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4 Ways Vaccine Skeptics Mislead You on Measles and More

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Amy Maxmen and Céline Gounder
Wed, 22 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Measles is on the rise in the United States. In the first quarter of this year, the number of cases was about 17 times what it was, on average, during the same period in each of the four years before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of the people infected — mainly children — have been hospitalized.

It's going to get worse, largely because a growing number of parents are deciding not to get their children vaccinated against measles as well as diseases like polio and pertussis. Unvaccinated people, or those whose immunization status is unknown, account for 80% of the measles cases this year. Many parents have been influenced by a flood of misinformation spouted by politicians, hosts, and influential figures on television and social media. These personalities repeat decades-old notions that erode confidence in the established science backing routine childhood vaccines. KFF examined the rhetoric and explains why it's misguided:

The No-Big-Deal Trope

A common distortion is that vaccines aren't necessary because the diseases they prevent are not very dangerous, or too rare to be of concern. Cynics accuse public health officials and the media of fear-mongering about measles even as 19 states report cases.

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For example, an article posted on the website of the National Vaccine Information Center — a regular source of vaccine misinformation — argued that a resurgence in concern about the disease “is ‘sky is falling' hype.” It went on to call measles, mumps, chicken pox, and influenza “politically incorrect to get.”

Measles kills roughly 2 of every 1,000 children infected, according to the CDC. If that seems like a bearable risk, it's worth pointing out that a far larger portion of children with measles will require hospitalization for pneumonia and other serious complications. For every 10 measles cases, one child with the disease develops an ear infection that can lead to permanent hearing loss. Another strange effect is that the measles virus can destroy a person's existing immunity, meaning they'll have a harder time recovering from influenza and other common ailments.

Measles vaccines have averted the deaths of about 94 million people, mainly children, over the past 50 years, according to an April analysis led by the World Health Organization. Together with immunizations against polio and other diseases, vaccines have saved an estimated 154 million lives globally.

Some skeptics argue that vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a threat because they've become relatively rare in the U.S. (True — due to vaccination.) This reasoning led Florida's surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, to tell parents that they could send their unvaccinated children to school amid a measles outbreak in February. “You look at the headlines and you'd think the sky was falling,” Ladapo said on a News Nation newscast. “There's a lot of immunity.”

As this lax attitude persuades parents to decline vaccination, the protective group immunity will drop, and outbreaks will grow larger and faster. A rapid measles outbreak hit an undervaccinated population in Samoa in 2019, killing 83 people within four months. A chronic lack of measles vaccination in the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to more than 5,600 people dying from the disease in massive outbreaks last year.

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The ‘You Never Know' Trope

Since the earliest days of vaccines, a contingent of the public has considered them bad because they're unnatural, as compared with nature's bounty of infections and plagues. “Bad” has been redefined over the decades. In the 1800s, vaccine skeptics claimed that smallpox vaccines caused people to sprout horns and behave like beasts. More recently, they blame vaccines for ailments ranging from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to autism to immune system disruption. Studies don't back the assertions. However, skeptics argue that their claims remain valid because vaccines haven't been adequately tested.

In fact, vaccines are among the most studied medical interventions. Over the past century, massive studies and clinical trials have tested vaccines during their development and after their widespread use. More than 12,000 people took part in clinical trials of the most recent vaccine approved to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Such large numbers allow researchers to detect rare risks, which are a major concern because vaccines are given to millions of healthy people.

To assess long-term risks, researchers sift through reams of data for signals of harm. For example, a Danish group analyzed a database of more than 657,000 children and found that those who had been vaccinated against measles as babies were no more likely to later be diagnosed with autism than those who were not vaccinated. In another study, researchers analyzed records from 805,000 children born from 1990 through 2001 and found no evidence to back a concern that multiple vaccinations might impair children's immune systems.

Nonetheless, people who push vaccine misinformation, like candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., dismiss massive, scientifically vetted studies. For example, Kennedy argues that clinical trials of new vaccines are unreliable because vaccinated kids aren't compared with a placebo group that gets saline solution or another substance with no effect. Instead, many modern trials compare updated vaccines with older ones. That's because it's unethical to endanger children by giving them a sham vaccine when the protective effect of immunization is known. In a 1950s clinical trial of polio vaccines, 16 children in the placebo group died of polio and 34 were paralyzed, said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of a book on the first polio vaccine.

