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.

A Senate committee on Thursday learned that a bill proposing that the state collect a 3.5 percent fee on health insurance policies sold to Kansans on the federal government’s online marketplace could be used to force a vote on Medicaid expansion.

“I want to know if Senate Bill 309 could be a vehicle for Medicaid expansion,” Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, asked in the final minutes of the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, said the fee would generate between $18 million and $24 million annually.

The money, she said, would be deposited in a fund that would be used to offset costs associated with the state’s Medicaid program and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“We are doing this not because of the budget hole,” Pilcher-Cook said Wednesday, referring to the Legislature’s ongoing debate over how to fill a more than $400 million gap in the state’s budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

America's Health Rankings Senior Report

Kansas dropped seven places in a report assessing which states are the healthiest for seniors while Missouri moved up one spot.

The third edition of the United Health Foundation’s “America’s Health Rankings Senior Report” rated Kansas 24th in overall health for seniors and Missouri 38th.

The report looked at 35 measures of senior health in categories including behavior, community and environment, policy, clinical care and health outcomes.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that Missouri had levied its largest fine ever for insurance law violations against two Aetna companies.

Nixon said Aetna Life Insurance Co. and Aetna Health Insurance Co. had agreed to pay $4.5 million for violating a 2010 state law that requires insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

If Aetna complies with the settlement agreement, $1.5 million of the fine will be suspended, a news release from Nixon’s office said.

KHI News Service photo

Some legislators are considering the possibility of eliminating the state’s earned income tax credit in exchange for expanding its Medicaid program.

“That’s being shopped around, big time,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat.

“There’s been discussion of that, yes,” said Rep. Don Hill, an Emporia Republican.

Kelly and Hill, who serve on their respective chambers’ health and budget committees, declined to say which legislators are promoting the would-be deal.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For customers stepping inside Abarrotes Delicias, the noise, traffic and heat of the surrounding Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood seem to disappear.

The small store offers everything from tacos to snacks to money transfers – or just  an air-conditioned place to hang out and watch TV on a lazy afternoon.

Owner Graciela Martinez says she tries to provide a welcoming personal touch when serving her customers, who comprise a diverse sample of nearby residents.

A Johnson County jury rejected the claim that the Kansas City area’s biggest radiology practice violated state antitrust laws but ordered it to pay $718,500 to a prominent radiologist whom it terminated.

The jury deliberated for more than 10 hours before reaching its verdict Friday night after a trial that lasted two weeks.

Kaiser Family Foundation

Some state legislatures are moving to shield residents’ federal health insurance subsidies in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act.

The Kansas Legislature is not among them.

As Kansas lawmakers work toward a tax plan to end the 2015 session, they have not had any briefings on the King v. Burwell case, the verdict expected in June or its implications for the nearly 100,000 Kansans who purchased insurance from healthcare.gov, the online insurance exchange.

The University of Kansas Hospital

Dr. William Reed and his wife Mary have donated $1 million toward completion of an addition to The University of Kansas Hospital, KU announced on Friday.  

Reed is chairman of the hospital’s cardiovascular diseases department and helped re-establish its heart transplant program in 2012 with a $1.5 million donation. The addition, the Cambridge North Tower, is under construction just northeast of the hospital complex in Kansas City, Kan.

Creative Commons-Flickr

With tax talks stalled, the Kansas Senate spent more than an hour Thursday debating whether to expand full-strength beer sales beyond liquor stores.

The proposal, part of a long line of attempts to loosen liquor stores’ exclusive right  to sell all alcoholic products except 3.2 percent beer, failed 11-26.

Just before the Senate debated the alcohol measure, the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee shot down the latest proposal that could close a $430 million budget deficit and end the session.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Whatever someone’s route to gluten-free living might be, they soon find out it’s a bigger change than just giving up baked goods.

“It’s expensive,” says Karen Miller, a retired dietitian who helped out at the Wednesday open house of the ReNewed Health Allergy Friendly and Gluten Free Food Pantry in Overland Park, Kansas.

The boxes and bags of gluten-free flour, pasta, pancake mix and other food that line the pantry’s shelves cost two to four times as much as their gluten-rich counterparts.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has what amounts to a running feud going with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He says the agency is dragging its feet implementing a new law called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 that’s designed to help veterans in rural areas get the care they need.

But Robert McDonald, the new VA secretary, says Moran’s claims are baseless.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Health advocates are partnering with students and faculty at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design and Planning to help Wyandotte County residents make their communities more conducive to healthy living.

The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County (CHC) is leading the effort with a four-year, $1.6 million grant from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program aimed at reducing obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke in communities across the country.

A couple of items relevant to public health and the health insurance industry are in the mix as lawmakers seek a tax plan that will allow them to end the 2015 session.

Kansas legislators need to locate between $400 million and $500 million in new revenue to fund the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. As the House and Senate move toward the 90th day of the legislative session, most debate has focused on how much of that new revenue should come from rolling back income tax cuts passed in 2012  and how much should come from new sales taxes.

KHI News Service

The chairman of the Senate committee working on a plan to address the projected budget deficit in Kansas is confident that a tobacco tax increase will be a part of the final package.

However, public health advocates are concerned that the increase won’t end up being large enough to significantly lower smoking rates and reduce expenditures on smoking-related illnesses. They continue to favor a proposal that Gov. Sam Brownback announced at the beginning of the session to increase the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Health authorities say another nine people have tested positive for tuberculosis after 218 individuals were tested for the infection at Olathe Northwest High School on May 5.

