Bryan Thompson

Bryan Thompson reports for the Heartland Health Monitor team, a reporting collaboration among KCUR Public Media, KCPT Public Television, Kansas Public Radio and KHI News Service. He is based at KPR in Lawrence, Kan.

The annual enrollment period for Medicare's prescription drug coverage and privatized Medicare Advantage plans is now open. It's the one time of year when people can make changes to their coverage without being penalized.

This year, many senior citizens have been confused. The enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act started just two weeks ago. Many people are under the mistaken impression that they need to sign up for coverage on the exchange, even though they have Medicare. 

If the federal government shutdown continues longer than two more weeks, 70,000 young mothers, babies and preschoolers in Kansas stand to lose access to some of the food they rely on.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has ordered local WIC offices to withhold checks for November and December until federal funding is assured. WIC checks are normally issued for three months at a time. 

Kansas health officials say the number of residents infected with West Nile virus is on the rise. There have been 32 cases so far this year.

Twelve new cases were reported last week, according to KDHE spokeswoman Aimee Rosenow.

"Cases are most common in late summer and early fall months, and until we have that first really hard freeze, you know, mosquitoes are still out there," says Rosenow. "So it’s really important for Kansans to take precautions against mosquito bites."

A lower court's order saying Kansas must add at least $440 million a year to funding for public schools is now in the hands of the Kansas Supreme Court. Attorneys for both sides spent more than three hours Tuesday making their arguments.

Solicitor General Stephen McAllister told the court the judicial system can declare laws unconstitutional, but it doesn’t have the authority to tell the legislature how much they must budget for education.

The wait for one of the biggest pieces of Obamacare is over. Starting Tuesday, Americans who don't have access to affordable health insurance through their employers can shop for coverage in new online marketplaces, also known as exchanges. The Kansas Insurance Department has been holding meetings across the state to answer questions about the exchange.

Linda Sheppard is the Kansas Insurance Department’s Director of Health Care Policy. She says the state is ready as it can be.

courtesy of AACR

Maddie Major shouldn’t be alive today. The eight-year-old girl has been fighting a form of leukemia since she was three. Robyn Major, Maddie’s mother, says in spite of chemotherapy, radiation, and even a bone  marrow transplant, Maddie’s cancer kept coming back. 

“In August of 2012, she relapsed for the second time,” says Robyn Major. "It was at that time that we realized conventional therapies weren’t going to offer a cure for Maddie.”

The first-ever statewide report on infections in Kansas hospitals shows progress against two specific types of infections.

According to the CDC, Americans contract 1.7 million infections every year while being treated in hospitals and 99,000 people die from these infections, adding $30 billion to the nation’s healthcare costs. 

Joey Scaletta directs the Kansas healthcare-associated infections program. He says approximately five of every 100 patients admitted to a hospital contract an infection while there.

A new study shows that the prices private insurers pay to hospitals vary widely. Not only that, they're much higher than what Medicare pays — especially in Kansas City.

The study, done by the non-profit Center for Studying Health System Change, reviewed actual claims paid for more than $500,000 auto workers and their families in 13 Midwestern metropolitan areas.

NRCgov / Flickr--CC

The Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the only nuclear power plant in Kansas, remains shut down due to problems with an air conditioning compressor. The unit is needed to cool safety-related equipment.

Operators shut down the reactor late Wednesday afternoon, when they noticed abnormal vibration in the compressor while doing maintenance work. 

A nursing home watchdog group says Kansas nursing home residents would benefit from increased requirements for direct care from nurses and nurse-aides in nursing homes. Current regulations require adequate staffing to provide each resident a minimum of two hours of direct care daily.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the only nuclear power plant in Kansas off of its special "watch list" for plants with problems needing closer scrutiny, but some new issues have arisen.

The NRC has listed Wolf Creek in the “degraded performance” category for more than a year. That’s the next-to-the-lowest of four ratings. Those problems have been resolved, and the plant has been upgraded to normal status. 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Kansas Water Office is preparing to take a fresh look at the idea of transferring surplus Missouri River Water to Western Kansas, where the underground aquifer is being rapidly depleted. 

The study will update a 1982 feasibility study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their report proposed a 360-mile canal with 16 pump stations to propel the water uphill to western Kansas. They estimated the cost at around $8 billion in 1977. 

A nationwide survey of kids in grades six through twelve shows that nearly 1.8 million of them have tried electronic cigarettes, more than double the rate reported the previous year.

The CDC says nearly seven percent of middle and high school students have tried e-cigarettes, and more than two percent are current users. Erika Sward of the American Lung Association says the rapid growth is due in large part to an aggressive marketing campaign.

A new study from a non-profit research group says predictions of huge premium increases when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in January are unfounded. 

Kansas is one of 10 states the Rand Corporation studied in detail. The study predicts that by 2016, only 6.6 percent of Kansans too young for Medicare will be uninsured. Without the new law, that figure would be more than 14 percent. 

