Medical / Health

Monday, March 20, 2023

CalPERS to Pay $800 Million Settlement Over Claims It Misled Retirees on Costs of Long-term Care Insurance

Posted By on Mon, Mar 20, 2023 at 2:59 PM

The CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento. - CALPERS
  • CalPERS
  • The CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento.
CalPERS is preparing to pay out roughly $800 million to settle claims that it misled retirees when it began offering long-term care insurance in the late 1990s and pledged it wouldn’t substantially raise rates on certain plans.

The nation’s largest public pension fund in the 1990s and early 2000s sold long-term care insurance with so-called inflation-protection that members believed would shield them from dramatic spikes in premiums. CalPERS nonetheless hiked long-term care insurance rates by 85 percent in 2012 and continued to raise fees in subsequent years, straining household budgets for retirees on fixed incomes.

The settlement, approved by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge earlier this month, would resolve a lawsuit that centers on that steep 2012 fee increase. The settlement cannot take effect until plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit vote on it in a process that’s expected to take place between April and early June, according to court records.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System pays for long-term care out of a specific fund that is separate from the $443 billion portfolio that supports pensions for its 2 million members. The long-term care fund had about $4.9 billion as of June and about 105,000 active policies, according to CalPERS.

The agreement is the second court-approved settlement in the case. It is significantly less expensive for CalPERS than the first one.

The previous agreement would have cost CalPERS as much as $2.7 billion and required retirees to drop their long-term care plans in exchange for payments of as much as $50,000 apiece.

“This plan is going to run on a basis that is economically solvent without regard to what was said 20-plus years ago when it was first offered.”

los angeles Superior Court Judge William Highberger

Thousands of retirees chose security over cash and rejected that agreement because they wanted to retain to long-term care insurance, according to attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

No California Salmon: Fishery to be Shut Down This Year

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2023 at 9:31 AM

Jared Davis stands beside his charter fishing boat, Salty Lady, as it sits in dry dock in Richmond on Mar. 8, 2023. - PHOTO BY MARTIN DO NASCIMENTO, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
  • Jared Davis stands beside his charter fishing boat, Salty Lady, as it sits in dry dock in Richmond on Mar. 8, 2023.
Most summer mornings at first light, Jared Davis is a few miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, motoring his charter fishing boat Salty Lady over the Pacific Ocean. His eyes sweep the horizon, looking for diving birds, but mostly he watches the screen of his dashboard fish-finder for schools of anchovies — a sure sign that salmon are near. When the signs look good, he throttles down to trolling speed and tells his customers to let out their lines. 

“Drop ‘em down!” Davis calls out the window. “Thirty to 40 feet!”

When the bite is steady, the Salty Lady may have 20 customers on board, each spending $200 for the chance to catch salmon. On the best days, fishing rods bend double the moment the lines go down, and a frenzy of action ensues, often amid a hundred or more other boats. Hooked Chinook thrash at the surface, and the deck becomes strewn with flopping fish.

Last year, California’s commercial and recreational fishing fleet, from the Central Coast to the Oregon border, landed about 300,000 salmon.

But this year, Davis and other salmon anglers won’t be fishing for salmon at all.

In response to crashing Chinook populations, a council of West Coast fishery managers plans to cancel this year’s salmon season in California, which will put hundreds of commercial fishermen and women out of work in Northern California and turn the summer into a bummer for thousands of recreational anglers. 

Last year, the industry’s economic value was an estimated $460 million for fish sales and related businesses, including restaurants, tackle shops, private fishing guides, campgrounds and other services. Salmon season usually runs from May through October. 

The closure, Davis said, “is going to be devastating to my business.” He said he will “try to scrape together a season” by targeting other species, like rockfish, lingcod, halibut and striped bass, but generating interest in catching these fish will be a challenge. 

“Our customers want salmon,” he said, adding that last year, his customers caught roughly 2,000 Chinook.

Davis, 53, who has fished all his life, said the thrill of salmon fishing never grows old. “There’s nothing else like a wide-open salmon bite,” he said.

Freshly caught salmon on Sept. 7, 2017. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bland
Chinook salmon caught by two recreational anglers off the San Mateo County coastline in 2017. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bland

Only in two previous years — 2008 and 2009 — has California’s salmon season been shut down completely. That closure came as the numbers of spawning fish returning to the Sacramento River, the state’s main salmon producer, crashed to record lows. 

Now California’s Chinook runs have collapsed again.

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Saturday, March 11, 2023

Time to Spring Forward on Sunday

Posted By on Sat, Mar 11, 2023 at 6:51 AM

It's time to spring the clocks forward an hour, with daylight saving time arriving at 2 a.m. Sunday, which means darker mornings and losing an hour of sleep.

