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Clinics Say State’s New Medicaid Drug Program Will Force Them to Cut Services

On Jan. 1, California started buying prescription drugs for its nearly 14 million Medicaid enrollees, a responsibility that had primarily been held by managed-care insurance plans. State officials estimate California will save hundreds of millions of dollars by flexing its purchasing power, but some health clinics expect to lose money. (Samantha Young,
1/10)

Omicron Roars Through California: More than 6 million coronavirus cases have been reported in California as omicron continues to smash records across the state.
Infections Skyrocket: On Monday, the state reported 308,820 new infections.
Large Gatherings Banned in Sonoma County: The county is banning gatherings of over 50 people indoors or 100 outdoors and recommending that all residents shelter in place for 30 days.
Unions Balk: Labor unions have condemned California’s temporary policy allowing covid-positive hospital workers to stay on the job.
Schools Feel The Heat: 62,000 Los Angeles students and staff have tested positive for covid ahead of returning to school. Scroll down for more coverage of omicron’s surge. 

In other news — 

Undocumented Californians Could Be Eligible For Medi-Cal: California would allow all income-eligible residents to qualify for the state’s health care program for low-income people regardless of immigration status under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal unveiled Monday. Read more from the Los Angeles Times. Complete coverage continues below.

Below, check out the roundup of California Healthline’s coverage. For today’s national health news, read KHN’s Morning Briefing.


Sacramento Bee:
Gavin Newsom Proposes Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants 


Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to extend Medi-Cal coverage to all low-income, undocumented adults, a historic expansion that would make California the first state in the nation to provide universal health care access for all residents regardless of legal status. The plan is included in Newsom’s $286 billion state budget proposal, which is flush with a projected $45.7 billion surplus. (Lopez, 1/10)


The Wall Street Journal:
California Would Expand Medicaid To People In U.S. Illegally Under Gavin Newsom Proposal 


California would become the first state to provide access to its Medicaid program to all low-income residents, regardless of immigration status, under a proposal unveiled Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The plan is part of a $286.4 billion budget plan the Democrat has proposed that also includes billions of dollars in investments for the state’s wildfire response, homelessness and drought assistance. (Mai-Duc, 1/10)


AP:
Universal Health Care Proposal Gets First Test In California 


California lawmakers on Tuesday will start debating whether to create the nation’s first universal health care system, a key measure of whether the proposal has the support to pass this year. Progressives have tried for years to create a government-funded universal health care system to replace the one that relies on private insurance. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1994 ballot initiative that would have created a universal health care system. Another attempt passed the state Senate in 2017, but it died in the state Assembly with no funding plan attached to it. (Beam, 1/11)


AP:
California Governor Proposes Tax Cuts, Expanded Health Care


With state revenues at an all-time high, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday proposed a budget that would cut taxes while also promising to pay the health care expenses of all of the state’s low-income adults who are living in the country illegally. It will cost state taxpayers about $2.2 billion per year to cover the cost of health care for the state’s low-income immigrants. Meanwhile, Newsom’s tax cuts would reduce revenue by more than $6.5 billion. (Beam, 1/11)


KQED:
Flush With Cash, Governor Newsom Wants To Invest In Pandemic Response, Universal Health Access, Fighting Inequality


With California expecting another year of record state revenues, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday unveiled a spending plan that would make deep investments into containing the current COVID-19 surge, expanding health care access, shoring up drought response and fighting organized retail crime. The $286.4 billion proposal is aimed at tackling what Newsom’s administration deems California’s “most existential threats”: COVID-19, climate change, homelessness, inequality and public safety. With midterm elections and the governor’s reelection campaign looming this fall, however, those challenges also pose clear political threats to the national Democratic establishment. (Lagos, 1/10)


Los Angeles Times:
California Gov. Newsom’s 2022 Budget: COVID And Climate 


Built on projections of a ninth consecutive year of surplus tax revenue — a streak that has made California’s deficit-ridden past a distant memory — the $286.4-billion spending plan Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Monday builds on the state’s recent efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness and a worsening drought while surpassing K-12 school funding records set just last year. In all, the governor’s plan lays out close to $10 billion in new spending on what a fact sheet from his office calls “five of California’s biggest challenges: COVID-19, climate change, homelessness, inequality, and keeping our streets safe.” (Myers, 1/10)


AP:
Home COVID Tests To Be Covered By Insurers Starting Saturday


Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for people on their plans. The Biden administration announced the change Monday as it looks to lower costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid rising frustrations. Under the new policy, first detailed to the AP, Americans will be able to either purchase home testing kits for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement, up to the monthly per-person limit. A family of four, for instance, could be reimbursed for up to 32 tests per month. PCR tests and rapid tests ordered or administered by a health provider will continue to be fully covered by insurance with no limit. (Miller, 1/11)


