Health

A collaboration among KCUR Public Radio, KCPT Public Television, KHI News Service and Kansas Public Radio, Heartland Health Monitor focuses on health issues and their impact in Missouri and Kansas.

Whether breaking news or in-depth features, we strive to bring listeners and readers timely, accurate and comprehensive coverage of a topic that leaves no one untouched.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Committees in the Kansas House and Senate have introduced Medicaid expansion bills modeled after a plan implemented last year in Indiana.

The identical measures, drafted by the Kansas Hospital Association, would provide coverage to approximately 150,000 low-income but non-disabled adults by making them eligible for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Tom Bell, president and chief executive of KHA, said the proposal was written with input from Kansas lawmakers, who he said wanted something patterned after Indiana's "consumer-driven plan." 

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Some Kansas health insurers are seeking legal permission to sell network-only plans — with the help of the state’s top insurance regulator.

The office of Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer supports a bill that would allow insurers to sell “exclusive provider organization,” or EPO, plans that provide no reimbursement for out-of-network health care except in the case of emergency.

Marcy Oehmke / Linn High School

An estimated 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.

That number is projected to nearly triple by 2050 as the U.S. population trends older. Currently, there is no cure for the disease and no treatments shown to slow its progress.

Clay County, in north central Kansas, has the nation's highest rate of people on Medicare diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. At 22 percent, it’s roughly double the rate in surrounding counties, as well as state and national averages.

The University of Kansas Hospital

Anticipating strong patient demand, The University of Kansas Hospital plans to add four floors to the Cambridge North Patient Tower now under construction just northeast of the hospital complex in Kansas City, Kan.

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.

Courtesy photo / Cerner Corp.

Neal Patterson, the CEO and co-founder of health technology giant Cerner Corp., says he has cancer.

He made the announcement Monday in a letter to shareholders and employees, which the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Officials from Lawrence Memorial Hospital returned Friday to the Statehouse armed with details about ongoing problems they’re having with the companies that manage KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

A panel of legislators Friday reversed their recommendation of a lifetime ban on hepatitis C drugs for Medicaid patients who don’t comply with their treatment regimen.

Members of the Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services and KanCare Oversight walked back on the recommendation they made in December  after hearing from Mike Randol, who heads the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Division of Health Care Finance.

Jennifer Morrow / Flickr--CC

Updated at 4:56 p.m.

In a sweeping decision, the Kansas Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights provides a right to abortion and blocked a Kansas law banning the second-trimester abortion method known as “dilation and evacuation.”

The ruling represents a major victory for abortion rights activists, who contended the ban increased the complexity and risk of second-trimester abortions. And it marks the first time a Kansas appellate court has found a right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution.

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.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Kiley Klug and Tiffanie Krentz had just finished giving emotional testimony about their children’s persistent seizures during Wednesday’s hearing on legalizing cannabis oil when Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer spoke up.

Ostmeyer, a veteran Republican legislator from a sprawling rural district in western Kansas, told the women he understood, because he has a 36-year-old daughter who was only expected to live to age 10.

HCA Midwest Health

As expected, hospital giant HCA is challenging a court judgment last month ordering it to pay the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City nearly $434 million.

The company filed a formal notice a few days ago that it plans to appeal the judgment to the Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City.

In December, Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence found that HCA had breached capital and charitable contribution commitments it made when it bought several local hospitals in 2003 for more than $1 billion.

Heartland Health Monitor

For the third consecutive year, Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing to use money generated by a federal law that he opposes to help balance the state budget.

Brownback, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, is seeking to use federal funding authorized by the law to help close a projected $190 million gap in the fiscal year 2017 state budget.

Specifically, the governor is proposing to use $25.5 million in federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to free up state general fund dollars so that they can be used to bridge the gap.

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.

Monte Gross

Take a Saturday morning bike ride along the Kansas side of the state line and you’ll see plenty of people playing tennis, soccer and jogging in Johnson County. Ride a bit farther north to Wyandotte County, though, and it’s clear that outdoor recreation is a much rarer phenomenon.

