Bryan Thompson

Rural Health & Agriculture Reporter, Kansas News Service

Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service, specializing in rural health and agriculture. He is based in Salina.

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. 

Douglas County has been awarded grants totaling more than $68,000 for a regional food hub feasibility study. 

The year-long study will determine whether 16 counties in the northeast corner of Kansas could benefit by creating a warehouse for locally-grown foods.  Lawrence/Douglas County Sustainability Coordinator Eileen Horn says one goal is to help meet the demand from institutional kitchens for fresh, local food.

A new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts bolsters the argument that dental access challenges in Kansas require a new type of dental provider.

The report lists the ten states with the most severe shortage of dentists, and the ten states where low-income children are least likely to receive dental care. Kansas is not on either of those lists.

Still, nearly 55 percent of Kansas kids covered by Medicaid received no dental care in 2011. The report also reveals that more than 16 percent of the state’s population is underserved, and living in a dental shortage area.

Ash Grove Cement Company has agreed to pay a penalty, and invest $30 million in new pollution control technology at its nine manufacturing plants-one of which is in Chanute, Kan. The settlement stems from charges that Ash Grove violated the Clean Air Act.

The consent decree allows the Overland Park-based company to pay a $2.5 million penalty, and install new pollution controls at plants in nine states, without having to admit to violating air quality requirements.

The University of Kansas is wrestling with how to cut $13.5 million from its budget over the next two years, but the funding reduction will not prompt the closing of the KU School of Medicine's campus in Salina

The KU Medical Center, which operates the school, will have to absorb more than $8 million in cuts. KU spokesman Jack Martin says closing the Salina campus, and scaling back operations in Wichita are no longer on the table.

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that segments of naturally-occurring human genes cannot be patented. The ruling may change the focus of genomic research, but it won't stop it.

Professor Andrew Torrance specializes in biotechnology patent law at the University of Kansas. He says the ruling falls hardest on companies that have invested billions of dollars, hoping to profit from patents on human gene fragments like those that help reveal a person’s risk for breast cancer.

The Medicare Summary Notice senior citizens receive every month has been redesigned. The changes are meant to make it easier to spot fraudulent claims.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, the federal government has devoted new resources to rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse in the Medicare program. The notice beneficiaries receive each month to explain their claims is being upgraded to make it easier to spot claims for services they never received.

Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital expect a three-week-old girl to make a full recovery after they closed an aneurysm in her brain, using super glue. 

Jared and Gina Julian knew there was something wrong with their three-week-old daughter.  Her mother says little Ashlyn began screaming and showing other symptoms.

“She was very stiff, then very rag-doll limp, and then kind of not super responsive,” says Gina Julian. “And later that night, she again projectiled, at which point in time we just were, she’s going back to the hospital.”

A new EPA report to Congress says the nation's drinking water infrastructure will need $384-billion dollars worth of improvements over the next 20 years, including more than $4-billion in Kansas. 

William Carr manages the revolving loan fund that finances drinking water projects in Kansas.  He says most of the projects on the list are for transmission and distribution—especially the underground pipes that carry water to homes and businesses…

Kansas lawmakers this year spared early childhood programs from the budget axe, but advocates for those programs say children didn't fare well overall in the 2013 legislative session.

The top concern, according to April Holman of the non-profit Kansas Action for Children, is that lawmakers balanced the budget using more than $9 million that should have gone into an endowment for early childhood funding.

photo by dan verbeck

U.S. Attorneys from Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa will gather next week for a conference centered on domestic violence and sexual assault in Indian Country. 

U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom says the statistics on violence against women and girls in tribal communities can only be described as shocking.

As Kansas lawmakers continue to search for common ground on a budget, an advocacy group says the long-term future of early childhood programs is at stake.

So far, the competing versions of a state budget for 2014 have all included Governor Sam Brownback’s plan to transfer $9.5 million dollars from the Children’s Initiative Fund to the State General Fund. 

Plans to expand a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas have run into another snag.

An appellate court in Washington, DC, says a federal agency violated the law by clearing the way for expansion of Sunflower Electric’s power plant in Holcomb without first reviewing its impact on the environment. 

Attorney Amanda Goodin represents the Sierra Club, which filed suit to stop the expansion.

The Superfund National Priorities List now includes nine new sites-one of them where a smelter used to operate on the east side of Iola.

