Andy Marso

Reporter, Heartland Health Monitor

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. HHM is a collaboration among KCUR, KHI News Service in Topeka, Kan., KCPT television in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, Kan.

Marso previously covered state government for the Topeka Capital-Journal where he shared the Burton W. Marvin Kansas News Enterprise Award and received the Great Plains Journalism Award for investigative/project reporting.

Marso has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas. He previously wrote for The Olathe News, the St. Cloud Times and the Washington Post. His memoir, “Worth the Pain: How Meningitis Nearly Killed Me – Then Changed My Life for the Better,” was named a 2014 Kansas Notable Book.

Courtesy Jill Wagner

Jill Wagner’s life changed the day her then-10-month-old son, Dean, was hospitalized after a series of seizures.

Tests revealed that Dean had a rare genetic condition that put him at risk for a host of medical issues. By the time he was discharged, little Dean already had a handful of diagnoses, including one for autism. Doctors weren’t sure if he would ever walk, talk or read.

For the next eight months, Wagner, a businesswoman and former professor who lives in Salina, Kansas, tried to navigate the complex world of health insurance for applied behavior analysis, or ABA.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The Medicaid application backlog in Kansas is on its way back up, threatening months of progress on a coverage problem that has vexed health care providers across the state.  

For more than a year, providers that rely on Kansas Medicaid, or KanCare, have been stung by delayed payments as they wait months for eligibility determinations that by federal rule are supposed to take no more than 45 days.

File photo

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has requested a one-year extension of the current KanCare program while delaying a proposal for an updated version of the Medicaid managed care system.

KanCare, which placed all 425,000 Kansans in Medicaid under the administration of three private insurance companies, began in 2013 and is scheduled to expire at the end of 2017.

State officials had planned to make changes to the current contracts and then apply for a long-term extension of KanCare with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the beginning of 2017.

File Photo / KHI News Service

Kansas Sen. Vicki Schmidt is regaining the chairmanship of the state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee for next year.

“I’m certainly excited to chair public health and welfare again and excited for the opportunities to explore issues that are very important to Kansans,” Schmidt said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Schmidt, a Republican pharmacist from Topeka, last chaired the committee during the 2012 legislative session, when the chamber was led by moderate Republicans.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A task force chaired by Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to address problems in rural health care determined that expanding telemedicine, addressing workforce shortages and giving providers more flexibility were key to Kansas’ future.

The Rural Health Working Group wrapped up a year of meetings Tuesday and is now compiling a set of recommendations to present to the Legislature ahead of the session that begins Jan. 9.

Courtesy Melinda Miner

At 59 years old, Bill Miller is starting to have neck and back problems. Thirty-two years of bending over to check patients’ teeth and gums will do that, he said.

Miller is the only dentist in Hill City, a community of about 1,500 people northwest of Hays. He has treated Medicaid patients his entire career, even as reimbursements increasingly have lagged the cost of providing care.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

There will be a political shift in the Kansas legislature with the new leaders lawmakers selected Monday. Conservatives will hold on to the very top jobs for 2017, but more moderate Republicans also picked up key positions. There is turnover among some of the Democratic leadership posts too.

All the change reflects gains made by moderate Republicans in the August primaries, and gains by Democrats in November, especially in the House. The move to the center on the Senate side is more subtle, but nonetheless notable.

“Elections have consequences and this election pretty much showed it’s going to be a fairly blended leadership team,” said Rep. Dan Hawkins, a conservative Republican from Wichita who lost a bid for leadership job.

Photo courtesy U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote early next week on a major medical research and mental health bill that two members of the Kansas congressional delegation played a role in.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

An analysis of KanCare performed by a former Republican governor’s think tank found that the switch to managed care Medicaid in Kansas has delivered on cost-cutting promises but not on quality of care.

Leavitt Partners, a policy consulting shop founded by former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, performed the analysis between May and October by interviewing KanCare providers and reviewing federal and state data.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

The leader of a mental health crisis center in Kansas City told legislators Tuesday that the amount of money his facility is saving Kansas hospitals, prisons and jails is nearly double its total budget.

Randy Callstrom is president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., a community mental health center that took over the former Rainbow Mental Health Facility state hospital in 2014.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Roy Alcorn shot pool with friends last week as sunlight streamed through the open door of a small building at Equi-Venture Farms.

A month earlier, Alcorn was living at Osawatomie State Hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Alcorn’s new arrangement is part of a pilot program spearheaded by Ben Swinnen, executive director of Topeka-based Equi-Venture, and Tim Keck, head of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. Nov. 9 with results from Johnson County.

Democrats gained enough Kansas House seats in Tuesday’s election to form a coalition with moderate Republicans to pass or block right-wing legislation.

But any such coalition will be more tenuous in the Senate after Democrats gained just one seat there.

Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative Republican allies have controlled the legislative agenda since moderate GOP leaders were purged from the Senate in 2012.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

At the end of the balloting today, the complexion of both the Kansas Legislature and the state’s highest court could be radically different.

There’s less suspense about the top of the ticket, at least as far as Kansas goes. Unlike the razor thin margins in some presidential battleground states, polls show Republican Donald Trump well ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the reliably-red Sunflower State.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

For Ashlyn Harcrow, the sound of the train whistle brings up all kinds of thoughts she’d like to avoid.