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The Too-Much-Too-Soon Trope

Several bestselling vaccine books on Amazon promote the risky idea that parents should skip or delay their children's vaccines. “All vaccines on the CDC's schedule may not be right for all children at all times,” writes Paul Thomas in his bestselling book “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan.” He backs up this conviction by saying that children who have followed “my protocol are among the healthiest in the world.”

Since the book was published, Thomas' medical license was temporarily suspended in Oregon and Washington. The Oregon Medical Board documented how Thomas persuaded parents to skip vaccines recommended by the CDC, and reported that he “reduced to tears” a mother who disagreed.  Several children in his care came down with pertussis and rotavirus, diseases easily prevented by vaccines, wrote the board. Thomas recommended fish oil supplements and homeopathy to an unvaccinated child with a deep scalp laceration, rather than an emergency tetanus vaccine. The boy developed severe tetanus, landing in the hospital for nearly two months, where he required intubation, a tracheotomy, and a feeding tube to survive.

The vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC has been tailored to protect children at their most vulnerable points in life and minimize side effects. The combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine isn't given for the first year of a baby's life because antibodies temporarily passed on from their mother can interfere with the immune response. And because some babies don't generate a strong response to that first dose, the CDC recommends a second one around the time a child enters kindergarten because measles and other viruses spread rapidly in group settings.

Delaying MMR doses much longer may be unwise because data suggests that children vaccinated at 10 or older have a higher chance of adverse reactions, such as a seizure or fatigue.

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Around a dozen other vaccines have discrete timelines, with overlapping windows for the best response. Studies have shown that MMR vaccines may be given safely and effectively in combination with other vaccines.

'They Don't Want You to Know' Trope

Kennedy compares the Florida surgeon general to Galileo in the introduction to Ladapo's new book on transcending fear in public health. Just as the Roman Catholic inquisition punished the renowned astronomer for promoting theories about the universe, Kennedy suggests that scientific institutions oppress dissenting voices on vaccines for nefarious reasons.

“The persecution of scientists and doctors who dare to challenge contemporary orthodoxies is not a new phenomenon,” Kennedy writes. His running mate, lawyer Nicole Shanahan, has campaigned on the idea that conversations about vaccine harms are censored and the CDC and other federal agencies hide data due to corporate influence.

Claims like “they don't want you to know” aren't new among the anti-vaccine set, even though the movement has long had an outsize voice. The most listened-to podcast in the U.S., “The Joe Rogan Experience,” regularly features guests who cast doubt on scientific consensus. Last year on the show, Kennedy repeated the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism.

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Far from ignoring that concern, epidemiologists have taken it seriously. They have conducted more than a dozen studies searching for a link between vaccines and autism, and repeatedly found none. “We have conclusively disproven the theory that vaccines are connected to autism,” said Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia. “So, the public health establishment tends to shut those conversations down quickly.”

Federal agencies are transparent about seizures, arm pain, and other reactions that vaccines can cause. And the government has a program to compensate individuals whose injuries are scientifically determined to result from them. Around 1 to 3.5 out of every million doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction; a person's lifetime risk of death by lightning is estimated to be as much as four times as high.

“The most convincing thing I can say is that my daughter has all her vaccines and that every pediatrician and public health person I know has vaccinated their kids,” Meyerowitz-Katz said. “No one would do that if they thought there were serious risks.”

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By: Amy Maxmen and Céline Gounder
Title: 4 Ways Vaccine Skeptics Mislead You on Measles and More
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/measles-how-vaccine-skeptics-mislead-public/
Published Date: Wed, 22 May 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Kaiser Health News

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Live From Aspen: Health and the 2024 Elections

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Fri, 21 Jun 2024 16:20:00 +0000

The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF


@jrovner


Read Julie's stories.

Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF ' weekly health policy news , “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “Health Care Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

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The presidential election is less than five months away, and while abortion is the only health policy issue expected to play a leading role, others are likely to be raised in the presidential and down-ballot races. This election could be critical in determining the future of key health care programs, such as Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

In this special episode of KFF Health News' “What the Health?” taped at the Aspen Ideas: Health festival in Aspen, Colorado, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call join Julie Rovner, KFF Health News' chief Washington correspondent, to discuss what the election season portends for top health issues.

