Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots in tracking the policies, issues and and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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State officials will need to find an additional $40 million to meet rising KanCare costs in the current budget year, according to caseload estimates compiled by the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department.

KanCare is the name of the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Also, an anticipated increase in the number of children in the foster care system will require an additional $10.2 million in state funding in the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Children's Mercy Hospital

About 3,000 infants are born each year with single-ventricle heart defects.

While that’s a relatively small number, for the newborns’ families the diagnosis can be devastating, says Dr. Girish Shirali, co-director of the Ward Family Heart Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

“It’s very difficult for families, because nobody expects this. So it kind of comes like a bolt from the blue,” he says.

A federal agency has sent notice that Medicare payments to overcrowded Osawatomie State Hospital will be terminated, but state officials say they will address concerns before the deadline and avoid the termination.

Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said Tuesday that she was aware of the termination notice from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But she said the state has until Dec. 8 to correct deficiencies and will do so.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

 

Sherry Calderwood wishes she could turn back the clock.

Last fall, she and her husband decided not to purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace because it cost too much.

RELATED STORY: Kansas City Groups Target Hard-To-Reach For Health Insurance 

Cockroaches, mold and mouse feces at Kauffman stadium food stands: Those were some of the food safety violations that Aramark district food safety manager Jon Costa related to ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" television program in a segment that aired on Friday. 

Costa, whom the Philadelphia-based company has since placed on paid administrative leave,  also voiced his concerns about food safety at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums to the Kansas City, Mo., health department on Nov. 3.

Phil Cauthon

 

The man who shepherded Kansas' prescription drug tracking program through a software upgrade is resigning after a little more than a year on the job.

Marty Singleton, director of the Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances system,  said in a phone interview that he is stepping down due to "personal health issues."

“I met with my doctor," Singleton said. "Been down this road before, and it’s better just to nip it in the bud.”

Two Kansas City-area companies that challenged the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraception mandate won’t be required to cover birth control as part of their employees’ health care plans.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, Senior U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith on Wednesday barred federal officials from enforcing the requirement against Randy Reed Automotive Inc. and Sioux Chief Manufacturing Co.

The Kansas House member who last session championed a bill that expanded insurance coverage for autism treatment said it may be adjusted in the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who was re-elected last week, said he will propose changes to House Bill 2744, which was a compromise struck between insurance companies and autism treatment advocates.

Courtesy

Over the years, physicians at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics have developed substantial expertise in caring for patients before and after they receive heart transplants.

But now the hospital can provide the full spectrum of care to these children, following approval last week for it to perform such transplants itself.

The go-ahead came from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit group that oversees organ allocation and transplant programs under contract with the federal government.

State revenue forecasters said Monday that the state can expect hundreds of millions of budget dollars less than previously thought to fund schools, social programs and highway projects.

KHI News Service

Dr. Robert Moser has resigned as secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

His resignation will be effective at the end of the month.

Moser broke the news to the agency’s staff late Monday afternoon in an email.

“I am stepping down from my current position as KDHE secretary and state health officer effective the end of November,” Moser said.

Moser said “it was a hard decision” to leave the state’s public health and Medicaid agency.

“However, it is the right time for me and my family to look at other opportunities,” he said.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

 

Kansas hospitals are moving ahead with plans to put a Medicaid expansion plan before lawmakers despite election results that returned Gov. Sam Brownback to office and solidified conservatives’ control of the Legislature.

Democrat Paul Davis favored expansion but came up short in his bid to upset Brownback, a Republican who thus far has opposed expansion. Also, several Democratic House members who likely would have favored expansion lost narrowly to GOP challengers.

Department of Health and Human Services

Many health experts say that, to save money and improve care, the United States needs to get past paper records and frequent visits to the doctor.

And to encourage the switch to standardized electronic records, the federal government has begun offering incentives to providers.

But the push to innovate has been met with some resistance. Dr. Jacob Reider is deputy national coordinator of  health information technology for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Kansans voted to retain two Kansas Supreme Court justices under fire for their decision to overturn the death sentences of two brothers in one of the most notorious murder cases in the state’s history.

The two, Justice Eric S. Rosen and Justice Lee A. Johnson, were appointed to the court by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Kansas Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but stand for retention by voters at the end of their six-year terms.

Salina voters rejected an effort to remove fluoride from their drinking water Tuesday by a 2-to-1 margin, halting a growing anti-fluoride movement.

The city's dentists and doctors led the charge, and unofficial results showed 6,392 Salinans voting against the measure to remove fluoride and only 3,091 voting in favor.

Cerner Corp., the high-tech company based in North Kansas City, Mo., may be at the forefront of the electronic health records industry, but at its annual health conference Monday, a behavioral health executive said innovations in health care don’t necessarily have to be as advanced as the solutions developed by Cerner.

