Andy Marso

Reporter, Kansas News Service

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.

Andy 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.

He 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.

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A “mega-bill” containing several provisions related to licensure of medical professionals survived a rules dispute to pass just before the Kansas Legislature adjourned early Monday morning.

Unless Gov. Sam Brownback vetoes the bill, the conference committee report combined in House Bill 2615 will require acupuncturists to be licensed, enter Kansas into a compact that will license physicians to practice across state lines and expand the authority of nurse midwives.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Legislative budget negotiators have agreed to insert a provision in the state budget preventing Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration from consolidating Medicaid support services for Kansans with various disabilities.

The Medicaid waiver integration plan has been a point of contention between the administration and a legislative subcommittee appointed to study the issue. The subcommittee issued a report recommending the integration be delayed a year to Jan. 1, 2018, and requesting more details on the plan.

Miran Rijavec / Creative Commons-Flickr

The Kansas Legislature passed a bill Saturday banning tanning salons from serving minors, a measure advocates say will reduce cancer.

Free-market advocates had pushed for an amendment allowing tanning for customers under 18 with parental permission. But the House and Senate ultimately voted to join a dozen other states and Washington, D.C., in banning it completely.

Unless Gov. Sam Brownback vetoes the measure, it will become law as soon as it is published in the state statutes book.

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The Kansas House shot down a plan to return some 330,000 Kansas businesses back to the income tax rolls Friday, voting 45-74 on the measure.

A tax conference committee made up of House and Senate negotiators agreed to push the measure forward for a floor vote as the Legislature tries to close a budget gap, adjourn the session and head back to the campaign trail.

Bigstock

The departure of UnitedHealthcare could leave Kansans shopping on the federal online marketplace with only one choice of insurer, but Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer is working to bring in more.

Deputy Commissioner Clark Shultz says Selzer has for several months been in talks with other insurance companies about joining the marketplace in 2017, and those discussions appear close to yielding results.

“It’s too early to announce that and we don’t have it secured, but there are some very positive developments,” Shultz says.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A bill to legalize hemp oil at the state level has drawn the ire of Kansas medical marijuana advocates who say it’s too watered down to do any good.

Members of Bleeding Kansas, one of the state’s largest medical marijuana advocacy groups, rallied Wednesday at the Capitol to urge legislators to ditch Senate Bill 489.

Christine Gordon and others said the bill would only add fees and regulatory hurdles to cannabidiol, or CBD oil — a substance that already can be accessed legally at the federal level.

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Members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee again declined Tuesday to request an investigation into whether the Kansas Department for Children and Families has placed children in risky situations because of a preference for heterosexual foster parents.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, first requested the audit in December after reports surfaced of DCF removing a baby from the home of a lesbian couple in Wichita and placing it with a heterosexual Topeka couple who subsequently were charged with child abuse.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

When Shannon Lindsey moved from Missouri to Kansas two years ago, she decided she wanted to go to Johnson County Community College to get a nursing degree that would make her more employable.

Lindsey, now 49, has several disabilities, so she contacted Kansas’ vocational rehabilitation office for assistance. In Missouri she had the same vocational rehabilitation counselor for years — a state worker who understood her needs, what was available to help her and how to get it to her quickly.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Two employees of Larned State Hospital made rare public comments Monday about difficult working conditions at the mental health facility.

Kyle Nuckolls and Lynette Lewis described for a legislative committee the toll that mandatory overtime and limited time between shifts is taking on workers at the short-staffed facility and their families.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lewis, a pharmacy technician who has worked at Larned for 18 years.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Representatives of 15 groups that advocate for Kansas Medicaid populations sent a letter to state leaders this week urging them to eliminate a Medicaid application backlog that has left thousands of Kansans awaiting coverage.

The groups have formed a coalition called the KanCare Advocates Network. They represent children, pregnant women and Kansans who are elderly or disabled.

Kansans from those populations have been waiting months, in some cases, for their Medicaid applications to process.

Courtesy Zach Williams

Since he took over as interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, Tim Keck has emphasized improving morale at state hospitals by letting employees know they are appreciated and their concerns are heard.

Now Keck is backing up those words with action of a personal sort, encouraging KDADS employees to participate in a bone marrow drive on behalf of a co-worker in need of a transplant.

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Editor’s note: A backlog of Medicaid applications has caused financial strain for nursing homes and put thousands of Kansans at risk for loss of medical care. State officials trace the beginnings of the backlog to a computer system switch.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Residents of St. John, Kansas packed a room in late January for an emotional, standing-room-only town hall meeting.

A week later Topekans gathered for an eerily similar meeting .

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The chairs and sleeping bags on the north steps of the Kansas Statehouse were empty Wednesday morning.

Raymond Schwab, who has been camping there for weeks to protest the state’s removal of his children from his custody, had temporarily moved to the opposite side of the Capitol for a rally with other marijuana legalization advocates.

File photo / Heartland Health Monitor

Nursing home representatives breathed a sigh of relief Friday as the state announced a program to help them get Medicaid money for some residents whose applications are stuck in processing delays.

The delays — traced back to a computer system switch in July and administrative changes in January — have led to thousands in unpaid bills for facilities and prevented some frail Kansans from finding a nursing home bed.

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Kansas legislators adjourned their regular session and left on a monthlong break without passing a “bed tax” increase that nursing home organizations say is vital to their members.