Panelists

Margot Sanger-Katz
The New York Times


@sangerkatz


Read Margot's stories.

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Sandhya Raman
CQ Roll Call


@SandhyaWrites


Read Sandhya's stories.

Among the takeaways from this week's episode:

  • Policies surrounding abortion — and reproductive health issues, in general — likely will dominate in many races, as Democrats try to exploit an issue that is motivating their voters and dividing Republican voters. The topics of contraception and in vitro fertilization are playing a more prominent role in 2024 than they have in past elections.
  • High prescription drug prices — which, for frustrated Americans, are a longtime symbol, and symptom, of the nation's dysfunctional health care system — have been a priority for the Biden administration and, previously, the Trump administration. But the issue is so confusing and progress so incremental that it is hard to say whether either party has an advantage.
  • The fate of many major health programs will be determined by who wins the presidency and who controls Congress after this fall's elections. For example, the temporary subsidies that have made Affordable Care Act health plans more affordable will expire at the end of 2025. If the subsidies are not renewed, millions of Americans will likely be priced out of coverage again.
  • Previously hot-button issues like gun violence, opioid addiction, and mental health are not playing a high-profile role in the 2024 races. But that could change case by case.
  • Finally, huge health issues that could use public airing and debate — like what to do about the nation's crumbling long-term care system and the growing shortage of vital health professionals — are not likely to become campaign issues.

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Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman
Editor

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To hear all our click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News' “What the Health?” on SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Title: KFF Health News' ‘What the Health?': Live From Aspen: Health and the 2024 Elections
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/podcast/what-the-health-352-health-policy-elections-aspen-festival-june-21-2024/
Published Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2024 16:20:00 +0000

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Super Bowl Parade Shooting Survivors Await Promised Donations While Bills Pile Up

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Peggy Lowe, KCUR and Bram Sable-Smith
Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Abigail Arellano keeps her son Samuel's medical bills in a blue folder in a cabinet above the microwave. Even now, four months after the 11-year-old was shot at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade, the bills keep coming.

There's one for $1,040 for the ambulance ride to the hospital that February afternoon. Another for $2,841.17 from an emergency room visit they made three days after the shooting because his bullet wound looked infected. More follow-ups and counseling in March added another $1,500.

“I think I'm missing some,” Arellano said as she leafed through the pages.

The Arellanos are uninsured and counting on assistance from the fund that raised nearly $2 million in the aftermath of the shooting that left one dead and at least 24 other people with bullet wounds. She keeps that application in the blue folder as well.

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The medical costs incurred by the survivors of the shooting are hitting hard, and they won't end soon. The average medical spending for someone who is shot increases by nearly $30,000 in the first year, according to a Harvard Medical School study. Another study found that number goes up to $35,000 for children. Ten kids were shot at the parade.

Then there are life's ordinary bills — rent, utilities, car repairs — that don't stop just because someone survived a mass shooting, even if their injuries prevent them from working or sending kids to school.

The financial burden that comes with surviving is so common it has a name, according to Aswad Thomas of the nonprofit Alliance for Safety and Justice: victimization debt. Some pay it out-of-pocket. Some open a new credit card. Some find help from generous strangers. Others can't make ends meet.

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“We're really broke right now,” said Jacob Gooch Sr., another survivor, who was shot through the foot and has not yet been able to return to work.

“We're, like, exhausting our third credit card.”

As is common after mass shootings, a mosaic of new and established resources emerged in this Missouri city promising help. Those include the #KCStrong fund established by the United Way of Greater Kansas City, which is expected to begin paying victims at the end of June.

Survivors must navigate each opportunity to request help as best they can — and hope money comes through.

GoFundMes, Generous Strangers, and a New Line of Credit

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Mostly, it's the moms who keep the bills organized. Tucked above the microwave. Zipped inside a purse. Screenshots stored on a phone. And then there's a maze of paperwork: The Missouri state victims' compensation form is five pages, including instructions. It's another six pages for help from the United Way.

Emily Tavis keeps stacks of paperwork with color-coded binder clips in her basement: Black for her partner, Gooch Sr.; blue for her stepson, Jacob Gooch Jr.; pink for herself. All three were shot at the parade.

Tavis was able to walk after a bullet ripped through her leg, and she considered declining the ambulance ride because she was worried about the cost — she lacked insurance at the time.

