January 16, 2020
By California Black Media
Did you know that, starting Jan. 1, it became mandatory to have health insurance in California?
Those who don’t have an insurance plans may have to pay a tax penalty of up to $2,085 for a family of four.
If you didn’t know, you’re not alone.
According to results of a recent survey, 56 percent of uninsured Californians are unaware of the new mandate. The study, conducted by Covered California – the state’s independent government insurance exchange – also “found that avoiding the penalty motivates those with health insurance to keep their coverage and encourages the uninsured to sign up.”
Now, sate officials and community health advocates are encouraging people to get health care coverage as soon as they can.
“I encourage everyone to secure qualifying health care coverage as soon as possible so they are not surprised with a state penalty when filing 2020 state tax returns in 2021,” said State Controller and Franchise Tax Board Chair Betty Yee.
The survey also found that among uninsured people in California, 62 percent are unaware that Covered California offers financial help (that could be as much as $500 a month for middle income families) to help pay for health insurance.
Among those who have insurance, only 27 percent know that the state is offering money to help offset costs for insurance.
In 2018, the federal government rolled back requirements - passed under the Affordable Care Act known as “Obamacare” - mandating that everyone in the country have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
But last year, California restored the individual mandate which requires most people to get healthcare coverage or pay a penalty. Those earning below the federal tax threshold are not liable.
“You can find out in just a few minutes whether you are eligible for financial help from the federal government, the state, or both,” said Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee. “Do not leave money on the table; do not put yourself at risk if you get sick or ill; do not get stuck with a big bill when you pay your taxes in 2021.”
You can find out if you are eligible for a financial subsidy by visiting www.CoveredCA.com online or calling California at (800) 300-1506.
Covered California’s open enrollment period ends Jan. 31.
According to Covered California, about 90 percent of Californians will keep their current healthcare plans.
January 09, 2020
LAWT News Service
U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn hailed House passage of H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This landmark legislation gives Medicare the power to negotiate directly with drug companies and extends those lower prices to Americans with private insurance too.
“This is an important step toward providing American consumers more accessible and affordable prescription drugs,” Congressman Clyburn said. “In the United States, our drug prices are nearly four times higher than in similar countries, and this legislation will provide real price reductions that will put significant money back in the pocket of consumers.”
Negotiating lower prescription drug prices has the added benefit of cost savings to American taxpayers. A portion of those savings will be reinvested in the National Institutes of Health to research new cures and treatments. Cost savings will also support an expansion of Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision, and hearing needs and sets a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for those on Medicare.
In addition, cost savings will be used to fund provisions of Congressman Clyburn’s H.R. 1943 – Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act of 2019. H.R. 3 will provide a $10 billion funding boost to community health centers, which serve 28 million Americans in communities across the United States, including over 350,000 veterans, 8 million children, and 1.4 million homeless patients.
This $10 billion includes $5 billion for capital improvements and construction to expand the footprint of community health centers and an additional $5 billion in funding over the next five years for community health center grants, allowing them to serve more people, including Americans living in rural areas, where half of the Centers are located.
“Providing robust funding to build on the success of community health centers is critically important to providing quality health care in hard-to-reach communities,” Congressman Clyburn continued. “In my district alone, where three rural hospitals have closed, there are eight federally-funded community health centers working to serve almost 190,000 patients.”
H.R. 3 passed the House on a bipartisan vote, 230-192, and was sent to the Senate for consideration.
January 09, 2020
By Ricardo Alonao-Zalvidar
In a move that could put the Obama-era health law squarely in the middle of the 2020 election, Democratic-led states Friday asked the Supreme Court for a fast-track review of a recent court ruling that declared part of the statute unconstitutional and cast a cloud over the rest.
A coalition of 20 states led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a petition seeking expedited review, joined by House Democrats and Washington, D.C. They hope to get a Supreme Court hearing and decision by this summer, before the November elections. For the court to agree to such a timetable would be unusual, but not unprecedented.
Defenders of the Affordable Care Act are arguing that the issues raised by the case are too important to let the litigation drag on for months or years in lower courts, and that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans erred when it struck down the health law’s now toothless requirement that Americans have health insurance.
“The lower courts’ actions have created uncertainty about the future of the entire Affordable Care Act, and that uncertainty threatens adverse consequences for our nation’s healthcare system, including for patients, doctors, insurers, and state and local governments,” according to the states’ filing.
There was no immediate reaction from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump had hailed the appeals court ruling, calling it “a win for all Americans.” But many congressional Republicans want to avoid another election-year battle over the ACA, after their unsuccessful effort to repeal it helped flip the House back to the Democrats in 2018.
While finding the health law’s individual mandate to be unconstitutional, the 5th Circuit made no decision on such popular provisions as protections for people with preexisting conditions, Medicaid expansion, and coverage for young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ policies.
The 2-1 appeals court decision left the health law in effect for now. Open enrollment season for 2020 has been able to proceed without disruption.
The 5th Circuit sent the case back to a lower court judge who has already decided once to throw out the entire health care law. The appellate court asked Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor to determine whether other parts of the law can be separated from the insurance requirement, and thus remain in place.
About 20 million people now have coverage through the ACA, including its subsidized private insurance and Medicaid expansion. But the 900-page law also made many changes to other programs, from Medicare, to community health centers, to fraud-fighting. Sorting out whether some provisions could remain while other go with the insurance mandate would be a colossal effort.
