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Advocates to State Senate: Diabetes Patients Can’t Afford to Wait on “Life-Saving” Bill 

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California Black Media 

A group of doctors, some African American healthcare advocates as well as  Californians living with diabetes are asking the state Senate to take up — and quickly vote on — an “urgent” public health bill that lawmakers have put on ice. 

If passed, the legislation would place a $50 cap on monthly copayments insurers require diabetic patients to cover when buying their insulin treatments.  

Dr. Bill Releford, a podiatrist in Inglewood who specializes in helping diabetics with circulation problems thereby reducing amputation rates, shared the story of Jamal M. 

Every day, Jamal M. is faced with tending to the hard-to-heal lesion so that his foot will not have to be cut off while managing the underlying medical condition he has learned to live with despite the challenges. But to stay on top of them, Releford says, Jamal M. has to keep up with costly co-payments for doses of the life-saving insulin that his doctor prescribes. 

Unfortunately, Jamal M. can’t afford his share of the cost for his insulin, which falls between $400 to $500 per month.  

“Jamal M. was splitting his insulin dosages in half” in an attempt to curb the medical cost to purchase the synthetic hormone that regulates his blood sugar, Releford told California Black Media.  

 “It really wasn’t working,” Releford explained. 

 To give a financial lifeline to Californians like Jamal M. — people seemingly caught between dollars and a deadly disease — state Assemblyman Adrian Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2203 in February.  

 “I know that this uncertain time during COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for us, and many Californians are struggling to survive,” Nazarian said. “My bill AB 2203 aims to help Californians with diabetes by lowering the out-of-pocket costs for insulin so they can stick to their treatment plan outlined by their physician.” 

The Assembly Health and Appropriations committees voted separately to move the legislation forward with a combined 25-0 yes vote earlier this year.  And although the full Assembly voted June 8 to pass the bill with 64-4, the Senate Health committee, which Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) chairs, has not yet considered the bill that diabetes advocates have labeled “life-and-death” legislation.  

The average annual cost per diabetes patient for insulin was $5,705 in 2016, reports SingleCare, an online company that offers pharmacy discounts to registered members. Currently, one vial of insulin could cost up to $250. 

Releford, like other African American advocates, says, because diabetes is a co-morbidity that can cause death among COVID-19 patients, keeping his patients healthy is more critical right now than ever.   

Diabetes-related coronavirus complications account for over 30% of the current hospitalizations for patients 35 and older in California. As of early June, the blood-sugar disorder was also the second leading contributing cause of COVID-19 deaths, according to a UCLA study. The first, at that time, was hypertension.  

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes is a significant underlying medical condition that increases risk of serious COVID-19 complications,” the study reads.  

For Diabetes patients, the UCLA study reports that COVID-19 fatalities are double their percentage of the general population.   

California Black Media (CBM) contacted Dr. Pan’s office to inquire why the Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing for AB 2203.  

Shannan Velayas, a spokesperson for Dr. Pan, who is a practicing pediatrician, said there are some “policy issues” with AB 2203 that still need to be resolved.  

 “Dr. Pan has worked to improve chronic disease management, including diabetes and access to medication throughout his entire career,” Velayas wrote to CBM in an email.  “Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, we are unable to properly vet this bill at this current time for all of its potential issues, including those raised by the Administration in the context of both existing law and other proposals to improve access to insulin for people with diabetes.” 

On Monday, July 27, the Dept. of Managed Health Care (DMHC) sent a letter to Nazarian stating that it “regrets to inform you that it (DMHC) has taken an ‘Oppose Unless Amended position’ on AB 2203.” 

“Existing law already places comprehensive cost-sharing limits on all outpatient prescription drugs, and the DMHC believes that any changes to cost-sharing should be considered holistically among all prescription drugs. The DMHC requests removing the cost-sharing limit,” Mary Watanabe, DMHC’s acting director said in the letter to Nazarian. 

The Association of California Life (ACL), the California Association of Health Plans (CAH) and several health insurance companies have all stated their opposition to AB 2203.  

“It sets a precedent that treats one class of drugs differently as it creates a special category for insulin,” those groups wrote in a joint statement. “This inevitably will increase the cost of premiums for all insureds and enrollees by inappropriately socializing the cost of these drugs against all rate payers.” 

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Newsom, AB 2203 would apply to anyone with an individual, group, or non-employer insurance plan. Besides the $50 cap on the copay, AB 2203 would authorize the California Attorney General to investigate the pricing of insulin to ensure protection for consumers. 

Aldon Thomas Stiles contributed to the reporting for this article.

 

Community

City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

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Barbara Parker

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al., a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations.

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

Not only must the defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the city and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker, “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30% of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. 

The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks. 

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions — including units never intended or approved for residential use — to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. 

This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights. 

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office. 

The case went to trial in early April of this year. In its September 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case. 

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

B.A.S.I.C. Ministry Opens Its Doors to Feed hundreds of Asian Americans in San Leandro

Since 2020, B.A.S.I.C. Ministry (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) has fed hundreds of families in San Leandro and Oakland through their Feed My Sheep Program. 

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Volunteers feed the community/ Photo Courtesy of Mustafa Muhyee, Pastor B.A.S.I.C. MINISTRY

Since 2020, B.A.S.I.C. Ministry (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) has fed hundreds of families in San Leandro and Oakland through their Feed My Sheep Program. 

Located at 1221 Pacific Ave. in San Leandro, B.A.S.I.C. Ministry feeds hundreds of Asian American families every Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Members of B.A.S.I.C. Ministry and people in the community volunteers distribute bags of groceries and fresh vegetables.  

Also, on Wednesdays the church distributes hot meals to hundreds of families on the corner of 98th and Edes in Oakland at noon.

Lisa, a young adult Asian American woman, standing in line with her elderly mother, said “Many people in our community can’t afford to buy food.  This really helps.

B.A.S.I.C. Ministry Pastor Mustafah Muhyee says “since the pandemic he has seen a rise in families needing food.” To help us end hunger in our communities call the church at (510) 961-8781. To donate funds, go to www.jointhamovement.com  

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Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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