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Golden Scholars: Health care backfires, California on display, and the cost of minimum wage

A Golden Scholars that's light on the science!


Quick links

This Berkeley professor blogs on why he thinks the proposed soda tax would cut down on sugar intake. And yes, his name is Stephen Sugarman.

UC Berkeley is the 9th school on this ranking for social mobility—the ability to help low-income students advance financially.

Teaming with other scientists around the world, UC Berkeley has developed a carbon-capturing slurry that is both cost-effective and energy-efficient.

Rasheed Shabazz blogged about violence against blacks by the police.

Berkeley researchers have created an improved 3D map of the early universe:

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman was named to the Institute of Medicine.

Flipping the magnetic field of the Earth is more than just a supervillain's plot. It could happen in a few thousand years and affect electrical grids and cancer rates.

A team of bioengineering undergrads have designed a new walker that can be used in cramped spaces with no loss of functionality. Can someone please forward this link to Kod?

Professor David L. Wessel, renowned for his work in music and science, passed away at the age of 72. Our condolences to his family.

The war for health care wages on

A new Berkeley study suspects that attempts to consolidate medical groups and practices has simply resulted in increased costs for the patients.

Let's start with some background: why are so many medical groups starting to assemble? They know they can't form Voltron, right?

"This consolidation is meant to better coordinate care and to have a stronger bargaining position with insurance plans," said study lead author James Robinson, professor and head of health policy and management at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.

"The movement also aligns with the goals of the Affordable Care Act, since physicians and hospitals working together in ‘accountable care organizations' can provide care better than the traditional fee-for-service and solo practice models.

Berkeley researchers took a look at 4.5 million patients over a four-year study, and found the following:

After controlling for such factors as the mix of severely ill patients and geographic differences in cost, the researchers found that per patient expenditures were 19.8 percent higher for physician groups in multi-hospital systems compared with physician-owned organizations. Groups owned by local hospitals were better, but per patient costs still ran 10.3 percent higher compared with physician-owned groups.

So, it sounds like their heart is in the right place, but where did things go wrong? By incorporating the nightmare of big hospitals into the equation.

[Robinson said,] "The intent of consolidation is to reduce costs and improve quality, but the problem with all this is that hospitals are very expensive and complex organizations, and they are not known for their efficiency and low prices."


Why would consolidation lead to increased costs? It could be that once a medical group has been acquired, physicians in those groups are expected to admit their patients to the high-priced hospital, Robinson said.

"Hospital-owned medical groups usually are expected to conduct ambulatory surgery and diagnostic procedures in the outpatient departments of their parent hospital, but hospital outpatient departments are much more costly and charge much higher prices than freestanding, non-hospital ambulatory centers," he said.

Robinson believes that coordination is key to improving patient care, but that health care should not revolve around hospitals. Efficient and cheap care must be available at other settings.

California's Art not-Kaufman

As the flagship university of the state of California, is there a better site to highlight the "unique history and culture" of California? "California Captured on Canvas" will star 43 pieces that best capture California's history.

The show includes a colorful and striking portrait of Helen Willis, a UC Berkeley alumna who won eight Wimbledon titles and was the founding benefactor of the campus's thriving Helen Wills Neuroscience Center. There's a mesmerizing collection of paintings of Yosemite Valley in the early days of its exploration that reflect the valley's continuing ability to inspire and awe. Another series of paintings shows San Francisco's Chinatown before the city's devastating 1906 earthquake.

"Living as we do in a world where so much of our existential experience is increasingly dependent on and mediated by a basic binary code of ones and zeros, "California Captured on Canvas" celebrates the pre-digital world made tactile through the artistry of paint on canvas," von Euw writes in a piece for the library's forthcoming Bancroftiana publication.

Go checkout the exhibit weekdays from now until March!

Maximizing minimum wage

Money. We like having it, yes? And therein lies the central argument behind raising minimum wage. However, the eternal debate rages on about the actual effect of such a change. For instance, if a fast food joint has to pay all their workers more, then will that result in increased costs of their food until it puts them out of business? Not so fast, says UC Berkeley Labor Center's Ken Jones.

[U]ltimately, Oakland's businesses would be helped rather than harmed by a wage increase, Jacobs says.

"Studies have demonstrated that low-income people tend to spend money they receive from increased wages, and they spend it locally," says Jacobs. "Further, higher wages can actually save fast food restaurants money. A big cost factor for fast food franchises is high employee turnover. Training typically accounts for about 25 percent of costs in the restaurant business. People in the fast food sector tend to stay in fast food, but they move around a lot, going wherever the pay opportunities are best. That means (at low wage scales) you have higher training costs, and you don't accrue the benefits of an experienced, stable, productive work force. You also have more equipment damage and more problems with customer service."

So, where does the support for increased minimum wage come from? Bleeding heart liberals and not-corporations?

Despite the corporate bleating, support for raising the minimum wage is strong, cutting across all political lines, says Jacobs. He notes it's predictably popular with Democrats, but also with Republicans and Independents. People consider it an issue of basic fairness, and research supports that intuitive take.

Nor is the business community monolithic in its opposition.

"The corporate resistance is mixed," Jacobs says. "The National Restaurant Association is lobbying hard against increases, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce opposes them. But the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce favors them. So do prominent entrepreneurs like Eli Broad and Nick Hanauer."

Part of the reason for the broad support may be a recognition that all citizens pay when a significant portion of the population can't make ends meet. To a very real degree, a low minimum wage translates as corporate welfare.

What say you about raising minimum wage?