Harcrow, 24, has been living at the Topeka Rescue Mission since July. The nonprofit homeless shelter has helped her stabilize as she recovers from domestic violence and tries to improve her mental health amid post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

But the mission, at 600 N. Kansas Ave., is right next to the tracks. As trains rumble through north Topeka, they remind Harcrow that she’s thought about using those tracks to take her own life.

File photo

A public letter by the head of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services praising KanCare’s effect on Kansans with disabilities has drawn a string of rebuttals from people who provide disability services.

Tim Keck’s letter was published Oct. 24 on the Wichita Eagle editorial page.

Heartland Health Monitor file photo

Open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act starts Tuesday. People in Kansas and across the country will be able to log in to the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, and purchase plans for 2017 with federal subsidies based on income.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

As communities across Kansas struggle to accommodate an influx of people with mental illness in their criminal justice systems, religious leaders are calling for a new approach in Lawrence.

A group called Justice Matters, which represents 23 congregations, released a report this week called “Restorative Justice at Home.” The report contains several recommendations to beef up Douglas County’s mental health treatment options as an alternative to a proposed expansion of the county jail.

programwitch / Flickr-CC

The statewide team that's collaborating to cover elections in Kansas this year is taking your questions.

One question that seems to come up almost every election season, is why people sometimes vote against their own best interests — specifically their economic interests. 

Diane Wahto of Wichita asked it this way: 

Why do Kansans often vote against their best interests? ...

HealthCare.gov

Kansans who get their health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act website can’t buy yet — but they can look.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has opened what agency officials call a “window shopping” option on healthcare.gov, ahead of the official Nov. 1 open enrollment start date.

A green button on the site’s homepage allows users to “Preview 2017 Plans and Prices” by entering their ZIP code and some personal information.

File photo

Judy Talbot is trying to get her daughter out of a state facility for Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Zack Zbeeb is trying to get his son into one.

But both ultimately have the same goal: to do a “medication washout” to determine whether the prescription drugs their autistic kids take are helping to control their recent dangerous psychotic episodes or actually causing them.

Zbeeb, from Wichita, wants his 15-year-old son to be weaned off his medications at a place like Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

The Kansas Department of Transportation opened bids Wednesday on a highway project that is key to legislative races in southeast Kansas.

The project would expand U.S. Highway 69 from two lanes to four between Kansas City and Pittsburg — something residents of that part of southeast Kansas say is essential for safe movement of people and goods.

It would be hard not to know there’s a presidential election going on. There’s lots of action at the state level too.

Already, with the results of the August primaries, there’s a lot of turnover in the Legislature. And there are at least 10 Kansas Senate races and 20 House races that are competitive in the general elections.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The employees of Cornerstone Supports gathered last week at a house in Olathe with their clients — adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — to plan their last day together.

Cornerstone, based in Olathe, will close later this month, and its 19 clients will have to find other companies to help them with daily tasks so they can stay in their own homes.

The regular gatherings at the Olathe house where three Cornerstone clients live will end Oct. 28.

“We should do something,” said Brandon Thompson, one of the clients.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

In a small, windowless room at the University of Kansas Child and Family Services Clinic, Julie Boydston put on a few sock puppets and explained that they’re more than just toys.

Like the dollhouse and costumes in the room, the puppets are tools that help student counselors get children with behavioral and mental health problems to open up.

“They can’t talk to you about their feelings,” Boydston explains. “But maybe they can say what ‘Mr. Duck’ thinks or ‘the frog is sad’ and why is he sad.”

Andy Marso / KHI News

A working group appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled Tuesday a host of recommendations for changing the way Kansas officials estimate the amount of tax revenue the state will receive each year.

The recommendations include overhauling the group that makes the estimates and making a controversial change to the way monthly tax revenue is reported.

Lindsborg Police Department

A man involved in a racist incident at a rural Kansas college has been trying to gain a foothold in state politics.

The chalk outlines of bodies and messages including, “Make Lindsborg White Again," scrawled on Bethany College sidewalks earlier this month rattled the campus and surrounding community

A police report of the chalkings from Sept. 3 names Gabriel James Wilson as a suspect.

Courtesy John Fales

The president of the Kansas Dental Association said he has stopped taking patients from two of the state’s three KanCare insurance companies because of a 4 percent Medicaid reimbursement cut initiated by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

John Fales, a pediatric dentist from Olathe, said Scion — the dental benefits manager for United HealthCare and Amerigroup — has told him it will implement the cut before it is approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Legislative auditors said Wednesday they can’t confirm that the Medicaid application backlog numbers state officials have reported are correct.

Applications have been backlogged for about a year following the rocky rollout of a new computer system, an administrative decision that funneled all applications through a single state agency and a larger-than-expected influx of applications during the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

University of Kansas researchers plan to use a $1.5 million federal grant to help Kansans with disabilities catch up to their non-disabled peers in several health categories.

Jean Hall, director of KU’s Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies, will lead a team of partners from nonprofit organizations and government agencies to improve physical activity, nutrition and oral health for Kansans with disabilities.

Kansas is one of 19 states to get the grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Like most moms, Judy Talbot has photos and videos of her daughter on her smartphone.

But some of the images Talbot keeps on her phone show her daughter smacking herself in the face repeatedly or strapped to a bed, writhing against restraints with bruises up and down both legs.

“From her kicking,” Talbot explained.

Talbot’s daughter, Jill, is 32 and has autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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