The 5th Circuit found that the requirement to carry insurance was rendered unconstitutional when Congress in 2017 eliminated the tax penalty for people going without coverage.
Five justices would have to agree for the Supreme Court to hear the appeal on an expedited schedule.
If court does take the case, it would mark its third extensive review of the health law. The five justices who upheld the law the previous two times are still on the court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the Supreme Court should not delay, arguing there is no legal or practical justification to leave the case in limbo.
“The Supreme Court should hear this case now and recognize Congress’s clear intent to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and all the other benefits and protections of the Affordable Care Act,” said Pelosi, D-Calif.
January 02, 2020
California Black Media
By the late 1970s, drug traffickers were shipping so much cocaine to the United States that the street price of the powdered stimulant dealers cook to make crack – the smokable rock form of the stimulant - dropped by nearly 80 percent, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Some historians believe that new affordability of cocaine aided the flooding of crack or “rock” into cities and towns across the United States, particularly in African-American communities where the illicit trade of the drug contributed to sharp increases in gang-related violence and murders during that period.
By 1985, almost 6 million Americans admitted to using some form of cocaine, according to the DEA.
Then, in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan launched the government’s multi-pronged and widely criticized “War on Drugs” designed to toughen drug crime laws and aggressively pursue and incarcerate drug users and traffickers. Those policies led to the imprisonment of millions of African Americans from the early 1980s until now.
By 2013, African-American men and women accounted for more than 50 percent of the total United States prison population.
Now, more than two decades after the height of the crack era, African-American neighborhoods in California and around the country are facing another haunting drug epidemic: The Opioid Crisis, stemming from untreated addictions to potent - and potentially dangerous - drugs like Codeine, Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine and Oxycodone, among others.
“When I watch the Republican Party hugging heroin-addicted folks, opiate-addicted folks, it makes me very happy, but it also makes me very mad,” said media personality, author and activist Van Jones, according to the website Inkredibly.com.
“Those same Republicans and Democrats, when the problem was crack, showed no mercy. No compassion. No understanding at all, and locked up a bunch of people,” Jones continued. “I do think that now its hitting everybody, hopefully we can come up with a more compassionate response.”
Although the mainstream news media has largely framed the opioid crisis as a problem America’s majority-White rural and suburban communities are wrestling with, data shows that it is, in fact, becoming a problem in predominantly African-American neighborhoods across the country as well.
“We have seen a sharp rise in communities of color and urban communities of overdoses and deaths related to illegal opioids, including heroin,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of The Center at the Sacramento-based Sierra Health Foundation (SHF).
“Opioid use disorder is often a response to physical and emotional pain, including that of historical and systemic trauma,” Hewitt told California Black Media.
SHF is managing the state of California’s Medication Assisted Treatment Access Points Project in partnership with the California Department of Health Care Services (CDHCS), the federal government, California Black Media and its network of more than 20 African-American owned media outlets, and other ethnic media around the state.
The public awareness campaign, dubbed “Choose Change California” will employ a combination of advertising as well as news stories and profiles to inform Californians about opioid abuse in the state and direct people who are affected to locations where they can seek Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).
“We can’t afford to go through another drug epidemic that kills our children, parents, brothers and sisters,” said Regina Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media. “Our publishers are aware that we have to inform our audiences about this growing problem as well as encourage them to reduce the stigma around opioid abuse so that people suffering from it can come out of the shadows and seek treatment.”
In 2018, more than 10 million Americans misused opioids, according the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In California, there were 5.3 opioid-related deaths for every 100,000 people in 2017. Among African-American Californians, that number is about 1.4 for every 100,000, a high number based on the state’s Black population of nearly 6 percent.
And the death rate from overdoses of the synthetic opioid Fentanyl is rising fastest among African Americans.
In a statement shared with California Black Media, CDHCS says the media campaign began in April 2019 and includes digital, television, print, and billboard advertising. As of October 2019, the media campaign has had 1.2 billion impressions across media markets statewide.
The second phase of the campaign will continue through winter 2020. It was designed to launch during the holidays when there are historically high incidences of opioid overdoses.
“The holidays are a difficult time for those experiencing addiction. We knew that promoting the campaign’s message of destigmatizing Opioid Use Disorder and promoting Medication Assisted Treatment was critical for those suffering with a substance use disorder,” Marlies Perez, Project Director of the MAT Expansion Project at CDHCS, said.
A third media campaign phase will launch in spring 2020 and will continue to target communities statewide, including communities of color and rural populations, the CDHCS statement said. .
It is widely reported that there are more OUD treatment centers located in predominantly White areas in California and across the country, and that there exists a bias among doctors which leads them to not recommend MAT to minority patients because they fear those individuals would resell their treatments on the street, fueling the crisis.
Hewitt said it is critical that the opioid campaign targets census tracts of the state that are often overlooked.
“An emphasis will be placed on neighborhoods of color and communities that are experiencing a rapid rise in opioid-related deaths along with decades of drug policies that have disproportionately incarcerated and penalized those with substance use disorders.”
“Because of the short time period of this project, sustainability has been prioritized, according to the CDHCS statement. “The aim is to create a community of practice that lifts up and makes available racial and culturally responsive approaches focused on prevention, education, outreach and referrals, which ultimately results in increased education and access to MAT for California’s most underserved communities.”
On Oct, 12, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 919 into law introduced by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).
It mandates CDHCS to license all addiction treatment centers in the state and requires that they adopt the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s treatment criteria as an operating standard.