Meg Wingerter

Reporter, Kansas News Service

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.

Previously, she was a business reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal where she covered the state economy, agriculture and healthcare.

Before moving to Topeka, Meg was a reporter for The Muskegon Chronicle and The State News in Michigan. Meg has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Chinese from Michigan State University.

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Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback made his case Thursday for why Kansas food stamp reforms should be a national welfare-to-work model, even though the study he used to support his claim showed almost 80 percent of Kansans affected remained in poverty.

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Proponents of a bill to give businesses tax credits if an employee receives less public assistance after being hired couldn’t estimate the proposal’s financial impact, and the complicated nature of public assistance doesn’t help the task.

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The Kansas Senate on Thursday approved a bill to further tighten welfare eligibility rules.

The measure – Senate Bill 372 – adds new restrictions to rules established last year in a controversial bill that drew national attention.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

State officials said bills requiring legislative consent before the state could privatize Osawatomie State Hospital would take away one option to address long-standing staffing problems.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told members of the House Health and Human Services committee on Monday that the department is working on a request for proposals related to public-private partnerships for the hospital. He said he expects both nonprofit and for-profit health care companies may apply.

A bill originally promoted as preventing lottery winners from claiming public assistance would now also cut off households that have received cash assistance for more than two years.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, confirmed that the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee had amended Senate Bill 372 to lower the lifetime Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) limit from 36 months to 24 months.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

A pilot program designed to improve the health of people with severe and persistent mental illnesses will end July 1, but its backers say it hasn’t had enough time to show results.

In August 2014, Kansas began a “health home” program that put community mental health centers in charge of coordinating care for Medicaid patients with severe mental illnesses. In January, Budget Director Shawn Sullivan recommended that the state end the pilot program, which he says hadn’t produced significant results.

Megan Hart / Heartland Health Monitor

Larned State Hospital could run out of room in its unit to treat sexual predators as early as next year, which may force the state to treat some offenders in community settings or set up a separate secured facility, according to a report from Legislative Post Audit.

KHI News Service

A new computer system for enrolling Kansans in Medicaid and other public assistance programs will generate far less than the expected $300 million in savings, a Legislative Post Audit report finds.

The Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System (KEES) was intended to be a central portal where people could apply for benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance, and the state could automatically verify their eligibility.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

The state will try to get Osawatomie State Hospital back into Medicare’s good graces within the next six months, officials told a joint legislative committee Thursday.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the department will pursue recertification for Osawatomie, ending several weeks of speculation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in December that it would halt Medicare payments to Osawatomie due to security issues that had come to light after the reported rape of an employee by a patient.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

A proposed bill would cross-check Kansans receiving cash assistance, food stamps or subsidized child care with a list of lottery winners who received more than $10,000, Republican lawmakers said Thursday.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee who spoke at a Statehouse news conference about the bill, said she wasn’t aware of any cases in Kansas where a lottery winner continued to collect assistance, but similar incidents in other states generated widespread anger.

“This is very important to protect the taxpayers,” she said.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Nearly a quarter of social workers with the Kansas Department for Children and Families left the job in the yearlong period ending Dec. 1. Job vacancies increased by more than two-thirds at the same time.

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told the House Children and Seniors Committee on Tuesday that recruitment and retention were areas of focus for the agency, and its strategic plan also pointed to a need to hold on to employees. But that’s a challenge in part because social workers can make more money with other employers, she said.

KHI News Service

More stringent limits on lifetime cash assistance have kicked in, a change that means nearly 200 families in Kansas received their last cash assistance payment at the start of January.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill in April  lowering total lifetime eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of cash assistance, from 48 months to 36 months. The cutoff was planned for July 1, 2015, but the Kansas Department for Children and Families opted to delay it six months.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on Wednesday unveiled a budget proposal that would require new KanCare patients to try less-expensive drugs first and end a pilot program to improve the health of Kansans with severe mental illnesses.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

People in a mental health crisis who are a danger to themselves or others sometimes have to wait days for a bed to open at Osawatomie State Hospital, prompting at least one Kansas hospital to increase staffing and security in its emergency department.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

A special legislative committee formed to study the state’s foster care system encouraged agencies to consider family structure in placing a child, but declined to support an audit of the Kansas Department for Children and Families and its two foster care contractors during a Monday meeting.

Some legislators have called for study of the state’s foster care system after a boy was beaten to death while placed with his father and a baby died when her foster parents accidentally left her in a hot car while they smoked marijuana.

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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas won’t require customers who need outpatient mental health services to get prior authorization from now on, but the insurer can recoup payments from providers if their treatment is significantly different from that of their peers.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

In an announcement that was heavy on optimism but light on details, the Kansas Department for Children and Families introduced a mentoring program for families receiving cash assistance.

The Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program involves mentoring 1,100 people receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments, also known as cash assistance. It will expand in July to youths about to age out of the foster care system, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.

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Some mental health advocates in Kansas see a silver lining in Osawatomie State Hospital losing its Medicare payments: a chance to redesign a system they say was already strained and underfunded.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in December it would decertify Osawatomie, meaning the hospital no longer will receive about $1 million in monthly payments from Medicare to care for patients with severe mental illnesses. Federal surveyors pointed to what they called widespread security problems.

More than 80,000 Kansas residents and more than 250,000 Missouri residents have signed up for 2016 coverage through the federal insurance marketplace, putting both states on track to exceed last year’s enrollment figures. 

The Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved reported 84,631 people in Kansas and 253,099 in Missouri had enrolled through as of Saturday. The enrollments were close to the totals for last year’s sign-ups.

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The reported rape of an employee at Osawatomie State Hospital in October exposed security concerns that federal officials cited when they decided last week to stop sending Medicare payments to the facility after Monday.

Osawatomie had submitted a correction plan for the security issues to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but federal inspectors who visited the hospital Dec. 15 and Friday to follow up decided to proceed with cutting payments, said Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.