Gooch Sr. was unable to walk because he'd been shot in the foot. So they shared an ambulance to the hospital with two of their kids.

Tavis and Gooch Sr. received separate $1,145 bills for the ambulance. Gooch Jr. did not, possibly because he has coverage through Medicaid, Tavis said.

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She sends the medical bills to victims' compensation, a program to help with the economic losses from a crime, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Even though Tavis and Gooch live in Leavenworth, Kansas, their compensation comes from the program in Missouri, where the shooting occurred.

The program pays only for economic losses not covered by other sources like health insurance, donations, and crowdsourced fundraisers. Gooch Sr. and Jr. both had health insurance at the time of the parade, so the family has been sending only the uncovered portion to victims' compensation.

The family initially received a lot of support. Friends and relatives made sure they had food to eat. The founder of an online group of Kansas City Chiefs fans sent $1,000 and gifts for the family. A GoFundMe page raised $9,500. And their tax refund helped.

They knew money might get tight with Gooch Sr. unable to work, so they paid three months' rent in advance. They also paid to have his Ford Escape fixed so he could eventually return to work and bought Tavis a used Honda Accord so she could drive to the job she started 12 days after the parade.

And because the donations were intended for the whole family, they decided to buy summer passes to the Worlds of Fun amusement park for the kids.

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But recently, they've felt stretched. Gooch Sr.'s short-term disability payments abruptly stopped in May when his health insurance prompted him to see an in-network doctor. He said the short-term disability plan initially didn't approve the paperwork from his new doctor and started an investigation. The issue was resolved in June and he was expecting back pay soon. In the interim, though, the couple opened a new credit card to cover their bills.

In the interim, the couple opened a new credit card to cover their bills.

“We've definitely been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Tavis said.

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Ideally, the money that eventually comes from the United Way, victims' compensation, and, they hope, back pay from short-term disability will be enough to pay off their debts.

But, Tavis said, “You gotta do what you gotta do. We're not going to go without lights.”

United Way Payout Expected at End of June

With every mass shooting, donations for survivors inevitably flow in, “just like peanut butter goes with jelly, because people want to help,” said Jeff Dion, executive director of the Mass Violence Survivors Fund, a nonprofit that has helped many communities manage such funds.

Typically, he said, it takes about five months to disburse the money from these large community funds. Victims can potentially get money sooner if their community has a plan in place for these types of funds before a mass shooting. Funds may also advance money to people with urgent financial needs who are certain to qualify.

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The United Way hung banners in the Chiefs colors on Kansas City's Union Station with its #KCStrong campaign within days of the shootings. Driven by large donations from the team, the NFL, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, other individuals, and local companies, it ultimately raised more than $1.8 million.

The promise of a large payout has kept the injured hopeful, even as many felt confused by the process. Some people interviewed for this story did not wish to say anything negative, fearing it would hurt their allocation.

United Way officials announced in April that donations would be closed at the end of that month. On May 1, the organization posted a notice saying it would issue “claimant forms” and that the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office was helping verify shooting victims. The United Way affiliate's board of trustees plans to meet June 26 to determine allocations, with payments arriving as early as June 27.

Kera Mashek, a spokesperson for United Way of Greater Kansas City, said payouts will be made to 20 of the 24 shooting survivors. The other four either couldn't be verified as victims or turned down the funds, she said. Claimants do not include the 67 people prosecutors say were trampled in the melee, she said.

Pending board approval, money will also be disbursed to 14 community groups that support nonviolence initiatives, mental health concerns, and first responders, Mashek said.

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To criticism that the United Way didn't communicate well with the victims, Mashek said it tried to respond in a timely manner.

“We've tried to keep that line of communication open as fast as possible and most people have been very patient,” she said. “I think that they will be very grateful and very, I believe, pleasantly surprised with the amount of funding that they receive.”

Other Resources Available

Abigail Arellano hadn't heard of victims' compensation, which is common. A 2022 survey from the Alliance for Safety and Justice found that 96% of victims did not receive that support and many didn't know it existed.

Arellano and her husband, Antonio, didn't attend the parade but they've had medical expenses as well. Antonio has been going to therapy at a local health center to help with the stressful task of guiding his son through the trauma. It's been helpful. But he's been paying around $125 out-of-pocket for each session, he said, and the bills are mounting.

