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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Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

An adult stem cell center established by the Kansas Legislature in 2013 is almost ready for its first clinical trial.

Buddhadeb Dawn, executive director of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center, told legislators Tuesday that the trial will focus on treating graft-versus-host disease and will begin after final approvals from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Bryan Thompson / KCUR 89.3

Fire crews battled hot spots overnight Tuesday in Reno County, but residents of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods were allowed back to their houses.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the county, but eight homes were destroyed.

Velera Adams and her husband got the call, along with thousands of others, to evacuate from rural Hutchinson just as night fell Monday. She said they drove to a church parking lot just outside the evacuation zone.

“And we could see the fire, all along north of there,” said Velera Adams. “It was pretty scary.”

Frank Morris / KCUR 89.3

Of course, Republicans dominate Kansas. They hold all the statewide offices, and control both houses of the Legislature.

Meantime, Kansas Democrats have just elected a younger, and more progressive chairman, John Gibson. Gibson’s a lawyer who was raised on a farm in Missouri, went to MIT, and settled in the countryside northeast of Topeka.  

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators heard testimony against physician-assisted suicide Monday from a former state representative.

“This is a direction we don’t want to go,” said Steve Brunk, a Republican who represented a Wichita-area district for 12 years. “We value life, and we don’t want to take the step of looking down this corridor where we negate the value of life and we assist people in dying.”

It’s already a felony for physicians to help patients end their lives in Kansas.

File Photo

The first weeks of the legislative session are a time for lawmakers to put forward their favorite ideas that have little chance of becoming law. In most years, that list would include changes to Medicaid, but things are different with the 2017 Kansas Legislature.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

It is not hyperbole to say the challenges that members of the 2017 Kansas Legislature face are among the most daunting in state history.

Charles Riedel / AP

As expected, the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday morning ruled that the state’s school funding formula is inadequate under the Kansas Constitution.

In a unanimous 83-page decision, the court gave the Legislature until June 30 to address the state’s public education financing system.

The decision comes after the court ruled earlier that the school funding formula had failed to meet the equity prong of the Kansas Constitution.

All three of the private insurance companies that manage the Kansas Medicaid program made a profit on it in 2016 — the first year that has occurred.

UnitedHealthcare was by far the most financially successful of the three, with $30.2 million in profits. Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene, had a $5.5 million profit and Amerigroup made about $3.4 million.

The three companies lost millions in 2013 and 2014, the first two years of KanCare.

Kansas Tax Receipts Continue Upswing In February

Mar 1, 2017
File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas tax receipts came in about $37 million above estimates in February, chipping away at the state’s budget deficit.

The Kansas Budget Office on Wednesday reported about $331.5 million in tax receipts for the month, which was about 13 percent higher than projected revenue. Tax revenues were up about 9 percent compared to February 2016.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas continues to rank among the worst states when it comes to sedating nursing home residents with powerful antipsychotic drugs.

Janell Wohler and Kate Rieth of the Linn Community Nursing Home told their colleagues Tuesday that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Wohler is the administrator and Rieth is the director of nursing at the facility, which has eliminated off-label use of antipsychotics for residents over the last five years.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

There’s been an awful lot of discussion on what Kansas’s new school funding formula will look like and whether the Legislature will still make cuts to public schools mid-year.

Nothing has been decided, which has educators in the state both a little optimistic and a little scared.

On a recent morning Allison Theno was combining math and penguins to teach her 18 kindergartners at Basehor Elementary to subtract.

Creative Commons

When the Kansas Senate comes back after this week’s midsession break, it may consider legislation to form a comprehensive state plan to fight diabetes.

House Bill 2219 would instruct the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to conduct an analysis of state costs from diabetes, identify best practices to prevent and control the condition, and develop a budget to implement those practices.

It also would require the agency to report on the plan’s progress every two years.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Dr. Saeedeh Salmanzadeh became a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony in October 2015.

When the presiding official asked if any of the new citizens wanted to speak, she was one of the first to raise her hand.

By then Salmanzadeh had spent 15 years in America, after leaving her home in Iran where she was a doctor.

She had spent two years with no pay, studying for exams so she could practice in the United States.

The Republican majority in Congress is intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Freshman Kansas 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall is on board. So he’s gathering input from constituents on how to proceed with repealing and replacing the ACA with what he calls needed “free-market reforms.”

The Great Bend Republican recently mailed a survey to 50,000 households in the Big First. 

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Members of the Kansas congressional delegation are under fire — like many of their colleagues across the country — for ducking town-hall meetings with their constituents.

