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.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

There are a lot of small, rural hospitals in Kansas. Without them, many Kansans would have to travel long distances for care. What’s more, in many small towns, the hospital is one of the largest employers — making it vital to the local economy.

But declining populations, combined with changes in the way hospitals are paid for their services, are making it more difficult for many small hospitals to survive.

There is at least one hospital in 96 of the state’s 105 counties, according to Melissa Hungerford, senior vice president for health care leadership at the Kansas Hospital Association and chief executive officer of the Kansas Hospital Education and Research Foundation.

The stakes for Kansas to expand Medicaid have been raised.

The state received notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week that if it doesn’t expand its Medicaid program, it would lose federal funding for uncompensated health care, according to officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The federal government provides money for the state’s uncompensated care pool to reimburse health care providers who serve the uninsured.

More pessimistic state revenue estimates released this week could breathe new life into tobacco and alcohol tax increases that lawmakers thus far had ignored.

The state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group said Monday that Kansas should expect to collect about $5.71 billion in taxes in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That’s almost $100 million less than the group of economic experts estimated in November, making a difficult budget puzzle even more vexing for legislators.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network quickly seized on the new projections as evidence legislators should increase the tobacco tax.

“Making tobacco significantly more expensive is a powerful economic tool that will save lives and cut health care costs while also addressing Kansas’ budget shortfall,” said Reagan Cussimanio, the group’s government relations director in Kansas.

Study: Alcohol Tax Hikes Beneficial To Public Health

Apr 21, 2015

Increasing alcohol taxes decreased alcohol-related car crashes and related health problems, according to researchers from the University of Florida.

The same researchers say Kansas could see similar benefits if legislators approve Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed tobacco and alcohol tax increases. The increases are part of a package to help the state close a deficit of about $750 million. 

Tony Cenicola / Michael Moss

For decades, food companies have been deliberately bumping up the salt, sugar and fat levels in processed foods to get us hooked. And those unhealthy foods have played a big part in our current epidemic of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. So argues Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Moss in his 2013 book “Salt, Sugar and Fat: How The Food Giants Got Us Hooked.” KCUR caught up with Moss recently when the author was in town to speak at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Danny Danko / Flickr--CC

The case of a medical marijuana activist in Garden City who lost custody of her son after the boy spoke up at a school anti-drug event has stirred legalization advocates.

Shona Banda had a custody hearing Monday after police went to her home and seized suspected marijuana that she said she used to treat her Crohn’s disease. She was stripped of custody, at least temporarily, and may yet face charges.

Banda previously lived in Colorado, where marijuana is legal not only for medical use but for recreational use as well.

Garden City is only about an hour’s drive from the Colorado border but a world away in terms of state marijuana laws. In Kansas, possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony on the second offense.

Legislative efforts to change that have gained little traction in recent years, with broad-based medical marijuana legalization bills generally not even getting a hearing.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Sherri Calderwood’s Obamacare story isn’t unique.

It’s probably similar to those that could be told by many of the nearly 100,000 Kansans who have so far purchased coverage in the Affordable Care Act marketplace known as healthcare.gov.

Calderwood looked into signing up for an Obamacare plan during the first enrollment period but concluded she and her husband couldn’t afford it. 

Chris Potter / StockMonkeys.com

Doctors in Kansas City rake in more money from pharmaceutical companies than physicians in any other U.S. city, according to a survey by BetterDoctor.com.

The San Francisco-based company, a web and mobile-based physician search service, found that Kansas City doctors were paid an average of $2,945 by drug makers, the most in the nation.

Tyler, Texas, physicians were just behind, at $2,679, while Dallas doctors took in the next biggest amount – although, at $1,574, they were paid little more than half the KC average. No. 8 were Columbia, Missouri, physicians, who received average payments of nearly $841.

Cody Newill / KCUR

Hundreds of uninsured citizens flooded into Bartle Hall in Kansas City Saturday for one reason: to see a doctor.

The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics collaborated with KC C.A.R.E. to bring 1,300 doctors, nurses and other volunteers to the city for a one-day free clinic.

The most common ailments doctors saw were high blood pressure, complications due to diabetes and severe dental problems. 

AP Photo

The public should expect to see significant evolutions in Medicare and Medicaid in coming years, a national health care expert told a Kansas City audience Friday.

Genevieve M. Kenney of the Urban Institute said an inevitable component of Medicare’s need to save money will be talk about raising the eligibility age. The current age of eligibility is 65, but life expectancy has increased since enactment of the program 50 years ago.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Approximately 350 low-income families will be dropped from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program after a new welfare reform measure takes effect July 1, state officials said Thursday.

The measure, signed into law Thursday by Gov. Sam Brownback, lowers families’ lifetime eligibility for TANF from 48 months to 36.

Families that have reached or exceeded the 36-month threshold when the law takes effect will be cut from the program. They will remain eligible for food stamps but will lose their cash assistance.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Over a span of a dozen years, the University of Kansas Cancer Center estimates that philanthropists, taxpayers and other funders will plow about $1.3 billion into its effort to become one of the nation’s most elite cancer-fighting institutions.

In fact, nearly half that sum is already out the door, spent mostly in the run-up to the 2012 announcement that the KU Cancer Center had become the only institution within hundreds of miles to earn recognition through the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he intends to sign a controversial welfare bill despite concerns from those who work with poor Kansans about whether the restrictions it imposes are realistic or enforceable.

The governor will sign the bill at a Thursday morning media event featuring former welfare recipients who obtained jobs with help from a state training program.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A group of men in the vanguard of a new model of housing for chronically homeless people with mental illnesses sat around a small conference table eating pizza recently in Leavenworth.