The Wall Street Journal:
White House Says Private Insurers To Cover Rapid Covid-19 Tests 


Consumers can find out from their plan or insurer if it provides direct coverage of over-the-counter Covid-19 tests or whether they will need to submit a claim for reimbursement, officials said. The new policy doesn’t apply to Medicare, with its more than 60 million seniors who are generally at higher risk of severe infection because of their age. Medicaid already covers at-home Covid-19 tests that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Some insurer groups said Monday that the administration should have done more sooner to make testing available and affordable. (Armour and Abbott, 1/10)


San Francisco Chronicle:
S.F. Closes 6 COVID Testing Sites Early Following Vendor’s Software Problems


San Francisco’s Department of Public Health closed six coronavirus testing sites early on Monday after a company the city works with to run the sites suffered a technical issue hobbling its patient registration and sample-collection software, city health officials said. SFDPH tweeted that the testing vendor, Color, was experiencing technical difficulties resulting in the closing of these sites: Ella Hill Hutch, Alemany, Seventh and Brannan streets, Southeast Health Center, 20 Norton, and Bayview Opera House. (Stoughtenborough, 1/10)


Los Angeles Times:
L.A. County Offers COVID-19 Tests For Pick-Up In New Service 


On the heels of another record-breaking day of reported coronavirus infections, Los Angeles County health officials on Monday launched a new testing program for residents unable to make highly sought-after appointments. The new program allows residents to pick up a PCR test kit, complete the test and return it to designated sites for processing, according to the L.A. County Department of Health Services. County health officials said the program is expected to provide more than 6,000 tests a day. (Seidman, 1/10)


Los Angeles Daily News:
LA County Launches COVID-19 Pick-Up/Drop-Off Kit Program Amid Growing Demand For Testing 


Sites around Los Angeles County continued to expand testing capacity on Monday, Jan. 10, as the winter wave of new COVID-19 infections continued to soar to record levels. The county Department of Health Services launched the new “Pick-Up Testing Kit” program, aimed at people who cannot get appointments at testing clinics, allowing residents to pick up a PCR test kit, perform the test and drop off the kit for processing. Results would be available within 24-48 hours, officials said. (1/10)


San Francisco Chronicle:
Why Some COVID Experts Are Backing Throat-Plus-Nose Swabs For Your At-Home Test


With attention intensely focused lately on how to get hold of home rapid tests for COVID-19, a debate has arisen about how to most effectively use the coveted kits amid the omicron surge – namely, should you go for the throat as well as the nose? The new variant’s alarming spread has fueled tremendous demand for home tests, as people seek to quickly learn their infection status to make crucial decisions about quarantining, isolation and treatment. (Hwang, 1/10)


The New York Times:
At-Home Coronavirus Tests Are Inaccessible To Blind People


Christy Smith has never been tested for the coronavirus. As a blind person, she can’t drive to testing sites near her home in St. Louis, and they are too far away for her to walk. Alternative options — public transportation, ride share apps or having a friend drive her to a test site — would put others at risk for exposure. The rapid tests that millions of other people are taking at home, which require precisely plunking liquid drops into tiny spaces and have no Braille guides, are also inaccessible to Ms. Smith. (Morris, 1/10)


Los Angeles Times:
250,000 COVID Cases In 8 Days: Where Is L.A. Surge Heading? 


Over the last eight days, there have been nearly 250,000 positive cases of coronavirus reported in Los Angeles County, a record-breaking number that shows how fast the Omicron variant is spreading. Moreover, with an average of nearly 115,000 people being tested each day over the last seven days, more than 20% of people are testing positive for the virus. (Money, Wigglesworth, Lin II, Vega and Myers, 1/10)


City News Group:
LA County Surpasses 2 Million Mark In COVID-19 Cases


Los Angeles County has surpassed the 2 million mark in total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed throughout the pandemic, with 43,582 new infections reported on Monday, Jan. 10. Another 13 deaths were also reported. The new cases pushed the county’s total to 2,010,964 while the death toll climbed to 27,798. (Dixon and Morales, 1/11)


San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego Posts Outsized Weekend COVID-19 Numbers With Nearly 50,000 New Cases 


San Diego County recorded enough new coronavirus cases over the weekend to exceed the combined populations of Lemon Grove and Coronado, according to the county health department’s latest update on the pandemic Monday. There were a total of 19,009 new cases on Friday alone, with 17,507 more on Saturday and 12,563 on Sunday. Any of those days was enough to demolish the previous single-day record of 8,313 set on Jan. 2. (Sisson, 1/10)