At the Kansas GOP convention earlier this month, two of them explained their reaction to raucousness at their offices. 

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee-based company that is the sole bidder for a contract to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, has a history of safety problems at the state psychiatric facilities it runs in Florida.

Officials with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services declined to provide details this week on Correct Care’s bid to operate Osawatomie State Hospital, one of two state facilities for people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas was out in front of just about every other state in 2013 when it fully privatized its Medicaid program and renamed it KanCare.

The switch to managed care was one of the first big policy changes made by Gov. Sam Brownback, who promised it would both improve health care and lower costs.

KanCare was immediately controversial.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Supporters of expanding Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Kansans succeeded Wednesday in a last-gasp effort to advance a measure, overpowering opponents who thought they had blocked it earlier in the week.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

The five-year fight over Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to remake Kansas income tax code came to a head Wednesday, and 16 senators voted to let it continue.

With the governor’s signature fiscal accomplishment hanging by a thread, the Kansas Senate fell three votes short in an effort to override a Brownback veto hours after the House did so.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

KanCare is a $3 billion program that provides health insurance to more than 425,000 Kansans — complex and bureaucratic by its nature.

And lately it seems the privatized Medicaid program has drawn more than its share of complaints from Kansas medical providers, beneficiaries and applicants.

Some are the result of a switch in 2013 to management not by the state but instead by three private insurance companies, while others stem from court rulings or policymaker decisions.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

All that Michael Sykes has to show for his months-long quest to get his mother’s nursing home bed covered by Medicaid is a pile of paperwork.

Kansans like Sykes have been facing long waits to find out if they qualify for health coverage under KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program. The state has cleared up much of the backlog over the past year, but thousands of applications for long-term care coverage remain hung up.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas House members on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have increased the amount they could get from campaign donors.

House Bill 2011 would have doubled the amount that individuals, political parties and political action committees could donate to candidates in races for everything from the House and Senate to the governor. But the House voted it down 22-101.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Feb. 20.

A bill to expand KanCare most likely is dead after a House committee voted Monday to table it until April.

The House Health and Human Services Committee was expected to vote on a bill that would expand eligibility for Kansas’ privatized Medicaid program known as KanCare. Instead, the members narrowly approved a motion by Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican, to sideline it until the veto session, a move that most likely kills the bill.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas Senate on Friday approved a bill that would roll back much of Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature tax policy to help balance future state budgets.

The 22-18 Senate vote sends the plan to the governor’s desk, where it could face a veto.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

A bill that would allow treatment centers to detain Kansans in mental health crisis for up to three days moved forward Thursday after months of work to develop a compromise.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas House approved a bill Thursday that would undo many of the state’s 2012 tax cuts to help balance the budget. The 76-48 vote sends the plan to the Senate for consideration.

While the bill had significantly more than the 63 votes needed to pass, it had received 83 votes during a preliminary test Wednesday. Those numbers are significant because 84 votes are needed to override a possible veto from Gov. Sam Brownback.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Editor’s note: Due to the illness of a committee member, the vote on Medicaid expansion has been postponed until Monday, Feb. 20. 

Kansas lawmakers are getting ready to do something they have never done before: vote on a Medicaid expansion bill.

For the past three years, conservative Republicans who controlled the Legislature refused to allow a vote on the issue.

Things are different this session due to the ouster of several conservative incumbents by moderate Republican and Democratic challengers.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators heard concerns from law enforcement groups Wednesday about two immigration bills promoted by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The bills seek to enlist state and local officers in efforts to enforce federal immigration law. But the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association said they don’t have the resources to do that and they don’t want to be exposed to costly lawsuits if they wrongfully detain someone under the complex federal regulations.

Both groups said they weren’t consulted before the bills were introduced.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A Kansas House committee narrowly rejected a bill Wednesday that would have allowed the University of Kansas Health System to continue banning concealed firearms. It failed to advance on an 11-11 vote. 

The chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, Republican Rep. John Barker of Abilene, chose not to vote to break the tie.

The Kansas Department of Revenue wants legislators to clarify how to tax vaping products. A bill passed to close the 2015 session included a tax on e-cigarettes that has yet to be enforced.
Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Two years after the Kansas Legislature enacted its first special tax on e-cigarettes, the state is still trying to figure out how to enforce it and retailers are still saying they’ll be put out of business if it’s enforced.

The tax — 20 cents per milliliter of vaping liquid — was tacked on to a larger bill at the end of the historically long and grinding 2015 session. There were no public hearings on the tax, which originally was supposed to go into effect in July 2016 but was pushed back to January 2017.

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