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One of Samuel's sisters set up a GoFundMe that raised $12,500, and Abigail said it helped that the family shared their story publicly and that Abigail reached out to help others in the Latino community affected by the shooting.

It was Abigail, for instance, who connected 71-year-old Sarai Holguin with the Mexican Consulate in Kansas City. The consulate, in turn, helped Holguin register as an official victim of the shooting, which will enable her to receive assistance from the United Way. Holguin's bills now include a fourth surgery, to remove the bullet lodged near her knee that she had previously made peace with living with forever — until it began protruding through her skin.

‘Generous and Quick' Relief to Victims

Several survivors were relieved and grateful to receive funds from a less high-profile, nondenominational group called “The Church Loves Kansas City.

The day after the shooting, Gary Kendall, who ran a Christian nonprofit called “Love KC,” started a text chain at 6 a.m. with city leaders and faith-based groups, and eventually received pledges of $184,500. (Love KC has now merged with another nonprofit, “Unite KC,” which is disbursing its funds.)

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The first payout went to the family of Lisa Lopez-Galvan, the 43-year-old mother of two and popular DJ who was the sole fatality during the parade shootings. Unite KC spent $15,000 on her burial expenses.

Unite KC spent $2,800 so James and Brandie Lemons could get their health insurance restored because James couldn't work. Unite KC also paid $2,200 for the out-of-pocket surgical costs when James decided to get the bullet removed from his leg.

“I appreciate it,” an emotional James Lemons said. “They don't have to do that, to open their hearts for no reason.”

Erika Nelson was struggling to pay for household expenses and had to take time off from her home health care job to take her injured daughter, 15-year-old Mireya, to doctor appointments. Mireya was shot in the chin and shoulder and is recovering.

A GoFundMe page set up by Nelson's best friend raised about $11,000, but it was frozen after Nelson tried to get into the account and GoFundMe thought it was being hacked. She feared the lights would be shut off in their apartment, because of unpaid electric bills, and was feeling desperate.

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“I'm struggling with, like, you know, groceries,” Nelson said. “People were like, ‘Oh, go to food pantries.' Well, the food pantries are not open the times I can get off. I can't just take off work to go to a food pantry.”

After meeting with Gary Kendall, Nelson received three months of rent and utility payments, about $3,500.

“A weight off my shoulder. I mean, yeah. In a big way,” she whispered. “'Cause you never know. You never know what can happen in two days, five days, two weeks, two months.”

Samuel Arellano's family recently connected with Unite KC, which will pay for his ambulance bill, one of the hospital bills, and some therapy, worth about $6,000. The bill for the initial emergency room trip was about $20,000, his parents said, but the hospital had been reluctant to send it and ultimately covered the cost.

And Unite KC also intends to pay off a $1,300 credit card bill for Emily Tavis and Jacob Gooch Sr.

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Unite KC has disbursed $40,000 so far and hopes to connect with more of the injured families, hoping to be as “generous and quick as we can,” Kendall said. United Way will be like a “lightning bolt” for victims' relief, Kendall said, but his group is aiming for something different, more like a campfire that burns for the next year.

“We agree this is a horrific thing that happened. It's a sad state of humanity but it's a real part,” he said. “So we want to remind them that God has not forgotten you. And that although he allowed this, he has not abandoned them. We believe we can be like an extension of his love to these people.”

——————————
By: Peggy Lowe, KCUR and Bram Sable-Smith
Title: Super Bowl Parade Shooting Survivors Await Promised Donations While Bills Pile Up
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org//article/super-bowl-parade-shooting-survivors-donations-bills-wait-kansas-city/
Published Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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California Leaders Tussle With Health Industry Over Billions of New Dollars for Medi-Cal

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Bernard J. Wolfson
Thu, 20 Jun 2024 19:13:00 +0000

Gov. Gavin Newsom, state lawmakers, and industry leaders have a small window to reach an agreement on billions of new dollars for Medi-Cal before it's put to voters in November.

An initiative, supported by virtually every sector of the state's health care industry as well as the local Republican and Democratic parties, would lock in the money for Medi-Cal, California's version of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income residents. The funds would be used primarily to increase payment rates for health care professionals who serve Medi-Cal patients.

Newsom, a Democrat, initially supported using the money for that purpose. But after California's fiscal situation darkened, he reversed course in May, proposing to divert most of it to reduce the state's $45 billion budget deficit.