A new research brief by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows a slight increase in the infant mortality rate last year.

Infant mortality refers to babies who die before their first birthday. Although the trend has been downward, Kansas has exceeded the national infant mortality rate every year since 2003. 

KDHE Secretary Robert Moser says last year’s rate was 6.3 deaths per thousand live births.

“That’s relatively low, but unfortunately it’s up slightly from 2011,” says Moser.

Courtesy of Jill Chadwick / KU Hospital

A three-month-old Kansas City-area baby shows no sign of problems following a first-of-its-kind surgical procedure a little more than two months ago at the University of Kansas Hospital. 

Ashlyn Julian was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm when she was just three weeks old.  A weak spot in one of her brain’s blood vessels had ruptured. 

Traditional brain surgery might have proven fatal at Julian’s age. So KU brain surgeon Koji Ebersole maneuvered a tiny catheter through blood vessel to deliver a drop of superglue.  It immediately stopped the bleeding. 

A new report by the Center for Rural Affairs finds that rural residents stand to benefit from the Affordable Care Act more than their city-dwelling counterparts.

The report’s author, Jon Bailey, says the premium tax credits to help pay for individual health insurance plans, and the caps on out-of-pocket costs will be especially important to people who live in rural areas.

A new report on obesity in America says Kansas is now the 14th most obese state in the nation.  Missouri ranked just one spot below at 15th. 

The annual “F as in Fat” report says 29.9 percent of adults in Kansas are obese and 29.6 percent in Missouri. That’s barely changed from last year. 

Researchers at the University of Kansas have been hired by the State Department of Education to develop a model anti-bullying policy for use in schools statewide.

All Kansas schools must have an anti-bullying policy, but coming up with effective policies and practices to meet that requirement can get complicated. Researchers at the University of Kansas plan to launch a statewide series of meetings in October to present educators with a model policy to build their own programs around.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has approved the Kansas Plan on Aging for the next four years. The plan is a broad outline of how the state intends to use federal resources under the Older Americans Act.

Secretary for Aging and Disability Services, Shawn Sullivan, says the plan is based on priorities identified by older Kansans, and those who work with them.

“Seniors here in Kansas want to stay at home, and in order to do that, I think there are some changes that we need to make," says Sullivan.

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

Researchers at the University of Kansas say fatty acids added to baby formula produce lasting gains in intelligence and performance.

Infant formula has been enriched with fatty acids since 2001, based in part on research done by University of Kansas scientists John Colombo and Susan Carlson.  The new findings by Colombo and Carlson are based on 81 babies who were tested every six months over a span of six years. 

KHI News Service

In a little less than two months, Kansans will be able to begin shopping for individual health insurance plans through the new, online marketplace called the exchange. Most of the plans will be sold by three companies.

According to Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, they'll be the same three companies that provide the bulk of health insurance in Kansas now: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, Blue Cross of Kansas City, and Coventry.

The Kansas Insurance Department is planning meetings to help educate people about the Affordable Care Act.

Kansas policymakers have decided not to expand the state's Medicaid program or to create a Kansas-specific exchange for consumers to buy individual health insurance policies. But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will bring some changes to the Medicaid program, whether the state's political leaders want to cooperate, or not.

Finizio/Flickr--CC

A two-year investigation by the U.S. Senate concludes that so-called dental management companies have provided substandard care to low-income children covered by Medicaid, while over billing the joint federal-state program.

A $10 million estate gift will fund scholarships for health professions students at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and support libraries at the medical center and at KU in Lawrence. 

The gift is from the estate of David and Stata Ringle. Stata Ringle was a researcher, professor and dean at the medical center for 28 years, beginning in 1962. 

KU Endowment President Dale Seuferling says the bequest will more than double the scholarship support for students in the School of Health Professions at KU Med.

Three years after taking effect, the Clean Indoor Air Act remains overwhelmingly popular among Kansas voters, according to a statewide public opinion poll. It finds that 78 percent of Kansas voters approve of the law that prohibits smoking in most public places. 

One of the tradeoffs made to get the law passed exempts state-operated casinos from the smoking ban.

The Brownback Administration wants federal permission to make changes to the new, privatized Medicaid system known as KanCare.  You'll have a chance to comment on the plans next Monday and Tuesday, in Wichita and Topeka.

cogdogblog / Flickr--Creative Commons

Medicare patients who have diabetic testing supplies delivered to them experienced some changes this week.

It’s all part of an effort by the Medicare program to save money and cut down on fraud. But some people are worried about unintended consequences.

A public services announcement issued by Medicare attempts to lay out the changes for diabetic Medicare recipients:

An on-going scam to bill senior citizens for medical alert device service is gaining steam in Kansas and other Midwestern states.  

The Better Business Bureau says there’s been a significant increase in calls about the scheme.  The pre-recorded message claims that someone has purchased a medical alert device for the person as a gift.  Then the recipient is asked to verify his or her identity with a bank account or credit card number. 

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