of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The federal law requires health insurers to spend at least 80 percent of their premium money on actual health costs, rather than marketing and other non-medical expenses. Insurers who don’t meet that percentage are required to issue refunds. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says premium rebates total about $74 million, or about $65 per family.

California leaders say the federal health care overhaul will help African Americans get better access to health services. Democratic State Senator Curren Price says over the next few years, the Affordable Care Act could mean more primary and quality care for more than two million black Californians.

“It’s going to help level the playing field, and ultimately eliminate some of the nagging health disparities.”

California Health Leaders Call for "Culture of Coverage"

Jul 25, 2012

Key players in implementing the federal health overhaul in California say the public should be part of building a ‘culture of coverage.’

Kim Belshe is on the board of the California Health Benefit Exchange, an online marketplace where people will soon be able to buy coverage. She says in order for the federal health law to serve its purpose, schools, labor, faith and community organizations need to be on board.

Children's Hospital Gets New CEO

Jul 20, 2012

The Children's Hospital Central California Board of Trustees have named Todd Suntrapak as the hospital's new President and CEO.

The Board of Trustees said they conducted a national search for the position, and decided on Suntrapak based on his contributions to the hospital's expansion as a regional referral center.

Suntrapak has worked as the hospital's Chief Operating Officer since 2005, during which time trustees say he provided leadership in clinal operations and business development.

Suntrapak will assume the position, effective immediately.


Adult day health care patients face change

Jul 16, 2012

Adult day health care in California is feeling the pinch of the state’s budget crisis. The state has been working to scale back the publicly-funded program that helps elderly and fragile adults. Meanwhile, centers are struggling to keep their services going. Pauline Bartolone visited one center in Sacramento that serves as a community space for Eastern European immigrants.

Every weekday at Altamedix adult day health center in North Sacramento, over a hundred Russian speaking immigrants follow a tight schedule of health education and exercise.

Even before the decision by the US Supreme Court to uphold most of President Obama's health care reform law, California was leading the way in implementing portions of the law. Now that most provisions of the Affordable Care Act are moving forward, what do California lawmakers and health care leaders have to say?

Special funding for this program comes from the California HealthCare Foundation

As the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a historic ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s overhaul of federal health care, California is not waiting to make changes. As Pauline Bartolone reports, state health planners say even if the high court overturns the federal mandate to buy insurance, their effort will move forward.

A new survey sheds light on what small businesses in California want out of the new health insurance market starting in 2014. 

Only a little more than a third of California small businesses currently provide some health benefits in their workplace. But that number could go up to 44 percent when a new health marketplace is up and running.

That’s according to a poll commissioned by the Small Business Majority and Kaiser Permanente.

John Arensmeyer of the Small Business Majority says the poll shows small companies want the same health options big ones have.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal next Tuesday to allow a foreign medical school from the Caribbean to cycle 100 students a year through the clinical rotation program at Kern Medical Center.

The Ross University School of Medicine would pay Kern County $3.5 million a year for 10 years for the program, if it’s approved by the board. KMC currently has students from UCLA and several other Caribbean medical schools in its program.

To reach Oakhurst, Calif., drive away from the green fields of the Central Valley, past miles of pistachio trees showing their spring buds and up toward the snow-topped peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Here, just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, is the Sweetwater Steakhouse, a local watering hole where no one is shy about their opinions of President Obama's signature initiative.

The bond rating firm Fitch announced this week that it is downgrading the debt of a Tulare county hospital. The Tulare Local Health Care District saw its rating dip from BBB- to BB+.

The firm cited the hospital’s recent drop in profitability, and dramatic decline in liquidity as factors for the downgrade. The organization believes the hospital’s financial health will stabilize in the remainder of 2012, as a new 24 bed emergency wing is completed at the Tulare Regional Medical Center.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Fresno County is moving forward with a plan to reopen a crisis center for mental health patients. The county closed the center in 2009 due to budget cuts. That resulted in patients being sent to area emergency rooms.

Hospitals say they aren’t well equipped to handle those patients. The new crisis stabilization service will be run by a private contractor, Exodus Health, at the county’s former facility on Kings Canyon Road.

The four year contract with Exodus Health to provide the services for Fresno County is for around $16 million.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

When we get sick, this is what most of us want to see a doctor.That’s what the people of the town of Reedley wanted when they voted to establish the Sierra Kings Health Care District. They taxed themselves and sold bonds to build their own hospital. “What individuals felt is that they could really not for their own health care travel 35 minutes to Fresno or Visalia for major health care,” says Kathy Omachi.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Community Regional Medical Center, located in downtown Fresno, is where the poorest of Fresno County residents go for medical care.

“The county was providing the services at the old Valley Medical Center and Community Medical Centers took it over in 1996 for about $18 million a year and providing basically Medi-Cal level services,” says Kevin Hamilton, an administrator with Clinica Sierra Vista.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

It's Thursday night, and inside a small classroom at a church in Clovis, a handful of actors have gathered to put the finishing touches on a new original production. 

“Let’s go to the piece where this builds up before you take off into this speech,” shouts the director.

It's a theatre production of a four vignettes plus an original song, all focused an issue that's having a big impact on many Valley residents - obesity.