The money is from a tax on managed-care health plans that's been around for two decades but has historically been used to offset existing state spending rather than support new investments in Medi-Cal.

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“The importance of this ballot initiative is finally being serious about investing in the viability of the Medi-Cal system,” said Adam Dougherty, chief of emergency medicine at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. “The MCO tax literally touches every aspect of the Medi-Cal system, and it can't be at the mercy of year-to-year budget crises.”

Michael Genest, a former finance director under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, noted that several ballot initiatives approved by voters in the past continue to narrow the state's fiscal choices, including one that limits property tax increases and another that guarantees a large share of the state budget to schools.

“We do ballot-box budgeting in the state of California. We've done it forever. And everything we've done in that regard has turned out to be very hard on fiscal stability,” Genest said.

It's possible that the Coalition to Protect Access to Care, made up of doctors, hospitals, health plans, and other medical providers, could settle their differences with state leaders before a June 27 deadline to withdraw the initiative.

Newsom's desire to claw back most of the promised money puts him at odds with proponents of the initiative, many of whom have long counted themselves among his allies. Elana Ross, a spokesperson for Newsom, declined to comment on the status of the initiative.

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In May, Newsom proposed using about $6.7 billion previously earmarked for Medi-Cal pay hikes and some other health care priorities, mostly in 2025 and 2026, to offset existing state spending. His proposal would retain Medi-Cal payment increases totaling around $300 million a year for some primary care, mental health, and maternity services.

The legislature passed a new budget on June 13 largely following the governor's wishes by canceling the planned Medi-Cal increases in 2025. But Newsom hasn't signed off.

“What was approved represents a two-house agreement between the Senate and the Assembly — not an agreement with the governor,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the state's Department of Finance. “We'll respectfully decline to speculate on what the contours of a final agreement would look like.”

Revenue from the managed-care tax allows the state to draw matching federal dollars, more than doubling the amount available. Federal and state money would also be used to reimburse the health plans for nearly all the taxes they paid, theoretically having no effect on insurance premiums.

California is among 19 states that have such an “MCO tax” in place to help fund their Medicaid programs. Using the tax revenue to pay Medi-Cal providers more is “a generational opportunity to fundamentally fix access to care for Medi-Cal recipients,” said Dustin Corcoran, CEO of the California Medical Association and a spokesperson for the ballot initiative.

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Corcoran said internal polling shows the initiative has public support by “very healthy margins,” though he declined to share specific numbers.

If the initiative does end up on the November ballot and is approved, it would override any compromise Newsom strikes with lawmakers. It would restore the previously planned Medi-Cal investments for 2025 and 2026. And it would make the increased funding, and more of it, permanent starting in 2027, though that would require federal approval.

Proponents of the initiative say it is fundamentally a question of health equity. Medi-Cal covers medical and mental health services for nearly 15 million Californians, well over a third of the state, many of them among the poorest and most vulnerable residents. The program has a budget of about $157 billion, including recent expansions to cover all immigrants regardless of legal status and a $12 billion experiment to offer socioeconomic supports not traditionally covered by health insurance.

But access to care is notoriously spotty for many Medi-Cal patients, in part because low payment rates discourage providers from seeing them. The shortage is particularly acute in specialty care.

“Our patients wait months for access to specialists or travel great distances to see them,” said Joel Ramirez, chief medical officer of Camarena Health, a chain of over 20 community clinics based in Madera. “Higher rates would allow for more providers.”

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Ramirez said 60% to 70% of Camarena's patients are on Medi-Cal, many of them farmworkers. “It's a tall ask for them to find time off work and get the transportation to travel an hour for an appointment,” he said. “Whatever condition that patient has that needs the attention of a specialist is being either untreated or incompletely treated.”

Dougherty, Sutter Medical Center's ER chief, said that over half of his patients are on Medi-Cal and the ER is always at full capacity, with the waiting rooms jammed and an insufficient number of beds. The initiative, he said, “allows us to hire more staff, add more beds, create more infrastructure for the volume we're seeing.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

——————————
By: Bernard J. Wolfson
Title: California Leaders Tussle With Health Industry Over Billions of New Dollars for Medi-Cal
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org//article/california-lmedi-cal-managed-care-organization-tax-budget-ballot-initiative/
Published Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2024 19:13:00 +0000

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