SF Gate:
UCSF COVID Doctor: Hospital Surge Isn’t What You May Think


On Saturday, in response to hospitals begging for relief from a massive staffing crisis, the California Department of Public Health announced that most hospitals and skilled nursing facilities can bring COVID-positive and exposed staff back to work without testing or quarantines. The staffers must be asymptomatic, are required to wear N95 masks and are encouraged to work with patients who are already COVID-positive as much as possible. This news might come as a surprise to people who have been reading dire warnings about omicron and some public health officials’ pleas to cancel plans and stay home. (Graff, 1/10)


San Francisco Chronicle:
How Long Can I Keep Using The Same N95 Respirator Mask? Here’s What Bay Area Experts Say


People taking health officials’ advice during the omicron surge to switch to N95, KN95 or KF94 masks are gaining more protection from the highly contagious variant — but unlike their old cloth masks, the higher-quality respirators can’t just be thrown in the washing machine. The disposable masks are not necessarily single-use, but they can’t be reused for long periods of time. So how long can you wear one before you have to toss it and use a fresh one? (Hwang, 1/11)


Southern California News Group:
COVID-Positive California Nurses Fear Returning To Work Without Testing Or Isolation


Los Angeles County nurses are speaking out against a policy they say will force COVID-positive healthcare workers and others who have been exposed to the virus back to work before they feel it’s safe to return. The county denies adopting such a policy. The employees, represented by SEIU Local 721, will hold a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 11 at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration to voice their concerns. Union officials also plan to testify at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. (Smith, 1/11)


Southern California News Group:
California County Employee’s COVID-19 Death Could Have Been Prevented, Lawsuit Alleges


A family alleges that Riverside County is liable for an employee’s death from COVID-19 and his wife’s debilitating “long-haul” virus symptoms after ignoring his pleas to work from home and implement safeguards at his workplace. Michael Haywood’s widow and one of his adult sons held a news conference Monday, Jan. 10, outside Riverside County Superior Court, where attorney V. James DeSimone’s firm planned to file the lawsuit alleging wrongful death and violating state regulations protecting disabled workers. (Horseman, 1/11)


Sacramento Bee:
Sutter, UCD Studies: COVID-19 Takes Heavy Toll On Latina Moms 


Pregnant Hispanic women are more than twice as likely as their non-Hispanic white peers to get a COVID-19 infection, according to a Sutter Health study of 4,500 patients who delivered babies at its hospitals in November and December 2020. Taken together with new research from the University of California, Davis, the two reports reveal the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on Latina mothers. The UCD study found that more than half of Latina moms, many of whom are essential workers, cut back on food purchases and missed rent payments as they struggled to make ends meet. (Anderson, 1/11)


Los Angeles Times:
How Parents With Very Young Kids Can Navigate Omicron 


As waves of the coronavirus battered the U.S., parents of young kids could comfort themselves with the knowledge that COVID-19 tends to have milder effects in children and that most — but not all — kids who get infected are fine. But even though it’s low-risk, many parents don’t want to gamble with their kids’ health. And others might be more worried that their kids will spread COVID-19 to elderly or immunocompromised loved ones who might not fare as well. (Tseng, 1/10)


CBS News:
Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Targeting Omicron Will Be Ready In March 


Pfizer will have a COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant ready by March, the pharmaceutical company’s chief executive said Monday. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the company has already begun manufacturing a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine that aims to protect recipients against Omicron. “This vaccine will be ready in March,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday. “We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.” (Cerullo, 1/10)


CNBC:
Pfizer CEO Says Two Covid Vaccine Doses Aren’t ‘Enough For Omicron’


Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said two doses of the company’s vaccine may not provide strong protection against infection from the omicron Covid variant, and the original shots have also lost some of their efficacy at preventing hospitalization. Bourla, in an interview at J.P. Morgan’s healthcare conference, emphasized the importance of a third shot to boost people’s protection against omicron. “The two doses, they’re not enough for omicron,” Bourla said. “The third dose of the current vaccine is providing quite good protection against deaths, and decent protection against hospitalizations.” (Kimball, 1/10)


The Hill:
Biden Coronavirus Vaccine-Or-Test Mandate Goes Into Effect 


Key components of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine or test mandate for more than 80 million workers went into effect Monday amid an ongoing Supreme Court battle that could ultimately doom the rule.   The months-long legal battle over the requirement, which was previously blocked by a federal court before being reinstated, has created confusion among employers about how to move forward. While Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism about the rule on Friday, they did not block its implementation by Monday’s deadline.  As of Monday, businesses with 100 or more employees were required to have a database of their workers’ vaccination status, post their company vaccine policy, provide paid leave to workers getting the vaccine and require unvaccinated employees to wear a mask at work.  (Evers-Hillstrom, 1/10)