All 218 had been tested previously but were retested due to their potential exposure during the second semester, the authorities said. No additional rounds of testing are planned.

A student came down with the disease in March. More than 300 people were tested shortly afterward and 27 tested positive. Another four tested positive in April.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas City-area business leaders and health executives are kicking off an effort to make mental health a priority in the workplace.

On Friday, the Mid-America Coalition on Health Care (MACHC) introduced the Right Direction Initiative, a free, ready-to-use communication campaign for businesses that want to improve the mental health of their employees.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

A medical marijuana advocacy group is collecting stories from Kansans who say they have been “persecuted” by the state’s child welfare agency for using cannabis.

Lisa Sublett, the founder of Bleeding Kansas, said the effort began after Shona Banda, a Garden City woman who uses cannabis oil to treat her Crohn’s disease, lost custody of her son after the boy spoke up at a school anti-drug presentation.

A proposal to allow prior authorizations for Medicaid reimbursements on mental health drugs passed its final legislative hurdle Friday.

The measure, which was requested by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration as part of a budget proposal and projected to save $8 million, passed the House 82-31 as part of a small health conference committee package. It passed the Senate 31-6 earlier in the week and now heads to the governor’s desk.

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

 

Accountability. It means taking responsibility for an action or result.

Lately, it’s taken on a new connotation in the field of health care. The Affordable Care Act provides a way for health care networks to get bonus payments by providing better care, and keeping Medicare patients healthier.

These Accountable Care Organizations are about to have a larger presence in Kansas.

Kansas has been slow to adopt Accountable Care Organizations, or ACOs. Fewer than 4 percent of the population is enrolled in some form of alternative payment model, like ACOs.

The Kansas House gave first-round approval by a 67-49 vote Thursday to a measure legalizing the use of low-THC marijuana oil for people with persistent seizure disorders.

Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, championed the oil legalization on behalf of Ryan and Kathy Reed, who moved to Colorado to access it for their young son, Otis.

Wilson successfully brought together House colleagues from across the political spectrum on the measure Thursday by emphasizing how much narrower it was than prior medical marijuana bills that never cleared the committee process.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Discussions about the dangers of the human papillomavirus (HPV) tend to focus on the risks it poses for cervical cancer.

But as physicians and one local survivor emphasized in a discussion after the screening of a documentary shown Wednesday in Kansas City, HPV is not only a danger to women.

“It is under-recognized as a disease of males,” said Dr. Terance Tsue, a head and neck surgeon and physician-in-chief at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

WATCH: Johnson County Seniors Drum To A Beat To 'Stay Alive'

May 7, 2015
Bridgit Bowden / KCPT

For senior citizens, a good way to get exercise is through group fitness classes like Drums Alive at the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas.

Debbie Shearer teaches the class. She says introducing exercise into senior citizens’ routines is “part of staying alive.”

“If you don’t use it, you are going to lose the ability, and you are going to become deconditioned,” Shearer says. “And when you become deconditioned, then you start falling, you start having accidents, then you lose your independence.”

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Glenn Helverson has a job that’s all about speed.

For most of the last 25 years he’s been a driver with the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District. But he’s been slowed down at times by a health issue that appeared at an early age.

“I think I first noticed signs of arthritis when I was eighteen,” Helverson says.

Today his rheumatoid arthritis pain is kept at bay with a new-generation injectable drug called Cimzia.

“Without the medications I’ve had, I probably would’ve already been retired with disability,” he says.

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Davis says he fancied himself a tough guy. So when he started exhibiting signs of odd behavior, like never opening the curtains in his house or always driving his convertible with the top down, he ignored them.

It was only after he went to jail for drunk driving, his wife left him and he lost his business that he understood he was in denial.   

Eventually he was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Less than three weeks after signing a bill that’s expected to drop 700 youngsters from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday urged more Kansas families to open their homes to abused and neglected children.

Johnson County

Johnson County was one of four communities nationwide introduced Tuesday as initial participants in a broad effort aimed at reducing the number of mentally ill individuals in local jails.

Dubbed “Stepping Up,” the initiative is a combined effort of the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the American Psychiatric Foundation.

The other participants are Washington D.C., Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Sacramento, California.

Mercy Hospital, Independence

At the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, Kansas hospital administrators signaled their willingness to talk about increasing a state assessment on their revenues to fund Medicaid expansion.

They anticipated that the state’s deteriorating budget situation would make it impossible for Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders to consider expansion without a way to pay for the state’s share of the costs.

And they anticipated that even with funding options, Medicaid expansion was a long shot to pass.

Supporters say they still hope to force floor votes on an expansion bill, although Brownback and legislative leaders remain opposed to it.

But it’s clear that hospital officials didn’t anticipate the turn of events that has put them on the defensive in the final weeks of the session.

Brownback and key lawmakers are now talking about raising the provider assessment. But they see it as a way to help balance the budget rather than fund a Medicaid expansion plan.

A closely watched antitrust case pitting a prominent Kansas City area radiologist against the area’s biggest radiology practice got underway Monday in Johnson County District Court.

Mark E. Idstrom alleges Alliance Radiology terminated him without cause in February 2012 and, because of the exclusive contracts it negotiated with area hospitals, prevented him from obtaining employment since then.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

If all it took were a few shots to virtually eliminate the chances of contracting one type of cancer, you’d think at-risk people would be lining up for treatment in droves.

There is, in fact, a three-dose regimen that experts say essentially prevents cervical cancer, which is newly diagnosed in more than 12,000 American women a year and kills about 4,000.

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