Kansas News Service | KCUR

Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots regarding the policies, issues 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. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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A new report analyzing health plan enrollment through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace shows that most people who signed up — about 70 percent — are paying less than $100 a month for coverage after their advance tax credits are accounted for and nearly half those who enrolled are paying less than $50 per month.

Anna Gorman / Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News

As soon as Deb Emerson, a former high school teacher from Oroville, Calif., bought a health plan in January through the state’s insurance exchange, she felt overwhelmed.

She couldn’t figure out what was covered and what wasn’t. Why weren’t her anti-depressant medications included?  Why did she have to pay $60 to see a doctor? The insurance jargon - deductible, co-pay, premium, co-insurance - was like a foreign language. What did it mean?

Kansas Hospital Association

It’s make-or-break time for advocates of Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

Fearing that political events may be conspiring to foreclose the opportunity to use mostly federal dollars to extend coverage to thousands of uninsured poor adults, the Kansas Hospital Association is preparing to shift its lobbying campaign into high gear.

The first step, says Tom Bell, the association’s chief executive, will be to craft an expansion proposal for lawmakers to consider in the 2015 session.

VA Rural Health Care Pilot Under The Gun In Kansas

Jun 17, 2014

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran says a Veterans Administration pilot program offering timely quality health care to rural veterans is being allowed to expire in a few months, even though VA officials tell members of Congress no decision has been made.

Moran and four of his colleagues sent a letter to the VA Secretary seeking an explanation. 

The pilot program, called Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH, is offered through five pilot sites across the country, including one in Pratt, Kan.

Unlike its neighboring states of Missouri and Nebraska, where significant decreases have been reported, Kansas has seen a significant jump in the number of people enrolled in its Medicaid/CHIP programs, even without loosening its relatively tight eligibility standards.

According to a new report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, enrollment in the programs — together branded as KanCare — rose in April to a historic high of 426,642 people, or roughly one in seven Kansans. That’s up from 396,374 in April 2013.

file photo

The Topeka Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center has not been implicated in the waiting-list scandal unfolding across the country.

But on Friday, two Republican members of the Kansas congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, said their offices have fielded numerous complaints from veterans in recent months about long-standing appointments being canceled or rescheduled at the last minute.

Wichita-area doctors and hospitals have adopted a pre-surgery checklist designed to make the city’s operating rooms among the safest in the nation.

“If you go to the Hospital Compare website and look at ‘antibiotic prophylaxis ordered’ under ‘procedures and core measures,’ you’ll see that we’re at 99-plus percent,” says Dr. Randall Morgan, an obstetrician and chair of the Wichita Quality Health Collaborative’s Surgical Safety Committee.

Kansas Hospital Association

The chief executives of  the Missouri and Kansas hospital associations say thousands of uninsured veterans would be eligible for coverage if Medicaid were expanded in those states. 

In an opinion piece that ran in The Kansas City Star on Tuesday, they estimated that more than 37,000 veterans in Missouri and Kansas would qualify for Medicaid coverage under expansion.

KHI News Service

Providers of home and community-based (HCBS) Medicaid services and their state overseers are preparing for a raft of new federal rules that are intended to assure that the people who receive the services have more say in how they are helped and that their living conditions are “non-institutional.”

The regulations could have major consequences for many beneficiaries and the businesses and organizations that help them, particularly for some senior care providers who operate assisted living facilities attached to or in near proximity to nursing homes.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

For months, Kansas City resident Cherie Fishback has been writing letters to the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of her boyfriend, Lee Murphy, who last year had to have emergency gallbladder surgery.

Cathy Mores / KHI News Service

The number of Kansas children in foster care has reached an all-time high. The explanations why vary.

In April, there were 6,156 children in the system. That’s 356 more children than in April 2013 and 872 more than two years earlier.

Dona Booe, chief executive of the Kansas Children's Service League, sees the escalating numbers as evidence of a building crisis.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Kansas Health Foundation President Steve Coen was blunt and to the point.

“Kansas is sick,” Coen said in opening remarks Thursday at the foundation’s 2014 Health Symposium in Wichita. “Something has gone seriously wrong in the state of Kansas, and we’ve got to do something to get it back on track.”

Coen’s diagnosis was based on the 2013 health rankings compiled by the United Health Foundation, which listed Kansas as the 27th healthiest state in the nation.

Kansans Gather To Address Sliding Health Ranking

Jun 6, 2014

Rankings from the United Health Foundation show Kansas is on a long, steady decline — from 8th healthiest state in 1991 to 27th in 2013.

To address the problem, health officials from all over the state are spending two days in Wichita at the Kansas Health Foundation Symposium. The event is a call to action to make Kansans healthier.

"That is the purpose of this conference—to spark the discussion to help us reverse this horrible trend in Kansas," said Kansas Health Foundation President and CEO Steve Coen, summarizing the need for the symposium.

Mike Sherry / KCPT - Hale Center for Journalism.

After only two weeks as the new CEO of Kansas City’s safety-net hospital system, John Bluford called an emergency 6:30 a.m. meeting of the Truman Medical Centers board.

After assurances that he was not going to quit, Bluford told the board members, “I understood when I took this position that the system was broken. It’s not broken. It’s structurally defective.” And that, he said, “was the baseline we started from.”