The EPA says the soil on hundreds of residential and commercial properties in and around Iola is contaminated with lead, arsenic, cadmium and zinc. EPA Region 7 spokeswoman Dianna Whitaker says the biggest concern is lead.

“Children can get into that lead—especially young children," she says. "They put their hands in their mouths, and then they can be exposed and absorb lead, and lead is very dangerous for young children."

Bryan Thompson / KPR

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wants lawmakers to extend a temporary sales tax hike as a way to fund the state's universities.

The governor says cuts to higher education would be a momentum-killer at a time when he thinks a lot of positive things are happening in Kansas. Lawmakers are hesitant to extend the sales tax hike, which was approved in 2010 on the condition that it would expire July 1 of this year.

Following a tour of the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Salina, Brownback called the facility a great place to invest.

Bryan Thompson / Kansas Public Radio

After a series of problems, the operators of the only nuclear power plant in Kansas say they're making progress toward satisfying the concerns of federal regulators.

A competitive bidding program aimed at helping Medicare avoid overpaying for products like scooters, diabetic testing supplies, and oxygen tanks is being expanded to 91 communities nationwide, including Wichita. 

The program began a little more than two years ago as a demonstration project in nine communities, including Kansas City. 

Tyson Foods has agreed to a settlement with the federal government over accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia at its facilities in Kansas and three other states.

A federal grand jury has indicted three Kansas men on charges that they operated a global sales and supply network for synthetic marijuana. 

Bradley Miller of Wichita, his brother, Clark Sloan of Tonganoxie, and Sloan’s son Jonathan Sloan of Lawrence face charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, distribution of a misbranded drug, smuggling, and conspiracy to launder money from the operation.  They’re accused of manufacturing and distributing a marijuana substitute called K2 through businesses named Bouncing Bear Botanicals and Persephone’s Journey. 

Providence Medical Center, in Kansas City, and St. John Hospital, in Leavenworth, are now among the two dozen hospitals owned by Prime Healthcare—a for-profit company based in California. 

Bryan Thompson / Kansas Public Radio

The pending sale of two Kansas City area hospitals to a California-based corporation comes as a relief to those currently in charge of the hospitals.  However, some people are worried about what could happen. 

The sale of Providence Medical Center and Leavenworth’s St. John Hospital to Prime Healthcare Services needs the blessing of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to go forward.  Close to 100 people showed up for a public hearing conducted by the Schmidt last night. 

Courtesy Kansas Health Institute

According to the latest Kansas County Health Rankings, Johnson and Riley counties have the healthiest residents in Kansas again this year.  Wyandotte County and a cluster of counties in southeast Kansas remain among the least healthy.

A series of informational meetings about KanCare has been rescheduled, after being cancelled due to snow storms last month. 

Meetings for providers will take place March 18th, in Hays; March 19th, in Dodge City, and March 20th, in Wichita.  Each of those sessions will run from one to three in the afternoon.

Meetings for consumers will be held in Hays March 18th, and in Wichita March 20th.  Those events will take place from six to eight in the evening. 

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts has introduced a bill to reform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.  Roberts says the bill would save $36-billion over ten years by eliminating waste, and closing loopholes in the program.

A Wichita clinic formerly operated by slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is expected to reopen soon.

Tiller’s former building was recently purchased by an organization called the Trust Women Foundation.  It’s headed by Julie Burkhart, who used to run Tiller’s political action committee.

Abortion services have been unavailable in Wichita since Tiller was gunned down in 2009. 

Burkhart says each year, thousands of women in the Wichita area have to travel to Kansas City or to Oklahoma to get an abortion. 

Legislation filed in the Missouri Senate would require all genetically modified meats and fish raised and sold in the state to be labeled as such. The bill is sponsored by Democrat Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis.  She says people have a right to know what they’re putting in their bodies.

“We’ve had an industrial boom, we’ve had a technical boom, and now we have a biotech boom, and there hasn’t been a major studies to show one way or the other if genetically modified foods are good or bad,” says Nasheed.

Lidor / Flickr

Medicaid is the second-largest program that Kansas operates, next only to education. And costs of the health program for the poor and disabled have been growing at a faster pace than most other programs. A desire to control those costs and improve care is why officials in Governor Sam Brownback’s administration have embarked on a massive plan to overhaul the system.

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