And, once again, Congress is taking up whether to end what many see as an antiquated practice of changing back and forth each fall and spring that results in  public health and safety risks, including an uptick in heart attacks and car accidents whenever the switch-overs occur, disrupting the nation's sleep patterns.

On March 2, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio reintroduced legislation dubbed the Sunshine Protection Act, which is similar to a bill that unanimously passed in the Senate last year but did not go to a House vote, that would make daylight saving time permanent.

Under the federal Uniform Time Act, states only have two options: spring forward at the appointed time each year or just stay on standard time, which Arizona and Hawaii have opted to do. But it will take an act of Congress for states to keep that extra hour of daylight.

So, even though California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 7 to switch permanently over to daylight saving time back in 2018, the ballot measure still needs to be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the state Senate, which hasn’t happened yet.

When and if it does, California would join a dozen other states still waiting for the required Congressional approval to make the move.

In the meantime, don't forget to set your clocks ahead an hour before going to sleep Saturday night and remember to check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

After a Pandemic Pause, State to Restart Checking Medi-Cal Eligibility

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2023 at 2:26 PM

A physician's assistant listens to a patient's heartbeat. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • A physician's assistant listens to a patient's heartbeat.
California will soon restart its annual eligibility review for people enrolled in Medi-Cal, a process that has been suspended since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that starting in mid-April, residents enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for low-income people, will start to receive renewal notices in the mail. The process will be spread over 14 months. Some people may be automatically re-enrolled, but most people will have to fill out a renewal packet with information about their income and household size. People who no longer qualify or who fail to fill out the paperwork will lose their free or low-cost coverage.

State officials estimate that between 2 million and 3 million people could lose their Medi-Cal coverage. Ideally, people who no longer qualify for Medi-Cal will transition to a plan in the state’s insurance marketplace, Covered California, or to a job-sponsored health plan. Still, health advocates worry that many people could fall through the cracks or get caught in administrative hurdles and become uninsured, leaving them more likely to delay or forgo care altogether.

Currently, 15.4 million people — more than a third of the state’s population — are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the most ever, according to the California Department of Health Care Services. That’s partly a result of the increased need during the pandemic: As people lost jobs and wages, many also lost their medical insurance. From March 2020 to February 2023, Medi-Cal enrollment increased 16 percent, according to the department.

And as thousands of people became newly eligible for Medi-Cal, far fewer were coming off. Federal rules prohibited states from dropping people from government-sponsored insurance during the pandemic as a way to protect access to care. Now those federal rules are lapsing.

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Friday, March 3, 2023

Eureka to Host Mental Health Town Hall

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2023 at 11:52 AM

The city of Eureka and Humboldt County Behavior Health will host the first in what’s aimed to be a quarterly series of town hall meetings focused on community health Saturday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Eureka City Hall, 531 K St.

Topics for the series will revolve around mental health, substance abuse and homelessness in the local community, starting with Saturday’s “Mental Health 101.” Each event will feature a panel of professionals from varying backgrounds who will give presentations, followed by an opportunity for the public to ask questions. Panelists will include Lea Nagy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Humboldt County Public Defender Luke Brownfield, Eureka Police Department Commander Leonard LaFrance and Department of Health and Human Services Program Manager Mark Lamers.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Humboldt Marks 170th COVID Death

Posted By on Wed, Mar 1, 2023 at 4:10 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported today that the county has confirmed one new COVID-19 deaths, a resident in their 60s, since its last report Feb. 22.

One new hospitalization was also reported and, according to a state database, two people are currently hospitalized with the virus locally. The death reported today is Humboldt County's 170th since the pandemic began.

Find the full public health press release, which includes a schedule of upcoming vaccination clinics, including for booster shots that now combative Omicron sub variants BA.4 and BA.5, and information on flu testing, by clicking here.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Wood Introduces Bill to Prioritize Patient Care Over Nursing Home Profits

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2023 at 2:24 PM

Assemblymember Jim Wood. - PHOTO BY GRANT SCOTT GOFORTH
  • Photo by Grant Scott Goforth
  • Assemblymember Jim Wood.
North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood is again trying to ensure that more of government funds allocated to care for some of California’s most vulnerable residents are actually spent on patient care.

Wood announced Feb. 27 that he had introduced Assembly Bill 1537, which would require that skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) spend a minimum of 85 percent of all non-Medicare revenue on the direct care of their residents. The bill is almost identical to one Wood introduced last year that passed the Legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In a press release, Wood noted that California’s estimated 1,200 skilled nursing facilities receive revenues approaching $11 billion annually and care for nearly 100,000 patients, saying “we have a responsibility to ensure that they are receiving the best care and given the dignity they deserve.”

