Health

A collaboration among KCUR Public Radio, KCPT Public Television, KHI News Service and Kansas Public Radio, Heartland Health Monitor focuses on health issues and their impact in Missouri and Kansas.

Whether breaking news or in-depth features, we strive to bring listeners and readers timely, accurate and comprehensive coverage of a topic that leaves no one untouched.

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

On a warm afternoon at Garfield Elementary school in northeast Kansas City, a class of grade schoolers charges out into the schoolyard to spend an hour riding bikes. They’re getting training from members of the nonprofit group BikeWalkKC.

The program was created three years ago to teach bicycle safety skills. But BikeWalkKC’s education program manager, Maggie Priesmeyer, says she and her fellow instructors found they would often be teaching children to ride for the first time.

Bigstock

When it took effect five years ago, the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act had some restaurant and business owners concerned.

But their worries about the state law prohibiting smoking in most public places — including workplaces, public buildings, bars and restaurants — have largely gone unrealized.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Fresh off a win in one multi-state lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced he will join another.

Schmidt’s office said Tuesday morning he was joining attorneys general from eight other states in fighting the “Waters of the U.S.” rule intended to expand the scope of the Clean Water Act to smaller tributaries.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency must take cost into consideration when regulating power plant emissions.

Kansas and Missouri were among 20 states that joined Michigan officials in a lawsuit over a 2011 EPA rule requiring electric utilities to minimize their emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from their smokestacks.

File photo

The filing of a murder charge against a former patient at the Osawatomie State Hospital is prompting questions about the state’s mental health system.

On May 14, Brandon Brown, 30, was released from a five-day stay at Osawatomie. He was sent to the state hospital after threatening other patients at the Haviland Care Center, a nursing facility in Kiowa County that specializes in treating adults with serious and persistent mental illness.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A lot of the hospitals in rural Kansas are called “Critical Access Hospitals.” It’s an important designation, because Critical Access Hospitals were created by the federal government to maintain access to health care in rural areas.

But Many Kansas Critical Access Hospitals are in financial trouble. Medicare requires them to offer 24-hour emergency services. But most don’t have enough ER patients to justify the cost of 24-7 service, says Melissa Hungerford, senior vice president for health care leadership at the Kansas Hospital Association.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Special interests have long eyed Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax as a potential pot of gold, if only voters would agree to hike the 17-cent-per-pack levy and direct the windfall to health and education programs.

Yet tax-hike advocates have failed narrowly at the polls three times going back to 2002, and the landscape is not much different as another campaign girds for battle next year.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act preserves federal tax subsidies that nearly 270,000 consumers in Kansas and Missouri used to help them purchase health insurance.

If the decision handed down Thursday had gone the other way, those consumers, many of whom were previously uninsured, might have been forced to drop their coverage.

RELATED: High Court Upholds Health Law Subsidies 

The Kansas Health Consumer Coalition will cease operations this week.

“It’s been a struggle to maintain our funding,” said Carol Ramirez Albott, president of the Topeka-based advocacy group’s governing board. “Things just got to a point where we felt like we couldn’t adequately do the job.”

The board, she said, notified its supporters of the decision late last week.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A Shawnee County judge has temporarily blocked a new abortion restriction that was supposed to take effect July 1in Kansas. The legislation prohibits a procedure that the law calls “dismemberment abortion,” where a fetus is removed, in pieces, with tools.

The judge says the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights, and that justifies putting the law on hold.

Janet Crepps, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, says this will stop women from having to use riskier procedures to end a pregnancy.

Reactions to today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act – the federal tax subsidies made available through the federal insurance marketplace:

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.): “The Supreme Court has said it again and again: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Today’s decision saves lives. The ACA is helping millions of Americans focus on their families, jobs, and quality of life, instead of worrying about what will happen if they and their family members get hurt or sick. Now I am no lawyer—I am simply a United Methodist preacher. 

High Court Upholds Health Law Subsidies

Jun 25, 2015
Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The Affordable Care Act survived its second Supreme Court test in three years, raising odds for its survival but by no means ending the legal and political assaults on it five years after it became law.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

A state official on Wednesday announced that Osawatomie State Hospital has stopped admitting patients.

Addressing a meeting in Topeka of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition, Ted Jester, assistant director of mental health services at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said admissions were suspended Saturday evening when the hospital’s census reached 146 patients.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A controversial restriction on local property tax revenue in the recently passed Kansas tax bill could have implications for county health departments.

Republican legislators inserted the property tax “lid” into the $400 million tax bill as a sweetener for colleagues who were loath to vote for a tax increase. It requires local governments to get voter approval to take in any tax revenue above the rate of inflation that comes from increased property values.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Early on a Monday morning, percussionist and music teacher Amy Hearting of Kansas City reads a newspaper outside a coffee shop before going off to teach an elementary school workshop.

She loves her work but says she’s not in it for the benefits and certainly not for the big salary.

“I feel like I’m doing what I want to be doing in life,” Hearting says. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with health insurance, and it doesn’t really come with an annual income where that is an easy reality for me.”