Los Angeles Times:
Federal Judge Dismisses LAPD Officers’ Lawsuit Over City’s Vaccine Mandate 


A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Los Angeles police officers challenging the city’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandate, rejecting their claims that it violated their constitutional rights. U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner said the 13 suing officers could reassert their claims of religious discrimination if they had any evidence to prove it — which he said they had so far failed to provide — but rejected outright their claims that the mandate violated their constitutional rights to privacy and due process and against unreasonable searches and seizures. (Rector, 1/10)


Modesto Bee:
Turlock Unified Votes To Hold Virtual School Board Meetings


In a special session Monday morning that turned chaotic, Turlock Unified School District trustees voted unanimously to allow virtual school board meetings. The virtual meeting at 7 a.m. was called solely to vote on the resolution on electronic meetings and lasted 30 minutes. It followed the board’s cancellation of its Jan. 4 meeting because people did not wear not wear masks or agree to participate remotely, spokeswoman Marie Russell previously told The Bee. (Isaacman, 1/10)


Los Angeles Times:
A Hospital Escapes From Catholic Interference From Healthcare 


After nearly 10 years of suffering from increasingly intrusive interference with women’s healthcare, Hoag Memorial Hospital has finally managed to extricate itself from its affiliation with a giant Catholic hospital chain. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on Monday gave his approval to Hoag’s split from Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health, the nation’s fourth-largest Catholic hospital system, as of Jan. 31. Bonta’s signature ends a saga that began in May 2020, when Hoag first sought to dissolve the affiliation. (Hiltzik, 1/11)


Orange County Register:
Hoag Hospital And Providence Health End A 10-Year Affiliation


Hoag Hospital and Providence Health will go their separate ways at the end of January, with hospital officials assuring in an announcement that dissolving the previous merger would not interfere with the high-quality care patients in Orange County receive. In a joint statement, the health care systems announced on Monday, Jan. 10, they had reached an amicable settlement agreement that would allow Hoag to become independent again. Hoag administration had filed a lawsuit in May 2020 pushing to end the affiliation. (Ritchie, 1/10)


CBS News:
Red Cross Declares First-Ever National Blood Crisis 


The nation’s blood supply is dangerously low, prompting the Red Cross to announce a national blood crisis for the first time. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decline in donor turnout, the cancellation of blood drives and staffing challenges, leading to the worst blood shortage in more than a decade, the Red Cross said. Last year, the Red Cross saw a 34% decline in new donors.
“If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed,” it warned in a joint statement with America’s Blood Centers and the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies. (O’Donnell, 1/10)


AP:
In 1st, US Surgeons Transplant Pig Heart Into Human Patient 


On Monday, Bennett was breathing on his own while still connected to a heart-lung machine to help his new heart. The next few weeks will be critical as Bennett recovers from the surgery and doctors carefully monitor how his heart is faring. There’s a huge shortage of human organs donated for transplant, driving scientists to try to figure out how to use animal organs instead. Last year, there were just over 3,800 heart transplants in the U.S., a record number, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the nation’s transplant system. (Johnson, 1/10)


The Wall Street Journal:
Elizabeth Holmes’s Mixed Verdict Could Handicap An Appeal, Lawyers Say


Elizabeth Holmes’s conviction on four counts of fraud for intentionally deceiving Theranos Inc. investors is far from the end of the startup founder’s legal fight. Instead, the Jan. 3 verdict is expected to kick off a new round of legal maneuvering that will give her lawyers several chances to clear her name, and to continue to deploy what legal observers say is an intransigent defense strategy that became the team’s signature during the monthslong trial. One tactic will likely involve requesting that Ms. Holmes remain free on bail for the entirety of the appeal process, which could take years. (Randazzo, 1/10)


Bay Area News Group:
Ouimet Family Faces Kidney Transplants For Two Of Their Children While Caring For Nepalese Couple


With limited access to kidney dialysis in Nepal, 33-year-old Govinda Regmi’s health was in serious decline. After he was diagnosed with a primary hyperoxaluria Type I, a rare blood disease, co-workers told his wife Meera Basnet, a nurse, to move on, to abandon any medical treatments, that he wasn’t going to make it. Desperate for help, Regmi messaged Kristi Ouimet of Antioch, who he met in a Facebook group for people with the same blood disease. Two of Ouimet’s three children — Carswell (formerly Molly), 19, and Matthew, 10 — both have the same disease. (Tyska, 1/11)

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