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.

Next year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City will leave the individual health care marketplace in Missouri that was set up under the Affordable Care Act. And when it does, about 18,000 patients in 25 western Missouri counties will lose their health insurance. If those enrollees sign on to Healthcare.gov this fall to buy a replacement plan, they may have no options to choose from.

That's because those 25 counties could become "bare."

Bryan Thompson / Kansas News Service

When evening falls, Brian Hunt makes his way to a comfortable chair in a sun room on the south side of his house near La Cygne, Kansas. But he’s not settling in to relax. He’s going to work.

Kaiser Family Foundation

Just 31 percent of Kansans and 32 percent of Missourians support the House-approved bill to repeal Obamacare, according to new estimates published Wednesday in The New York Times

In fact, not one state has a majority of residents who are for the measure, with support ranging from a low of 22 percent in Massachusetts (Washington, D.C., is even lower at 16 percent) to a high of 38 percent in Oklahoma, according to the estimates.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

In 2001, Terrie Huntington’s younger sister began showing symptoms of dementia. She was 48 years old and was a funeral director in Clearwater, Kansas. She started having trouble figuring out the numbers on her computer keyboard.

“She also had other diseases, fibromyalgia and arthritis, and was taking medication and she thought, ‘Perhaps I’m not taking the right medication, it's making me forgetful,’” Huntington says.

Huntington says her sister eventually lost the ability to dial a phone or use the dials on a washing machine.

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Kansas scores 15th among the 50 states for overall child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 “Kids Count” report.

The state’s relatively high overall ranking is driven by its No. 7 ranking for kids’ economic well-being, based on indicators like housing affordability and employment security for parents.

But the state fares less well in three other categories: health, in which the foundation ranks it 20th; education, 26th; and family and community,  23rd.

Three weeks after Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City said it will pull out of the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018, Centene Corp. says it plans to offer coverage through the exchange in Missouri and Kansas.

The St. Louis-based insurer already has a presence in both states administering Medicaid plans, but the move to sell individual and small group health plans is new.

Two national child advocacy organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Social Services, alleging that children in the state’s foster care system are over-prescribed psychotropic medications with little oversight.

“They’re prescribed off-label, to control behaviors,” said Bill Grimm, an attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, which filed the lawsuit on Monday. “While many other states have instituted some sort of oversight … Missouri has very little to none of those safeguards in place.”

The suit seeks class action status. State officials declined comment, citing pending litigation.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens on Monday said a special session of the legislature was a necessary response to abortion measures adopted recently by “radical politicians” in St. Louis.

Greitens made the  comments after signing the Real ID bill, ensuring that Missourians can use their driver’s licenses to board planes and enter military bases and federal buildings.

Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences

Joplin city leaders and school officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Kansas City University of Medicine and Bioscience campus on Tuesday.

Built near the site of what was the parking lot of the old Saint John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed in a 2011 tornado that killed 161 people, the new medical school was described as a “phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

By the time Stephenie Hashmi of Lenexa, Kansas, was in her mid-20s, she had achieved a lifelong dream: She was the charge nurse at one of Kansas City’s largest intensive care units. But even as she cared for patients, she realized something was off with her own health.

“I remember just feeling tired and feeling sick and hurting, and not knowing why my joints and body was hurting,” Hashmi says.

Hashmi was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.

Elana Gordon / KCUR 89.3

The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department has awarded Kansas City-based Cerner Corp. a contract to create its electronic health record system.

VA Secretary David Shulkin on Monday announced the contract, which was awarded without competitive bidding under a “public interest” exception to federal contracting regulations.

The contract comes after Cerner won a $4.3 billion contract in 2015 to update the Department of Defense’s electronic health record system.  

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

Olathe native Tim Gronniger served as a top official with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Obama administration. Currently a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, he also was a senior adviser for health care policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council, a senior staff member for Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, and an analyst with the Congressional Budget Office.

Elementary school kids form a line behind their teacher as they prepare to tour the House chamber in the Missouri Capitol building.

Statistically, about one in every nine of these kids will have a major depressive episode between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

State lawmakers, who draft laws that regulate and fund many mental health programs, just wrapped up their 2017 session.

More than half of Missouri’s counties don’t have a licensed psychiatrist, and nearly half don’t have a licensed psychologist.  

Until a few years ago, Addie Blankenship saw herself as a relatively healthy mom of three. She didn’t recognize that she was exhibiting symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—a mental condition that leads to obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

“So I would spend hours and hours washing things. Or I would have a thought that something may be on my clothes, so I would change my clothes every time I’d have a bad thought, which sometimes was 10 times a day. Sometimes more,” Blankenship said.

Barb Fleming had built a small business selling tableware and wedding gifts. But that career nearly came crashing down around her in 2008, when her doctor found a lump in her breast. 