Golden Years Senior Care Center

Word that the Kansas Legislature has passed a bill allowing the state to fine adult care facilities that aren’t paying into a statewide medical liability protection fund brought Marie Jenks to tears.

For Jenks, the owner and operator of Golden Years Senior Care Center in Hutchinson, Thursday’s news was the last straw in what has been a series of difficult months.

The small facility she has owned for 30 years lost its coverage after a storm damaged the roof, and she’s been unable to secure a new plan that will satisfy the requirements of the Health Care Stabilization Fund.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Hundreds of Kansans with developmental disabilities rallied Wednesday outside the Capitol, as legislators said they are close to reaching a deal with Gov. Sam Brownback to postpone changes to disability services.

Rep. Les Osterman, a Republican from Wichita, told the crowd that a legislative proposal to delay the administration’s Medicaid waiver integration plan until 2018 was a done deal.

“I stopped the waiver integration,” Osterman said. “At least until 2018.”

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Federal officials are concerned about a growing backlog of Kansas Medicaid applications and have asked state leaders to provide regular updates about what they're doing to fix the problem.

James Scott, associate regional administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials Feb 17, citing concerns about “recent reports" of the Medicaid application backlog in the state of Kansas.”

Scott asked KDHE to submit within 14 days a plan to correct the backlog.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The Kansas House passed a bill Thursday that would ban people younger than 18 from using tanning salons.

The 77-44 vote came one day after legislators engaged in a familiar debate, weighing House Bill 2369’s public health benefits against its infringement on personal liberties. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Judy Kregar is not a member of the Rotary Club in nearby Greensburg, but she decided to go when she heard Gov. Sam Brownback would be at the club’s recent meeting.

Kregar, the administrator of a small nursing home in nearby Bucklin, wanted to tell Brownback in person about the struggles some of her residents are having getting their Medicaid applications and annual renewals processed.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

JJ Krentz turned away from his iPad and looked up as a blond woman walked into his classroom at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

With help from his teacher, he stood from his chair and greeted his mother, Tiffanie Krentz.

He knew she was coming and so he parroted the two-word phrase he’d been hearing all day from others when he asked them about “mama.”

“Gotta wait,” JJ said, grinning.

Tiffanie took each of his hands in hers and leaned down so their faces were almost touching.

“Well you don’t gotta wait now,” she said. “I’m here.”

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The plaudits for Sen. Greg Smith came from points across the political spectrum this week as he shepherded a juvenile justice overhaul bill through the Kansas Senate.

Smith, a Republican from Olathe, Kansas who chairs the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, devoted a full week of hearings to Senate Bill 367, which seeks to refocus the juvenile justice system on rehabilitation rather than confinement.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A brief theological debate broke out Tuesday in the Kansas Legislature as religious leaders voiced opposition to a bill placing further restrictions on welfare recipients.

The legislation, House Bill 2600, is a sequel to last year’s Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Act. Both bills place stricter limits on who can receive cash assistance and food stamps and for how long. They also place restrictions on things like using benefits to take cruises or continuing to receive benefits after hitting the lottery — scenarios critics say are far-fetched and intended to paint recipients in a negative light.

Heartland Health Monitor

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook offered an amendment to expand Medicaid last week because she believed it would fail.

A few days later, Senate President Susan Wagle removed Pilcher-Cook as chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee because Pilcher-Cook pushed the amendment even though it was ruled out of order.

Wagle said she opposes Medicaid expansion but wants the Senate to vote on it in the next few weeks.

Confused yet? Welcome to the politics of “Obamacare.”

Pilcher-Cook’s amendment

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Republican legislators who control energy-related House and Senate committees want to halt work on a plan to comply with federal climate change regulations now that the U.S. Supreme Court has put a temporary stay on the requirements.

But some of their colleagues say it would be prudent to keep preparing the plan in case the court ultimately rules against the state. And environmentalists say the state should move to reduce carbon emissions regardless of federal law.

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The Kansas House and Senate both passed budgets this week that shift money from several sources to shore up an underwater state general fund.

But even in lean budget times, the lawmakers found a few million dollars in the general fund to provide additional money for the state’s two hospitals that serve Kansans with mental illness.

Amy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Mental Health Coalition, said that’s just one indication of the amount of attention legislators are now devoting to the struggling facilities in Osawatomie and Larned.

KHI News Service

A spat over Medicaid expansion and Senate rules caused the leader of the Kansas Senate to replace the chairwoman of the Senate Public Health Committee on Friday.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, said in a statement released Saturday morning that Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook “showed a complete disrespect for the body and its rules” earlier in the week.

James Dobson / Garden City Telegram

A Garden City mother facing criminal drug charges said this week that she still intends to file a lawsuit in federal court asserting a constitutional right to use marijuana to treat her Crohn’s disease.

Attorneys for Shona Banda prepared the suit months ago and posted a draft version online.

Lawrence attorney Sarah Swain teamed up with Long Beach, California, lawyer Matthew Pappas on the suit and Banda said the delay in getting it filed is largely due to logistics.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

House members were denied a vote on Medicaid expansion on procedural grounds in a floor debate Wednesday that mirrored one the Senate had a day earlier.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, tried to attach the amendment to enact expansion during the beginning of an hours-long debate on the state budget.

“This is vital to the future of Kansas,” Ward said, adding that expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act would extend coverage to about 150,000 low-income Kansans and draw federal funds to help struggling hospitals.

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