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Is California Breaking Its Promise to Cut Health Care Costs?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2023 at 9:45 AM

A medical examination room in Fresno on June 8, 2022. - PHOTO BY LARRY VALENZUELA, CALMATTERS/CATCHLIGHT LOCAL
  • Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
  • A medical examination room in Fresno on June 8, 2022.
Brian Iv works in a factory in Orange County, earning around $26 per hour. He suffers chronic pain from a lifetime of manual labor jobs and previous workplace injuries, but often treats the pain with home remedies or traditional Cambodian practices. Going to the doctor is too expensive, he said.

Iv recently got a raise and was able to purchase health insurance through his company, but for a long time he had a Covered California Silver Plan, a mid-tier plan under the state’s version of the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace. A visit to a primary care doctor cost nearly $50, and every time Iv picked up a prescription it was an additional $10 to $15. It was a lot for someone living paycheck-to-paycheck with little wiggle room in the budget.

“Right now, after COVID-19, everything is expensive,” Iv said. “Sometimes when you get sick you avoid that (expense). You have to keep the money to pay the rent, pay the bills, pay the car.”

Mid-tier health coverage like Iv’s Silver Plan is widely considered the best value for people who have insurance through Covered California. But in the past nine years, deductibles for the Silver Plan have grown nearly 88 percent after adjusting for inflation, increasing out-of-pocket costs for enrollees. In raw numbers, last year deductibles grew from $3,700 for an individual and $7,400 for a family with a Silver Plan to $4,750 and $9,500, respectively.

That’s why health care advocates are miffed that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s  budget proposal would sweep away $333.4 million set aside a couple of years ago for the state to defray health care costs for middle-income residents, transferring the money to the general fund. The proposal to move money out of the Health Care Affordability Reserve Fund is temporary, with plans to restore it in 2025 when current federal subsidies expire. But advocates say inflationary pressures and rising health care costs are reasons to use that money right now to help Californians struggling to pay the bills.

“We recognize there’s not a lot of room for new spending in the current budget situation, but we don’t see this as new spending. We see this as the existing commitment,” said Diana Douglas, policy director for Health Access California, which sponsored legislation to create the reserve fund. 

The budget transfer idea is part of Newsom’s strategy to address a projected $22.5 billion deficit this year, a deficit that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts may be even worse come May when the budget will be revised based on actual state revenue. 

Newsom’s spokespeople ignored multiple requests for comment.

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Friday, February 3, 2023

California Lawmakers Try Again to Cap Insulin Costs

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2023 at 10:15 AM

The state Capitol building. - CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY
  • California State Assembly
  • The state Capitol building.
As many diabetics across the Golden State struggle with insulin costs, California’s efforts to make the medication more affordable have yet to yield results. This year, lawmakers will revisit legislation that would address at least one piece of the affordability puzzle. 

Senate Bill 90, by Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, would limit what diabetics pay out of pocket for their insulin — prohibiting state-regulated health insurance plans from imposing a deductible on those prescriptions and capping the copay at $35 for a 30-day supply. The current copay limit is $250.

The bill, advocates say, is meant to provide some immediate relief to consumers as the state   works on a more ambitious plan to develop its own low-cost insulin. That’s expected to take at least two to three years.

California legislators have tried passing cost-sharing caps in the past without success. Last session’s bill, carried by former Republican Sen. Patricia Bates of Laguna Niguel, died in an Assembly committee. Despite bipartisan support, the insurance industry pushed back, arguing that capping costs only on the consumer’s end does little to tackle the underlying issue: the list price of insulin. 

“I would never suggest that the only problem is copays; overall cost is also a problem,” Wiener said. “We absolutely need to limit what consumers are paying out of pocket at the same time that we do this other structural work around the cost of insulin.”

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Public Health Reports Two New COVID Deaths

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2023 at 5:09 PM

Humboldt County Public Health reported today that the county has confirmed two new COVID-19 deaths, a resident in their 50s and another over the age of 80, since its last report Jan. 25.

One new hospitalization was also reported and, according to a state database, six people are currently hospitalized with the virus locally, including one receiving intensive care. The deaths reported today is Humboldt County's 169th since the pandemic began.

Find the full public health press release, which includes a schedule of upcoming vaccination clinics, including for booster shots that now combative Omicron sub variants BA.4 and BA.5, and information on flu testing, by clicking here.

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