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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File Photo / Kansas News Service

The Kansas Senate is setting itself up for a wide-ranging floor debate this week on tax plans to end a series of annual budget deficits by raising more revenue.

Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine said the inability to privately rally 21 votes for a plan means it’s time to get ideas out in the open and see what rises to the top.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The fight is raging on in Topeka over whether to roll back a law that would let almost anyone carry a concealed gun on a college campus or in a library or public hospital.

The debate has mostly been around whether guns enhance or detract from people’s safety.

Less talked about is just how much allowing guns on campuses could cost.

For one Kansas City area institution it could run into the millions.

Most Kansas Board of Regents institutions have said they have little choice but to let people carry concealed weapons on university or community college campuses.

Rep. Debbie Deere, a Democrat from Lansing and Natalie Scott, a House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee staff member, look on.
Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Virginia Hoft spent Thursday driving from her office in Johnson County to Geary County to set up a youth advocate program — part of an ambitious slate of juvenile justice reforms passed last year.

As she drove back through Topeka, legislators on the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee were having a roundtable discussion about how much they want to change last year’s bill.

The general consensus: Hoft and others like her should keep doing what they’re doing.

Amy Jeffries / KCUR 89.3

The campaign to fill CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s Kansas congressional seat is underway.

The election on April 11 will be the first congressional contest to be decided since President Donald Trump took office. Republicans near and far are treating it as an early test of the new president’s agenda.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Not only is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the thick of the latest national debate over immigration policy, he remains under consideration for a high-level job in the Trump administration.

The state’s chief elections officer told Kansas Republicans gathered Saturday in Manhattan for their 2017 state convention that he was advising President Donald Trump and key members of his national security team on how to overcome a recent federal court ruling blocking the administration’s ban on travel from seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

Dana Stanton drove hours from Hays to a Friday meeting in Topeka hoping to learn what the governor’s budget proposal would mean for the children’s programs she oversees.

After the Kansas Children’s Cabinet meeting adjourned, she didn’t know much more than she did before.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

A Kansas House committee overseeing budgets for social services offered appreciation to programs serving the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illnesses.

Legislators may not be able to offer much more than that.

File photo

The message delivered to a legislative committee Thursday by opponents of expanding Medicaid eligibility in Kansas boiled down to this: Expansion has been a disaster in the states that have enacted it, so don’t do it.

Gregg Pfister, legislative relations director for the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability, ticked through a list of expansion states where costs and enrollment significantly exceeded projections.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

When people started to file into the Kansas Senate chamber on Thursday morning, it was clear the legislation that leadership was pushing was dead.

New, moderate Republican legislators elected in November seemed to take a firm stand: The budget bills on the calendar for debate didn’t raise taxes enough and cut too much from public education.

Susie Fagan / Kansas News Service

A yearlong campaign aimed at building support for Medicaid expansion culminated Wednesday in a show-of-force lobbying effort aimed at convincing Kansas lawmakers that they still have time to act.

A crowd of approximately 200 filled the north wing of the Statehouse for a rally before the House Health and Human Services Committee convened a hearing on a bill that would expand eligibility for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to more low-income Kansans.

Adapt Pharma

Kansas is one of three states that doesn’t allow first responders to carry a drug to reverse opioid overdoses.

Rep. Greg Lakin, a Republican from Wichita, wants to get the state off that exclusive list. A bill in the House Health and Human Services Committee would allow first responders to carry medication to reverse opioid overdoses.

Susie Fagan / Kansas News Service

One of the cornerstones of Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to balance the budget is anticipated savings from a statewide health insurance pool for Kansas teachers.

The governor said that could save $40 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $80 million a year after that.

But that’s not what the Legislative Post Audit Division discovered in its evaluation.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says his office has the names of 115 non-citizens who illegally registered or tried to register to vote in Kansas, but he won’t be able to prosecute many of them.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

A Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would repeal an income tax exemption for more than 300,000 business owners. The bill, which could go before the full Senate on Thursday, also would increase income tax rates overall.

Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, said she supported the measure because the Legislature needs to make some progress on tax issues.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators are weighing plans to restore cuts to Medicaid, but health care providers may not see the extra boost until 2018 or even 2019.

The Senate’s budget committee heard testimony Monday on Senate Bill 94, which would increase a fee on HMO insurance plans to draw down federal funds and replace the cuts made to KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Kansas legislators concerned about health issues are doing something unusual in politics these days: getting bipartisan.