It was the monthly social gathering for residents of the Marion Apartments, a single-story, 10-unit complex just off Main Street.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas health authorities say four additional people have tested positive for tuberculosis out of 70 tested last week at Olathe Northwest High School. 

The tests were conducted after a student came down with the infection last month. More than 300 people were tested shortly afterward and 27 tested positive for the disease.

The latest tests were done after officials found additional people who may have had contact with the student.

Being infected isn’t the same as having the disease, whose symptoms include fever, night sweats, coughing and weight loss.

Chris Potter / StockMonkeys.com

Missouri claimed nearly $35 million in unallowable Medicaid reimbursements after failing to comply with requirements under Medicaid’s drug rebate program, an audit released Tuesday found.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia cover prescription drugs under the program, which helps offset the costs of outpatient prescription drugs for Medicaid patients.

KHI News Service file photo

Paul Davis, a Lawrence attorney and former Democratic state representative who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kansas last year, is leading a class action lawsuit against one of the three health insurance companies that administer Kansas Medicaid.

Davis’ firm, Fagan Emert & Davis, is seeking plaintiffs from the pool of Medicaid recipients whose care is coordinated by Amerigroup, one of three companies that received state contracts to run Medicaid through the state’s KanCare managed care program.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

States that opted to use the federal health insurance marketplace instead of establishing one of their own can’t restrict the ability of certified navigators to help consumers, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely affirms an earlier ruling by a federal district court that blocked implementation of a Missouri law.

Mark Hillary / Flickr -- Creative Commons

Hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in Kansas are part of an ongoing national conflict over “observational stays” that can leave the facilities and Medicare patients on the hook for uncovered rehabilitation costs after they leave the hospital.

The conflict revolves around Medicare’s “three-day rule,” which requires a person to be admitted to the hospital on an inpatient basis for at least three days in order to qualify for inpatient rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility, covered by Medicare, after they’re discharged.

Bridgit Bowden / Heartland Health Monitor

If you have cancer – and your dog has cancer – it turns out you may be treated with the exact same drugs.

Dr. Carolyn Henry, a veterinary oncologist at the University of Missouri veterinary school, says that, unlike lab mice, dogs get cancer naturally, just like humans. So their cancers are more likely to behave like human cancer when treated.

“It’s the same disease, it really doesn’t matter what the species is,” Henry says. “It’s the same disease if it occurs naturally. And so, answers in one species should translate to answers in other species in many cases.”

Elle Moxley / KCUR

It's a common problem for mail order pharmacies such as Overland Park-based OptumRX – patients will return prescription drugs, unopened.

"Let's say when their physician changed their prescription, they forgot to to notify us that the original cycle of medications they were on needed to change," says Tim Wicks, CEO of OptumRX.

Usually, those returned prescriptions end up in the trash.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

A cancer diagnosis is often the beginning of a life-or-death struggle. Patients want to go into that fight armed with the most powerful weapons available.

In many cases, that involves treatments still in their experimental stages that are only available through clinical trials, which are typically found at academic medical centers. But the University of Kansas Cancer Center has created a partnership to bring those options closer to home for rural Kansans.

An agreement between the University of Kansas and Children’s Mercy will strengthen research, education and clinical ties between the institutions in oncology and beyond, officials said Wednesday at a signing ceremony.

“This just makes so much sense,” said Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC). “It also is the best thing for our kids, and that is what has to drive all of this.”

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Shortly after a massive twister struck his city in May 2011, Joplin, Missouri, resident Brandon McCoy described what he saw during what turned out to be one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history.

“Standing on the sixth floor, I was trying to help a woman out of some debris, and you look outside and, just, everything’s gone,” he told NPR at the time. “Everything. And nobody knew what happened.”

The tornado left a wide swath of destruction in its wake. One hundred fifty-eight people died. Property damage was catastrophic.  

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

A Kansas City, Kan., facility meant to improve emergency mental health care was lauded by state officials, mental health service providers and law enforcement officials at a first-anniversary celebration Tuesday.

Rainbow Services Inc. opened April 7, 2014, to provide stabilization services for mental health or substance abuse emergencies. The facility near the University of Kansas Medical Center previously housed the Rainbow Mental Health Facility, a former state mental hospital.

Updated, 4:27 p.m.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt has the right to intervene in two cases challenging Missouri’s execution protocol.

Flynt had sought to unseal judicial records in the cases, but a federal judge found that Flynt’s “generalized interest” did not justify intervention.

In reversing that decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge applied the wrong legal standard.

Wikimedia -- Creative Commons

Children’s Mercy Hospital said late Monday that it has joined a consortium organized through the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Children’s Mercy joins the University of Kansas and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., as the third member of the NCI Consortium, according to Children’s Mercy spokeswoman Melissa Novak.

The institutions will provide more details at a news conference Wednesday at Children’s Mercy, she said.

For years, Missouri has been the only state in the country that doesn’t monitor prescription drugs, but that may be about to change.

The Missouri Senate on Thursday, by a 24-10 vote, approved a bill that would create a drug monitoring program that addresses some of the privacy concerns raised by opponents. The vote marked the first time the Senate has approved such a program.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families has responded to a “whistleblower” lawsuit filed by a former child protection worker who accused the agency of firing her after she called her supervisor’s attention to false reports filed by a social worker.

In its response, filed this week in Cowley County District Court, DCF said that because the child protection worker, Karen King, did not share her concerns with a legislator or an auditor, she is not entitled to whistleblower protection.

Rep. Don Hill, a Republican from Emporia, introduced a bill last year that would have raised the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack.

The bill died in the House Taxation Committee, where the chairman, Rep. Richard Carlson, a Republican from St. Marys, did not deem it worthy of a hearing.

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