On a map, the counties appear to have about the same amount of parks and recreational space. But over several decades, Wyandotte County’s parks fell into a state of neglect and disrepair – to the point of being ignored by many residents.

Elana Gordon / KCUR

This story was updated at 8:19 p.m. 

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts will take no action against Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri after looking into whether it engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue.  

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Planned Parenthood President and CEO Laura McQuade said the board had sent a letter to Planned Parenthood and its attorney on Jan. 7 stating “no further action will be taken at this time.”

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.

KHI News Service

A key member of Gov. Sam Brownback’s new rural health working group says he hopes the initiative is a serious effort to address problems facing rural providers, not an attempt to divert attention from a renewed push to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Republican Rep. Jim Kelly represents Independence, the southeast Kansas community that recently lost its only hospital due to budget problems exacerbated by federal reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates and the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion.

Greyerbaby-Pixabay-Creative Commons

When Kelli was growing up in Olathe in the 1970s, it was a quiet, clean community boasting single-family homes and good schools. And with state laws prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays, in grocery stores and by the glass, outsiders could have been forgiven if they found life there to be pretty straight-laced.

“You just never know what goes on behind closed doors,” says Kelli, who asked that her last name not be used.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For expectant parents like Melissa and Michael Funaro, the prospect of a new baby evokes a host of emotions.

“You have this thing inside of you growing, and him and I created it,” Melissa says. “So it’s like, what’s he gonna look like?”

For future mother Karina Rivera, pregnancy is exhilarating.

“Everything’s exciting,” she says. “Just buying baby clothes, buying diapers. Looking at the diapers, and they’re so tiny.”

Jamie and Laura McCamish say the wait for their baby is almost too much to bear.

Susie Fagan / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback didn’t specifically mention Medicaid expansion in his State of the State speech Tuesday night to a joint session of the Legislature.

But he made it clear that he remains opposed to expanding eligibility to cover more than 150,000 low-income adults, many of whom are uninsured.

Seeming to acknowledge that the closure of Mercy Hospital in the southeast Kansas community of Independence had increased support for expansion, Brownback said “Obamacare” was the main reason for its financial struggles and those of other rural hospitals.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

A tentative plan to save Kansas government more than $2 billion over five years relies heavily on proposed changes to the state employee health plan and Medicaid.

The report, written by the New York-based consulting firm of Alvarez and Marsal under a $2.6 million contract with the state, includes 105 recommendations for “achieving major cost savings.”

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.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

On a Sunday morning, New Bethel Church in Kansas City, Kansas, comes alive with the sounds of worship as a full gospel choir and band bring hundreds of congregants to their feet.

At the center of the action, guitarist Clarence Taylor sits with his eyes lowered, strumming angelic-sounding chords. Taylor has a sound that would put a lot of hot-shot guitarists to shame, but he doesn’t claim the talent for himself. He says it’s a divine gift.

“I don’t know the notes,” Taylor says. “I can just pick it up. Sometimes it amazes me.”

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.

File photo

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.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Technically, it was a ribbon-cutting for a new health facility, but Thursday afternoon’s christening of a new gym and community center in Raytown was more like removing bandages from an old wound.

That’s because the facility, at 10301 E. 350 Highway, is housed in a refurbished building that the YMCA of Greater Kansas City closed three years ago amid a public outcry, and the bitter taste lasted as long as the building sat empty. The Raytown School District bought and refurbished the 45,000-square-foot building for about $3 million.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At her home studio in Westwood, Kansas, yoga instructor Marilyn Pace leads a class of 5-to-8-year olds. With the help of songs, games and other kid-friendly teaching methods, she guides her small students through poses like the cobra, the triangle and the downward-facing dog.

Tatjana Alvegard takes her daughter, Kaya, to Pace’s classes regularly.

“I played sports when I was a kid, and I think it’s really important. It makes for a good, healthy adult if you learn discipline and you learn it’s good to take care of your body,” Alvegard says.

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