Veteran legislators from both parties who lead the House and Senate health committees have formed the Healthy Kansans Caucus.

The first meeting attracted about a dozen lawmakers Friday to a conference room at the Kansas Health Institute in Topeka.

Many of them were elected for the first time in November. One of the freshmen, Rep. Tom Cox, said the new crop of legislators are more interested in problem-solving than partisan wrangling.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service

A key Kansas lawmaker says the state doesn’t have the money to fix problems in its mental health system, which a new report says are getting steadily worse.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

KanCare expansion advocates say confusion in Washington, D.C., is helping their cause as they gear up for Statehouse hearings this week on an expansion bill.

Brad Wilson / Flickr — CC

In the basket of thorny issues facing Kansas lawmakers how to fund public education is certainly among the thorniest.

Led by Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative Republicans, the old funding formula was scrapped two years ago in favor of a block grant scheme that expires July 1.

Starting Monday morning the House K-12 Budget Committee starts discussions on a new formula.

And with that comes some questions: 

What is this K-12 Budget Committee?

File Photo / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is drafting bills to restrict illegal immigration in Kansas while he advises President Donald Trump on the same subject nationally.

Members of the Kansas House and Senate introduced two measures on Kobach’s behalf this week. One bars so-called “sanctuary cities” and the other would instruct the Kansas Highway Patrol to sign an agreement to help the federal Department of Homeland Security with immigration enforcement.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas’ two state-run psychiatric hospitals would lose nearly $20 million under the budget proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

In the current fiscal year, Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals are relying on state funds to make up for the loss of federal funding. Brownback’s recommendations for the fiscal year that starts in July would end that practice, leaving it to the hospitals to make up the lost revenue.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Federal officials are evaluating a state plan to fix problems with disability support services for Kansans in Medicaid.

State officials submitted the plan Tuesday after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified them in December about deficiencies uncovered during audits last year of KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

Sam Zeff / Kansas News Service

One critical part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget-balancing plan is creation of a statewide health insurance pool that Kansas public school teachers would have to join.

The governor’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year counts on $80 million a year in health care savings based on an efficiency study by Alvarez & Marsal consulting firm.

But some legislators, including Republicans, are skeptical.

“There’s a big difference between theory and practicality,” says Rep. Larry Campbell of Olathe, chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee.

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Dr. Damon Heybrock’s office doesn’t look like a traditional medical clinic.

Heybrock finished converting a two-story row house into a medical practice in September, putting exam tables in the bedrooms and a centrifuge for lab tests next to the kitchen sink.

Original pieces by Kansas City artists cover the walls of the clinic in Westwood, which Heybrock named Health Studio KC.

The look isn’t the only thing that’s different about his practice — so is the payment method. 

Andy Marso / Kansas News Service

Public health advocates pushing for Kansas to increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products are running into the same opposing arguments they did two years ago.

University of Kansas Cancer Center Director Roy Jensen and others pushed for a $1.50-per-pack tax hike in 2015 and were disappointed when the Legislature ultimately settled on a 50-cent increase.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Opponents of allowing guns on university campuses are not giving up their fight despite a setback this week in a Kansas Senate committee.

State law says Kansas colleges and universities must allow concealed weapons on campus starting in July. Bills in the House and Senate would exempt higher education institutions from the law, allowing them to continue banning guns on campus.

Ashley Booker / Hutchinson News

Eight rural communities across Kansas will share $120,000 in grants over the next year to find ways to improve access to fresh produce.

Fresh vegetables and fruits can be hard to find in rural Kansas because some grocery stores have closed or are struggling to survive.

Kansas’ two Republican senators said Monday they support increased vetting of those entering the country, but want Congress involved in developing permanent policy changes.

Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts issued statements in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Advocates of expanding Medicaid in Kansas are trumpeting new poll numbers that show them gaining ground despite what appear to be long odds of success.

The poll, conducted in December just before the start of the 2017 legislative session, indicated that 82 percent of Kansas voters supported expanding KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which commissioned the survey.

File Photo / Kansas News Service

Some Kansas lawmakers hope allowing community-based rehabilitation programs to bill Medicaid for their services will help more people with mental illnesses find work.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow the psychosocial rehabilitation programs known as “clubhouses” to claim reimbursement from Medicaid as allowed by federal law. Some states already allow clubhouses to receive Medicaid funds.

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