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2012: Top Health And Education Stories

December 27, 2012 1:25 p.m.


Kenny Goldberg, KPBS Health Reporter

Kyla Calvert, KPBS Education Reporter

Related Story: 2012: Top Health And Education Stories


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: Today is Thursday, December 27th, I'm Alison St. John. 2012 was a big year in education news and healthcare news. Joining us are our education reporter, Kyla Calvert. Thanks for being here, Kyla.

CALVERT: My pleasure.

ST. JOHN: And KPBS health reporter, Kenny Goldberg. Great to see you, Kenny.

GOLDBERG: Hi, Alison.

ST. JOHN: The biggest story on the health beat in 2012 was healthcare reform. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, and that means all systems go for Obamacare. What does this mean for California?

GOLDBERG: It means California can go straight ahead with its plan to implement healthcare reform which is going to fully kick in in 2014. The state was the first one to get out in front of the whole thing. Once the act passed Congress, California was the first one to start through the motions of setting up this health insurance exchange, and that's going to be the big thing that comes in 2014 which is an online marketplace where people can compare apples and apples and apples and oranges and also enroll in subsidies. So that's a big undertaking. The verdict from the Supreme Court means that California is just going straight ahead and trying to get it together.

ST. JOHN: What are some of the big challenges that the state is facing as we get closer to 2014 which is when it'll roll out?

GOLDBERG: Right. Setting up the exchange is an enormous undertaking, as you would imagine. All states are mandated to have in place on January 1st. California is trying to get it going in October! That's not a lot of time. They have had a panel that's been working on it for at least 2.5, three years, trying to get all their Ts crossed and Is dotted and get everything ready to role. No. 2, they're going to expand the Medi-Cal program for about 2 million more Californians who do not qualify for it now. That's an enormous challenge, especially in height of the chance the state wants to cut provider rates by 10%. They want to cut the rate Medi-Cal pays doctors and others by 10%. At the same time, they're asking doctors to take care of more Medi-Cal patients. That's a real conundrum right there.

ST. JOHN: What will health reform mean for people who already have insurance?

GOLDBERG: It's not going to mean much. People who get their health insurance through their employer, it's really not going to mean anything. Except that they can already have their children under their plan until they're 26. You now get a variety of different preventive measures provided at no cost to you, the insured. So that means whether it's mammograms or even vaccinations, those are provided at no cost to the patient now thanks to health reform. But basically people who have insurance with their employer, it's not going to make much of a difference at all. Of

ST. JOHN: There were two big stories on your beat this year involving drugs, medicinal marijuana and prescription drug abuse. Apparently prescription drug abuse is America's fastest growing problem. And here in San Diego County, it's the leading cause of accidental death of the what's the latest in this?

GOLDBERG: The latest is that OxyContin and other prescription narcotics continue to be a major drug of abuse. They tribute to contribute to many overdose death, people are getting hooked on these things, and what we're also seeing emerge is the abuse of tranquilizers like Valium and Xanax. So we're just seeing -- this problem is just getting worse and worse and worse.

ST. JOHN: So what's being done to try and handle this? To try and stop the trend from getting worse?

GOLDBERG: Well, in San Diego County, two doctors have had their licenses revoked, two doctors that were said to be overprescribing these pain medications for no reason at all. That's not much but at least it's something. The San Diego County medical society is working on some voluntary guidelines that would ask doctors to change the way they prescribe these medications. If somebody has an acute pain episode, they broke their ankle, instead of giving them 100 Valiums or Vicodins, give them four or five. If it's for an acute case. And then for chronic pain patients, they want doctors to do what pain specialists are supposed to do which is drug test and urine test their patients. In other words, if you're getting prescribed Vicodin and some other pain medication, if you're under a pain specialist care, they usually give you a blood test to make sure that the drug is actually in your system. If it's not, then they can imply that you're selling it or giving it away.

ST. JOHN: Ah, ha, yeah.

GOLDBERG: So these are some of the measures.

ST. JOHN: And apparently heroin is making a comeback. What's that all about?

GOLDBERG: It is making a big comeback. And we're finding young people that are getting hooked on OxyContin and Vicodin, stealing it, getting it from friends, their parents, and then they're switching to heroin. I spoke to a young kid named Wade ballin from Carmel Valley, and he had an ankle injury when he was about 17. The doctor prescribed him perko set and Vicodin for the pain, and he tells you what happens from there.

NEW SPEAKER: Once that ran out, I became addicted because I didn't take them as prescribed. And I started doing OxyContin and sympathetic heroin. So I started smoking that stuff. It became that it wasn't doing it for me anymore. And I ended up smoking heroin for my first time when I was about 17.

ST. JOHN: So this is a story really that you'll be keeping an eye on if it's not getting any better in that younger generation.

GOLDBERG: And I might add that this is a sort of upper middle class white person's drug. It's happening because OxyContin on the streets, about $60 a pill. That's expensive! Once these kids run out of heroin, it's cheaper to buy heroin, and they can score it easier. That's why people are going from these prescription opioids to heroin.

ST. JOHN: So this is actually a bigger story than the story about medicinal marijuana which is legal in California, but we don't have any dispensaries in the county.