Speaking on a panel that addressed coordinating care across multiple platforms, Karen Suddath of Wyandot Inc. said her organization had improved its coordination of care simply by checking a website every morning for booking records at the local jail.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

When Alan and Cindy Reed started devoting their evenings and weekends to going door-to-door to talk with their Salina neighbors about an upcoming vote on water fluoridation, they considered avoiding houses with the blue “Stop Fluoride” signs.

Poverty is a political issue in Kansas.

Gov. Sam Brownback campaigned in 2010 on a platform that included as one of its main goals reducing childhood poverty.  And since taking office, he has aggressively pursued that goal. But he’s done it his way.

Only three Kansas City area hospitals received grades of A in the latest hospital safety report card issued by The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit group founded by large employers that aims to improve hospital quality and safety.

The three — Belton Regional Medical Center, Research Medical Center and Shawnee Mission Medical Center — were among 19 area hospitals surveyed by Leapfrog. Five of the hospitals received grades of B and the rest got C’s.

A once-obscure effort by a group of states to get out from under federal health care regulations has become an issue in the final days of the Kansas governor’s race.

KDHE Surveyors Sent To Osawatomie State Hospital

Oct 30, 2014

State officials on Wednesday confirmed reports that surveyors with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment were dispatched last week to Osawatomie State Hospital, and that the surveyors in turn summoned the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Sara Belfry, a KDHE spokesperson, said the nature of the surveyors’ concerns will not be made public until after survey findings are reviewed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a process that’s likely to take several days.

A lawsuit alleging that one of the for-profit companies running KanCare ordered employees to shift KanCare members away from high-cost providers has put a renewed spotlight on the program, one of the Brownback administration’s signature achievements.

In the lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., a former official of the company, Sunflower State Health Plan Inc., claimed she was fired after she objected to the directive, saying it was unethical and possibly illegal.

Rep. Jim Ward is a Wichita Democrat whose party loyalty has rarely been questioned, but even he says his party is likely to pick up only a few House seats in next week's election.

But he said a few Democratic victories coupled with a few more by Republican moderates might be enough to swing the chamber currently controlled by conservative Republicans more toward the middle.

“I think three or four votes would give us a working majority, at least on some of the big stuff,” Ward said.

The top-of-the-ticket races may be commanding the most attention in this year’s Kansas election, but significant issues also are in play in some of the down-ballot contests.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Making the rounds at a public housing complex in Kansas City, Kan., community health worker Rinzin Wangmo is greeted by cheery voices and faces.

As she enters a home, the heavy aroma of chopped onions stings her nose, and she hurries up a short flight of stairs to escape the burn. After gently knocking on a door, she walks in to meet with a woman who’s bedridden with pain. 

The woman’s condition is not unusual among Bhutanese refugees, according to University of Kansas professor Dr. Joe LeMaster.

Mike Sherry / Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT

 

As reformers work on making the U.S. health care system more efficient, they’re also looking to improve communication with consumers – whether it’s ensuring they understand the nuances of insurance or grasping instructions from a doctor.

The concept is known as “health literacy,” and the notion extends beyond the written or spoken word, Dan Reus, a St. Louis business consultant, argued Friday at a health literacy summit in downtown Kansas City, Mo.

People also need to understand the ever-increasing electronic data that make up their medical records, he said.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

 

About 6 percent of eligible adults took advantage of new dental coverage offered under KanCare in the first year of the managed care Medicaid program.

The switch to managed care Medicaid administered by three private companies extended basic dental cleanings to more than 130,000 adults ages 19 to 64.

According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment statistics, about 7,600 adults had a cleaning paid for by one of the managed care companies in 2013.

Mike Sherry / Hale Center for Journalism at KCPT

A talented athlete, Kylee Bliss might have been a scholarship basketball player at a small college.

As a sophomore point guard at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kan., she practiced hard and had a real feel for the game. That changed after she sustained two concussions on the court in the span of eight weeks nearly three years ago.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

 

     

Which of the following is true?

  • The Affordable Care Act has provided thousands of low-income Kansas with greater access to affordable health insurance.
  • A looming ACA mandate has caused some Kansas employers to hire fewer full-time workers and instead fill positions with part-time employees.
  • The combination of reductions in Medicare rates and the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility has put Kansas hospitals in a financial bind.

The correct answer is “all of the above.”

The Kansas Health Care Association and Kansas Advocates for Better Care don’t usually see eye to eye on much.

KHCA, which represents the state’s for-profit nursing homes, is quick to argue against passing laws that might increase their costs or add to their regulatory burden.

KABC typically says the state doesn’t do enough to improve conditions in poor-performing nursing homes and advocates for tighter regulation.

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