California Healthline Highlights Health-Related News over Past Week
California Healthline today summarizes a number of health-related news reports last week. Summaries of the reports appear below.
- Health Plan of the Redwoods: Representatives of most of the 40 school districts in Sonoma County and some county charter schools on Aug. 27 unanimously selected Health Net to replace HPR as their health insurer, beginning Nov. 1, although "uncertainty remains over whether school boards or workers will pay the millions of dollars in increased costs," the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports (Digitale, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 8/29). Faced with an $8 million budget deficit since Jan. 1, HPR filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 31. HPR officials estimate that the health plan owes $38.7 million to creditors. HPR earlier this month decided to liquidate and shut down by Oct. 31 (California Healthline, 8/16). The selected Health Net plan costs $671 per family per month, $151 more per month than the most popular HPR school plan, and has higher copayments for doctor visits, prescription drugs and hospitalizations (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 8/29).
- Information technology: The California HealthCare Foundation last Tuesday released a report that examined how information technology can be used to improve the quality of care provided in doctors' offices. The report, titled "Crossing the Chasm with Information Technology: Bridging the Quality Gap in Health Care," examined information technology that addresses issues of patient empowerment, "reliable and safe" health care, patient-provider relationships outside of the doctor's office and public accountability for quality (CHCF release, 8/27). The report is available online.
- Kaiser nurses: Kaiser Permanente and the California Nurses Association extended to Sept. 6 their talks over a new contract and have scheduled bargaining sessions this week, the Contra Costa Times reports (Tate/Silber, Contra Costa Times, 8/31). The union, which represents 10,000 registered nurses at 17 Kaiser facilities in Northern California, has sought a contract that bans mandatory overtime shifts, commits to minimum staffing levels, increases health benefits and establishes a pension fund to replace the nurses' current 401(k) plan (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 8/29). A breakdown in negotiations could prompt the CNA to approve a 10-day notice to strike, the Times reports. Nurses at Tenet HealthCare's Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo and Pinole also agreed to extend to Thursday their contract talks over staffing and retiree health benefits (Contra Costa Times, 8/31).
- Los Angeles County health system: Los Angeles County began a "rolling schedule of service reductions" planned for 15 health centers with the elimination of walk-in services on Aug. 30 at the North Hollywood Health Center and the Tujunga Health Center, the Los Angeles Times reports (Briscoe, Los Angeles Times, 8/25). The Board of Supervisors on Aug. 20 voted unanimously to close 11 of the county's 18 public health clinics, close four school-based health centers and end inpatient services at High Desert Hospital in Lancaster as part of a plan to help reduce a $710 million budget deficit in the county's health system (California Healthline, 8/21). The closures could "prove a logistical nightmare," the Times reports, because 17,359 patients will have to find other primary care facilities, according to a health department spokesperson. Although the county continues to operate seven health clinics, those could begin to close in October to reduce costs (Los Angeles Times, 8/25). On Aug. 21, a group of physicians from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, which could face closure in October, "urged" county Supervisor Don Knabe to delay for up to a year the board's decision on additional reductions. The doctors also asked Knabe to support a sales tax ballot measure that would increase funds for the county's health system (Zahniser, Copley/Torrance Daily Breeze, 8/26).
- Los Angeles Unified soda ban: The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Educators last week unanimously approved a proposal to ban the sale of soft drinks at the district's 677 schools to help improve the health of 736,000 students, the Los Angeles Times reports (Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times, 8/29). The proposal will require middle and high schools in the district to replace soft drinks in vending machines and student stores with water, juice, milk or sports drinks during school hours by January 2004 (Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/28). The proposal could cost the schools thousands of dollars in revenue from soft drink sales (Los Angeles Times, 8/28). However, the board approved a compromise proposal that will allow the superintendent of schools to address the issue of lost revenue in a report in six months (Herskovitz/Whitcomb, Reuters/Boston Globe, 8/28).
- Medi-Cal: Although health insurance provided to former welfare recipients through Medi-Cal "remains far from universal," many receive coverage though employer-sponsored health plans, according to a report released this month by the Medi-Cal Policy Institute. In the report, titled "Beyond Medi-Cal: Health Insurance Coverage Among Former Welfare Recipients," RAND researchers analyzed data from a California Health and Social Services Survey of 3,000 current and former state welfare recipients in six counties. The report found a "steady decline" in Medi-Cal coverage for former welfare recipients as time away from welfare increases and a rise in the number who receive employer-sponsored health coverage as time away from welfare increases (Gresenz/Klerman, "Beyond Medi-Cal: Health Insurance Coverage Among Former Welfare Recipients," August 2000). The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
- Pallotta TeamWorks: Pallotta TeamWorks, the "controversial" for-profit promotions company that sponsors several AIDSRides and other events nationwide, last month announced that the company has laid off 250 employees and will close the company's Los Angeles-based office as part of a "cost-cutting" move, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Hendricks, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/25). The layoffs come "amid a falloff in donations, rifts with sponsors and questions about excessive overhead costs" for Pallotta-produced events, the Washington Post reports. Participation in and contributions for Pallotta fundraisers, including its AIDSRides, have decreased within the past year (Argetsinger, Washington Post, 8/26). Janna Sidley, a spokesperson for Pallotta, said that the company hopes to rehire some of the laid-off employees in the near future (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/25).
- Tenet expansion: Tenet last month announced a new $1 billion capital investment project that will include new facilities, more hospital beds and improved services to address a "looming shortage of beds from a new surge in demand" as baby boomers age, the Los Angeles Times reports. Tenet's new capital investment projects in California include a $90 million, 10-story patient tower at the University of Southern California University Hospital and $16 million for operating rooms and a new medical office building at the Redding Medical Center in Redding (White, Los Angeles Times, 8/27). Other projects include a $74 million, six-story addition to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center and a $44 million expansion at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/27).