GOLDBERG: That's right. And we don't have any dispensaries openly operating now because the U.S. attorney for this region has been really aggressive in shutting these things down. As we all know, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. And she's enforcing this law as are other U.S. attorneys around California. And in San Diego County, they shut many, many of these things down. And the other ones just shut down out of their own volition because they didn't want to get busted

MAUREEN ST. JOHN: And there were four measures on the ballot.

GOLDBERG: They all went down to defeat. Solana beach, Lemon Grove, Encinitas, and imperial beach all this measures on their ballots to establish zoning for dispensaries, talk about operating hours, all those kind of things. They all lost.

ST. JOHN: Apart from the fact that in other states now they've gotten some progress with medicinal marijuana, it is not making a lot of progress here in California or San Diego

GOLDBERG: No, it isn't. And I think the reason that it isn't vis-a-vis the feds is because California as a state, yes, medical marijuana is legal, but there are no statewide guidelines codified in law about dispensaries. In some states like Colorado where it's better spelled out, are the feds haven't been as aggressive in shutting them down.

ST. JOHN: Thanks so much, Kenny.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

ST. JOHN: Let's move onto education here. It feels like we've been hearing about school funding cuts forever, Kyla. The very word pink slip conjures up the word teacher in my mind, anyway. Have we touched bottom yet? Have we turned the corner do you think?

CALVERT: Well, as everyone knows, at this point voters did pass proposition 30, which at the very least averted funding cuts for this year for schools. San Diego unified was poised to cut three weeks from the school year if that measure failed. And other districts were poised to cut, you know, 6-11 days from the school year if it failed. And so the teacher layoffs that we were hearing about last spring, 1,500 teachers in San Diego unified, and several hundred teachers around other districts in the county, those have been averted. But many districts still have furlough days happening. And as a result of prop 30 passing, CSU -- cal state university students are getting just over -- almost $300 back per semester in their tuition. The university system rolled back a tuition increase for this year. But as to what we're going to see going forward, that depends on what we see in the budget that Governor Brown proposes in January. There is no real guarantee that the money from proposition 30 will increase funding for schools going forward. Now, Jerry Brown has estimated that the new rev news could mean up to $2,000 per student additional for school districts in the state. But there's been a lot of back and forth about how accurate his projections are, about how much revenue these temporary taxes will bring in.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Well, we've heard a lot of school bond measures being put on the ballot, some say to supplement the fact that schools are so hard up for cash because of the lack of tax revenue. Is it likely that we'll continue to see more bond measures? Is this situation with prop 30 going to help us deal with some of those maintenance problems without having to constantly turn to bonds?

CALVERT: I think if school districts see an increase in funding going forward, and what I've been hearing from school leaders is that they're hoping this means no more cuts, and slowly they'll go back to increasing funding for school districts. So if that happens, we won't see the same issues with deferred maintenance that we see now which is part of what drives the school bonds being put on the ballot to pay for those costs that in past times and more flush era school districts would have paid for maintenance and deferred maintenance out of operating funds.

ST. JOHN: So technology has also been pretty controversial. Schools have to buy them somehow. What do we see going on in San Diego?

CALVERT: In San Diego unified schools, I think it's 3rd through 6th graders now have their own iPad or netbook in class. So it's a one to one student to device ratio in many schools in the district. And that program continues to be rolled out which is also being funded in part by bond money, or a great deal by bond money. And people have been debating whether or not bond money should be used to purchase technology.

ST. JOHN: Are there such schools that have not been age to find the money to purchase that kind of technology for their students?

CALVERT: Oh, certainly. I would say that's not universal in schools in San Diego County. But that's in many ways started to change the way instruction is delivered in certain classrooms. And that all depends on how much any individual teacher or principle embraces the use of that technology integrated into the classroom. There are some classrooms where students are getting their lectures at home in the evening, they're watching them online with the devices and when they're in class, they're working on problems at their own pace, and the teachers are there, and they say it's more of like a coaching model because they're getting that lecture at home. So they get more one-on-one interaction with the teachers in classes. And then at San Diego state, they're using a lot of online courses in part to deal with just time and facilities crunch with fitting as many students as need to get into these gateway classes as they can. So they have part of their classes in actual classrooms and then part of online, and those are either live lectures that they're watching an instructor give or they're taped lectures. And they're doing that coursework online. But it also extends to what students are being taught. We've seen a lot of focus on getting more science, technology, engineering, and math content to students because there is a concern that these are the areas that are going to be growth areas for our economy in the future and right now. And universities are not producing enough people who have the skills to take those jobs.

ST. JOHN: We just have a minute left here. And I know that you had done a story about homeless children in schools. And many people would be shocked to know how many kids in schools don't have a place to go back. Do we know how extensive a problem that is?

CALVERT: When I did that story, there were about 3,600 students identified as homeless with the district. And I just checked in, and now there are more than 4,000 students who are considered homeless by the school district. And one of the girls who I profiled irk talked with her earlier this week, and she's doing well, she's applying to colleges and applying for scholarships, and someone who heard the story about her has set up a college fund for her with some of their own money.

ST. JOHN: Oh, that's wonderful!

CALVERT: She's interested in studying marine biology. Hopefully that's what she'll get into when she gets into college next year. Of

ST. JOHN: That's a great positive note to end on! We'll obviously be listening to you in the coming year following the changes in education. Thank you so much for coming in. Kenny, thank you too for coming in.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.