Months later, Fleming, of Bel-Nor, in St. Louis County, would find herself in Missouri's high-risk pool: a pricey, state-managed insurance plan that covered people with pre-existing conditions. The programs were phased out by the Affordable Care Act, but could return in the sweeping health care proposal passed this month by House Republicans.

Drive down a dirt road in Dallas County, under a thick canopy of walnut trees and over three cattle guards, and you’ll come to Rachel Harrison’s home in Windyville, Missouri.  

A few years ago, Harrison was using her Bachelor’s degree in biology in a hospital laboratory.

“I was a generalist, which means I was in charge of urinalysis, chemistry, special chemistry, hematology, blood banking, coagulation, I think I got it all—phlebotomy, all that kind of stuff,” Harrison said.

But at age 25, she began to hear what sounded like people talking.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City announced on Wednesday that it will not offer individual plans on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges next year The move will affect about 67,000 people across 30 counties in Missouri and two counties in Kansas

“Through 2016 we have lost more than  $100 million [on ACA plans],” the company’s CEO Danette Wilson said in a release. “This is unsustainable for our company.”


UMKC

Some of Kansas City’s largest health organizations announced on Friday the launch of a collaboration centered on Hospital Hill.

The “UMKC Health Sciences District” includes the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Truman Medical Centers, Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, among other partners.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

This story was updated at 3:12 p.m. to include a statement from Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. 

A federal judge has denied Missouri’s request to stay his order blocking two statewide abortion restrictions, making clear he takes a dim view of the state’s arguments.

In a three-page ruling on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs rejected out of hand Missouri’s claim that the restrictions protect abortion patients’ health.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Inside a yoga studio in midtown Kansas City, Ayurvedic medicine practitioner Sarah Kucera does a consultation for a client.

In some ways, the consultation isn’t that different from a regular doctor’s checkup. Kucera asks about the patient’s health history, diet and exercise regimen while typing notes on a laptop.

But there are differences. The Ayurvedic remedies that Kucera prescribes are mostly plant-based – things like herbs and oils which are thought to be beneficial to various parts of the body.

wp paarz / Flickr — CC

As expected, Missouri has appealed a federal judge’s ruling blocking two abortion restrictions enacted by the Legislature in 2007.

Attorney General Josh Hawley had said he would appeal the preliminary injunction entered by U.S District Judge Howard Sachs last week.

The injunction blocks Missouri’s laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and abortion clinics to be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

With a Monday deadline approaching, it isn’t clear whether all of the health insurance companies now participating in the Affordable Care Act marketplace in Kansas will continue in 2018.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s largest health insurer, has made a preliminary decision to continue and has filed initial paperwork with the Kansas Insurance Department, said Mary Beth Chambers, a company spokeswoman.

Intropin / Wikimedia Commons

Another major pharmacy chain in Missouri now offers naloxone, the potentially lifesaving drug that prevents opioid overdose deaths, to Missourians without a prescription.

Hy-Vee announced Wednesday it will now sell the drug to customers in Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Dakota.

Guttmacher Institute

Along with Texas, Kansas leads the nation when it comes to imposing abortion restrictions not supported by scientific evidence, according to a report by a leading abortion rights organization.

Something for Missourians and Kansans to consider when they consider the effects of the measure approved by the House to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act:

Both states are among the 11 with the highest levels of adults under age 65 with pre-existing medical conditions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Thirty percent of people living in both Kansas and Missouri have a pre-existing condition.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

The University of Kansas Health System and a Tennessee-based for-profit hospital chain have agreed to rescue a troubled Topeka hospital despite possible changes in federal health policy that could hurt Kansas providers.

Officials from the KU Health System and Ardent Health Services, the nation’s second-largest privately owned for-profit hospital chain, announced Thursday that they had signed a letter of intent to acquire St. Francis Health.

Bryan Thompson / Kansas News Service

Doctors and nurses are obviously essential to any primary care medical team. But when it comes to managing a chronic health condition, a social worker could be the most valuable player from the patient’s perspective.

That’s what some Medicare patients in and around the small northwest Kansas town of Plainville have been discovering since January of last year.

House Republicans approved their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

Here's a rundown of key provisions in the American Health Care Act and what would happen if the Senate approves them and the bill becomes law.

Buying insurance

Joseph Morris / Wikimedia Commons

This post was updated at 1:38 p.m. on Thursday.

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve the American Health Care Act, touted by the GOP and President Donald Trump as a better alternative to President Obama's signature health care effort, the Affordable Care Act. The final vote, 217 - 213. All 193 Democrats in the House, joined by 20 Republicans, opposed the bill. 

File Photo / KCUR 89.3

Planned Parenthood Great Plains plans to move quickly to offer abortion services in Kansas City and Columbia, Missouri, now that a judge has blocked two Missouri abortion restrictions that had prevented it from doing so.

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