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A picture of health in 2017: The year's top stories

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With healthcare reform on the horizon, California hospitals need to cut costs, which will place more responsibility on the shoulders of community health clinics.
Tim Samoff/Flickr Creative Commons
With healthcare reform on the horizon, California hospitals need to cut costs, which will place more responsibility on the shoulders of community health clinics.

California saw pushback against efforts to repeal Obamacare, a campaign for universal health care and a new law requiring transparency on some drug price hikes.

There was no lack of health care policy news in 2017. Congress spent months attempting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, many California lawmakers and regulators doubled down on healthcare in the Golden State. As Sacramento looked at the best ways to pay for medical care, Southern California counties reacted to disease outbreaks.

Washington tried repeal, Sacramento pushed back

The Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress tried one method after another to unravel the Affordable Care Act. California pushed back against each of them in administrative offices, the legislature and the courts.

When the Trump administration stopped paying for certain out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans, Covered California added their cost to a premium surcharge for individual policies bought through the insurance exchange. While that raised premiums, it also guaranteed that the increased cost would be covered by higher federal premium subsidies, which rise along with premiums. When the federal Health and Human Services department cut its open enrollment advertising budget by 90 percent, California went big with $111 million to encourage people to sign up. The federal open enrollment period ended Dec. 15, but Covered California will let people enroll until the end of January. The state legislature codified the longer open enrollment into law for 2019 and beyond.

Of course, not every Californian is a fan of Obamacare. The state's House Republican representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a repeal effort in May. Those votes added fuel to the fire for organizers working to unseat them in coming elections. 

Universal health care gained momentum

The state Senate approved a bill that would create a single-payer health care program in California. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved it, calling the measure "woefully incomplete." An Assembly select committee met three times this fall to discuss models designed to achieve universal coverage, of which single payer is one. The repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in the recently-passed federal tax bill may further energize grassroots organizers who continue to lobby in favor of universal care in California. The issue is expected to play a role in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Drug transparency, not so fast

Governor Jerry Brown signed the most far-reaching prescription drug transparency law in the country in August. The law requires drug makers to disclose and justify price hikes of 16 percent or more over a two-year period. Lawmakers believe it will force down drug costs. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group that represents drug companies, is suing to block the law, arguing that it's unclear and an example of government overreach.

Use a condom

That's the main message from the state health department as the rates of sexually transmitted infections grew for the third year in a row. Transmission of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are on the rise in California. Meanwhile, UCLA researchers have created a genetic test to help find better treatment for antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea.

Hep A outbreak

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after hundreds of cases of hepatitis A were found in San Diego and the outbreak spread, though in much smaller numbers, to Los Angeles. Cases of the disease are largely among California's growing homeless population. Health officials are fighting back with vaccination programs and the L.A. City Council is leveraging emergency funding for more public bathrooms.

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