UC Berkeley Emeriti Academy holds ‘Future of California Healthcare’ panel

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The UC Berkeley Emeriti Academy hosted a panel discussion on improvements made in mental health legislation, California’s health care spending and the health of the state’s residents compared to that of Americans across the country. (Photo by Direct Media from StockSnap)

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The UC Berkeley Emeriti Academy hosted a panel discussion Thursday on the future of California health care.

The panel featured campus School of Public Health professor Stephen Shortell, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and campus professor of health economics and public policy Richard Scheffler.

Moderated by campus School of Optometry professor emeritus Kenneth Polse and School of Public Health lecturer Robin Flagg, the panelists discussed improvements made in mental health legislation, California’s health care spending and the health of the state’s residents compared to the health of Americans across the country.

“(California does) pretty well in various measures … of clinical quality of care, such as mortality and morbidity,” Shortell said at the event. “But where you really fold down is in community and environmental factors. Just think of here in Northern California how many ‘Spare the Air’ days we have.”

Shortell, who presented various health statistics, addressed the determinants of an individual’s health. He said the health care system only contributes to about 10% of a person’s health, which is also impacted by one’s genetics, environment and exercise routine, among other factors.

Upon discussing California’s health care spending, Scheffler noted that half the doctors in the state have practices actually owned by hospitals or hospital systems. He attributed a jump in health care prices to “vertical integration” of specialty and primary care, meaning the two are being consolidated.

Steinberg then touched on the state’s mental health policies, emphasizing the importance of mental health acceptance in the public eye. California currently has at least five different mental care systems in play “that don’t talk to one another,” which Steinberg said should be combined into one.

“For a long, long time, we have acted as if the brain is not an organ of the body,” Steinberg said during the event. “We have treated mental health very differently than physical health.”

He argued that a psychiatric crisis deserves as much medical attention and follow-up care as a physical one. Although mental illness is still stigmatized, Steinberg acknowledged that there has been significant improvement in California’s mental health legislation.

Steinberg commended California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2020 State of the State address, in which Newsom committed to addressing homelessness and introduced several mental health proposals.

“When I was in the legislature as a young man back in the day — I started in 1998 — you could hardly get a member of the legislature to carry a bill to improve the (mental health) system,” Steinberg said during the event. “You could never imagine a governor using his State of the State address to talk about improving and fixing the mental health system.”

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.