Attorneys general in 10 states, including Kansas, have asked a congressional committee to investigate efforts by the Obama administration to “coerce” states to expand their Medicaid programs by withholding unrelated healthcare funds.

Enforcement of a law designed to limit where low-income Kansas families can spend their public assistance will take longer than expected, state officials said Monday.

The new law, initially scheduled to take effect July 1, will not be enforced for at least six months.

Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, attributed the delay to “a computer-system fix that needs to be done.”

Also delayed, Freed said, will be enforcement of the new law’s $25-a-day ATM withdrawal limit for public assistance accounts.

With a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Affordable Care Act subsidies looming, state preparations again have exposed deep political divides over the federal health care law.

Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Delaware moved to protect their residents’ federal health insurance subsidies in advance of a ruling in the King v. Burwell case, which could come before the end of the week.

Wikimedia--CC

The rate of life-threatening skin cancer has more than doubled in the past three decades in the United States, according to a national report.

And without more efforts at prevention, health officials say the problem will get worse. 

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

When the 2015 legislative session started in January, public health advocates had reason to be optimistic they could reach some of their most ambitious goals.

The Kansas Hospital Association was ramping up efforts to expand Medicaid coverage to about 100,000 uninsured Kansans with the political implications of the 2014 election over.

Newly re-elected Gov. Sam Brownback had proposed to almost triple the state cigarette tax — a prospect that won quick support from groups that fight cancer and heart disease.

Bigstock

It’s shaping up as a make-or-break moment for the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a week or two on a challenge to Obamacare subsidies that could affect 6.4 million Americans. That’s roughly how many people obtained tax credits through health insurance exchanges operated by the federal government.

Thirty-four states chose not to set up their own marketplaces, or exchanges, and the lawsuit before the court contends the Affordable Care Act only provides for subsidies through state-operated exchanges.  

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office will work to identify $50 million in budget cuts mandated by the Legislature for the upcoming fiscal year, although future restoration of those reductions could be constrained by automatic income tax cuts.

Brownback addressed reporters Tuesday in a news conference recapping the historically long session that ended Friday.

The governor acknowledged that the 113-day session was difficult for everyone involved and that many legislators did not want to vote for the tax bill that closed a $400 million budget gap.

James Dobson / Garden City Telegram

A Garden City, Kansas, woman whose home was raided March 24 after her son took issue with an anti-marijuana presentation at school turned herself in Monday at the Finney County Law Enforcement Center.

Shona Banda, 38, was booked into jail and later released after posting $50,000 bond. Her attorney, Sarah Swain, of Lawrence, said Banda was charged with five counts—four of them marijuana-related—plus endangering a child. If convicted on all of them, she faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

Charles Welty began seriously worrying about his heart health at the gym. The 78-year-old retired civil engineer said that while running on a treadmill, he saw something startling on the machine’s heart monitor.

“My pulse rate was undetectable,” Welty said during a recent interview in his Lenexa home. “It was so fast.”

A visit to his doctor revealed that his worries were not unfounded.  

“What was going on was not so good. And had me somewhat scared,” Welty said.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

The last thing Rep. Pete DeGraaf needed last week was more stress in his life.

But only a day after a doctor confirmed what DeGraaf had long suspected — that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease — he was back at the Capitol for the final stress-filled stretch of the longest legislative session in Kansas history.

Asked why during an interview in his small Statehouse office with his wife, Karen, at his side, DeGraaf’s answer was simple.

“I enjoy being a legislator,” he said.

A whistleblower lawsuit alleging a Kansas oncologist provided medically unnecessary services is the second suit to question his practices, according to The Wichita Eagle.

The newspaper reported on Sunday that Viran Roger Holden, the former chair of the Mercy Clinic oncology department in Springfield, Missouri, claims he was fired after raising questions about Greg Nanney, a cancer doctor who now works for Central Care Cancer Center in Newton and Great Bend, Kansas, and in Bolivar, Missouri.

File photo

It’s over.

Republican legislators from the House and Senate mustered just enough votes to pass a $400 million tax increase Friday and end the historic 2015 session.

The session traditionally lasts 90 days. Friday was the 113th, as both chambers struggled to get Republican supermajorities to approve a substantial tax hike.

The final plan raises the state sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent. Senators ultimately gave up on a quest to tax groceries at a lower rate.

Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation

A long-awaited bike trail spanning most of Missouri from east to west could be endangered by a pending transportation budget bill.

The measure introduced last week, House Resolution 2609, would eliminate the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which provides funding to states for recreational trails, community improvement activities and safe routes to school, among other programs.

Cromwell Solar

Westar Energy faces a challenge — or at least it’s anticipating a challenge — in the growing number of Kansas homes sporting solar panels on their roofs.

Like other utilities, Westar relies on a pricing structure that largely depends on customer usage. The company charges a small monthly fee for customers to access its grid. But for the most part, how much customers pay each month depends on the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity they use.

After two days of legislative maneuvering and more than four hours of members sitting in their chairs watching a voting board, the House denied another tax plan Thursday morning.

The possibility of across-the-board budget cuts to state entities — including hospitals for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities — became more tangible as factions within the House rejected a sales tax-heavy plan to close the last half of an $800 million structural deficit.

Pages