Courtesy / Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has chosen a new president and chief executive officer to succeed Peter Brownlie, who retired two months ago.

Laura McQuade has served for the past six years as chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York. The organization more than doubled its budget and staff during her tenure, according to a news release announcing her appointment.

 In Kansas last year, more than 4,800 women smoked cigarettes during their pregnancies, according to a preliminary summary of birth statistics released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The finding means that in 2013, about one in every eight births - 12.5 percent - involved mothers who smoked for at least three months shortly before or during their pregnancies.

Mercy Health / Flickr-CC

Considering a major joint replacement?

If you check into the University of Kansas Hospital, you might be charged more than $115,000. But if you go to Olathe Medical Center just 22 miles down the road, you’re apt to be billed just over $50,000.

Coping with renal failure? At Truman Medical Center, the bill is likely to add up to more than $14,000. But at Research Medical Center, a mere six miles distant, it’s more likely to come to $48,000.

Jeffery Beall / CC

Despite assurances to the contrary, the VA hospital in Wichita kept a secret waiting list for patients. The hospital's director revealed that information Friday in a message to Kansas Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.

Roberts told the Wichita Eagle he was not happy to see that message just hours after he’d met with officials of the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, who assured him the hospital was doing just fine. But one patient of the Wichita VA facility says the news is no surprise.

file photo

The inaugural edition of a Heritage Foundation news site features an interview with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback explaining “how Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion hurts states.”

The interview is featured in the Daily Signal, a new online publication “supported by the resources and intellectual firepower” of the foundation, which describes its mission as promoting “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.”

University of Missouri - Kansas City

About 75 percent of kidney transplant recipients fail to properly take the medications they need to stay healthy, says Cynthia Russell, a professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies.

After receiving a transplant, patients - many of whom previously needed kidney dialysis – typically feel healthy and often simply forget to take medications as needed twice a day.

“They are active. They are feeling good. They are just living normal lives,” Russell says.

Robot Helps Save The Day At Rural Hospital

Jun 3, 2014
Hamilton County Hospital

Some small, rural Kansas hospitals are using highly sophisticated medical robots in ways that are helping ease the shortage of specialists in their areas and - in at least one instance - boosting the bottom line.

Hamilton County Hospital, in Syracuse, Kan., was on the brink of closing little more than a year ago because of financial and staffing problems, but use of a robot has been a key factor in the facility’s dramatic turnaround, according to chief executive Bryan Coffey.

Judy Foreman, a nationally recognized expert on chronic pain and its effect on the nation’s health care system, will speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main St., Kansas City, Mo.

Foreman, a Boston-based science writer and a nationally syndicated health columnist, is the author of the book “A Nation in Pain,” an in-depth look at how pain is perceived – and misperceived - and treated in the United States.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Supporters of expanding Kansas Medicaid eligibility to more low-income adults rallied Friday at the Statehouse to call attention to the issue as legislators formally ended the 2014 session.

The federal health reform law initially required states to expand Medicaid eligibility. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2012 that upheld the law made expansion optional for states.

Kansas City ranks No. 4 among cities in the United States in access residents have to quality doctors and hospitals, according to a report released by Vitals, a website that collects data on doctors and provider quality.

The report considered provider-to-resident ratios, doctor quality, ease of getting an appointment and wait times.

Dave Ranney / KHI News Service

The father of a combat veteran who says that mental illness played a role in his son’s bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps is asking Kansas legislators to introduce a bill aimed at reducing the likelihood that a mentally ill veteran would spend time in jail or prison instead of being treated.

Alex Smith / KCUR

The older you get, the more complicated and expensive health care becomes. A study from the National Institutes of Health shows that half the money that’s spent on Americans’ health is spent on care after age 65.

That’s why changes to the health system – like the Affordable Care Act and Medicare reform — can be especially concerning to older people.

Alex Smith / KCUR

For fifteen-year-old Antonio Franco, going out to something like a baseball game can be complicated, even dangerous.

“I accidently ate the wrong kind of cookie,” he says, remembering a severe allergic reaction. “We ended up having to rush to the hospital.”

Franco is one of an increasing number of children and teenagers who have severe food allergies, especially to peanuts. Because peanuts and foods containing peanut traces are so common, these kids and their parents are often limited in where they can go for fun.

Dave Ranney / KHI News Service

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday announced that his administration will spend an additional $9.5 million on services for the mentally ill in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“This is a major, important issue,” Brownback said during an afternoon press conference at the Statehouse.

Most of new money - $7 million – will come from the state’s federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant.

The remainder will come from other sources including:

Wikimedia / CC

Kraig Moore is one of the patients helping test experimental cancer treatments through a clinical trials program operated by the Wichita-based Cancer Center of Kansas. The 47-year-old psychologist, who also operates a bed-and-breakfast near Mulvane, Kan., was diagnosed last January with stage 3b metastatic malignant melanoma.

Wyandotte Health Foundation

The Wyandotte Health Foundation has named a veteran of the regional safety-net health system as its next leader.

The foundation board announced Thursday the hiring of Cathy Harding, who since 2007 has served as executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, the Primary Care Association of Kansas in Topeka.