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Heartland Health Monitor is a unique reporting collaboration focused on health issues and their impact in Missouri and Kansas. The partners —— KCUR Public Radio, KCPT Public Television, KHI News Service and Kansas Public Radio —— strive to bring listeners and readers timely, accurate and comprehensive coverage of a topic that leaves no one untouched.

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The Missouri Department of Corrections knowingly violated the state’s Sunshine Law when it refused to provide records about applicants who sought to witness Missouri executions, an appeals court ruled today.

The ACLU had sued to obtain the information to determine if the department was choosing witnesses impartially.

In response, the corrections department produced heavily redacted records, even though many witness applicants had agreed to produce the information.

Creative Commons-Wikimedia

This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.

In a case likely to have nationwide repercussions, a Missouri gun dealer has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it negligently sold a gun to a schizophrenic woman who used it to kill her father.

“The $2.2 million settlement hits them in the pocketbook and makes clear to gun dealers across the country and their insurance companies that they need to act responsibly,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project.

Megan Wingerter / Heartland Health Monitor

This story was updated at 6:04 p.m. 

Kansas is seeking a private partner to operate Osawatomie State Hospital under a proposal that would allow the contractor to shift more than half the hospital’s beds to other parts of eastern Kansas.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

An analysis of KanCare performed by a former Republican governor’s think tank found that the switch to managed care Medicaid in Kansas has delivered on cost-cutting promises but not on quality of care.

Leavitt Partners, a policy consulting shop founded by former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, performed the analysis between May and October by interviewing KanCare providers and reviewing federal and state data.

Courtesy Missouri Hospital Association

Medicaid expansion probably wasn’t in the cards in Missouri before Tuesday’s elections. And now that the Missouri legislature is expected to lurch even further to the right, it appears to be dead on arrival.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, however, proponents of expanding Medicaid eligibility haven’t given up hope that health coverage can be extended to thousands of Missourians currently going without.

File photo

Medicaid expansion advocates in Kansas say they’ll move forward with legislation despite national election results that signal a repeal of Obamacare.

But they are a lot less optimistic about their chances than they were before last week.

Click here to read about a Kansas City family's growing anxiety about Obamacare's repeal

Some Americans Elect To ‘Opt Out’ Of Obamacare

Nov 17, 2016
HealthCare.gov

This story was originally published by Kaiser Health News and is reprinted with permission.

Steven Lopez has gone without health insurance for 15 years, and the Affordable Care Act hasn’t changed his mind. Once again this year he will forgo coverage, he said, even though it means another tax penalty.

Last tax season, the 51-year-old information technology professional and his family paid a mandatory penalty of nearly $1,000, he said. That’s because they found it preferable to the $400 to $500 monthly cost of an Obamacare health plan.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Last week’s election results stunned a lot of people who get health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress say they want to scrap the law, but what might replace it remains unknown.

That has left many Missouri and Kansas families in limbo, unsure what will become of their medical care.

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

The leader of a mental health crisis center in Kansas City told legislators Tuesday that the amount of money his facility is saving Kansas hospitals, prisons and jails is nearly double its total budget.

Randy Callstrom is president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., a community mental health center that took over the former Rainbow Mental Health Facility state hospital in 2014.

State of Kansas official portrait

This story was updated at 12:04 to include the comments of Kline's attorney. 

Former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has lost his quixotic lawsuit against the justices of the Kansas Supreme Court who suspended his law license three years ago.

A federal judge on Monday tossed the case, ruling that it presented a political question and therefore had to be dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Greg Kays also held that longstanding legal doctrine bars an attorney from challenging the results of a state disciplinary hearing in federal court.

The University of Kansas Hospital

The University of Kansas Hospital is opening an obstetrics and gynecology clinic in the center of Kansas City, Kansas, to address a shortage of providers there. 

The clinic, slated to open Tuesday at 21 N. 12th St., will be the second such clinic operated by KU Hospital in Wyandotte County and its sixth in the metro area.

Over the last decade or so, KU’s OB-GYN clinics  largely have focused on improving access to women’s subspecialty services. The new clinic, however, will seek to meet the needs of women who lack access to basic obstetrical care.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Roy Alcorn shot pool with friends last week as sunlight streamed through the open door of a small building at Equi-Venture Farms.

A month earlier, Alcorn was living at Osawatomie State Hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Alcorn’s new arrangement is part of a pilot program spearheaded by Ben Swinnen, executive director of Topeka-based Equi-Venture, and Tim Keck, head of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

Obamacare 'Replacement' Might Look Familiar

Nov 10, 2016
PBS News Hour

This story was originally published by Kaiser Health News and is reprinted with permission. 

The Affordable Care Act transformed the medical system, expanding coverage to millions, injecting billions in tax revenue, changing insurance rules and launching ambitious experiments in quality and efficiency.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

For Ashlyn Harcrow, the sound of the train whistle brings up all kinds of thoughts she’d like to avoid.

Harcrow, 24, has been living at the Topeka Rescue Mission since July. The nonprofit homeless shelter has helped her stabilize as she recovers from domestic violence and tries to improve her mental health amid post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

But the mission, at 600 N. Kansas Ave., is right next to the tracks. As trains rumble through north Topeka, they remind Harcrow that she’s thought about using those tracks to take her own life.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

It’s the serviceman who beats himself up about being unable to save a dying buddy. Or the truck driver who follows orders to run over children in the road, because they might be placed there to facilitate an ambush of a convoy.

While it has been more than half a century since the United States began celebrating Veterans Day, the national holiday the nation observes Friday, it has only been in the recent past that military mental health professionals have parsed out what they consider to be a significant after-effect of service.

Just over half of Kansas voters say they would be less likely to vote for an elected official who favors eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a new survey of 817 Kansas voters.

Thirty-two percent say they would be more likely to vote for such an official, 10 percent say it wouldn’t make a difference and 5 percent say they are not sure.

Courtesy photo - Creative Commons

“There’s no question the law has worked well in some areas and it’s still struggling in others.”

That’s the response from former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to a question about the signature initiative of the Obama administration.

“We definitely need in the future to have more competition in the states,” Sebelius said in a telephone interview with KCUR 89.3 on Thursday.

File photo

A public letter by the head of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services praising KanCare’s effect on Kansans with disabilities has drawn a string of rebuttals from people who provide disability services.

Tim Keck’s letter was published Oct. 24 on the Wichita Eagle editorial page.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For many Missouri health advocates, an increase in the state’s tobacco tax is long overdue.

At 17 cents per cigarette pack, it’s the lowest in the country by far – a fraction of the tax in many states. And it hasn’t changed since 1993.

Groups like the American Lung Association say Missouri’s low cigarette prices are a major reason the state has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. Twenty-two percent of Missouri adults smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sarah Mullinax

A University of Kansas scientist has been named one of the first recipients of an $825,000 fellowship for her work in developing a protein designed to thwart antibiotic resistance.

Joanna Slusky, 37, who heads the Slusky Lab at KU and specializes in outer membrane proteins, is one of five inventors nationwide recognized by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California.

For three months, 32-year-old Tara Hegger has lived in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital.

She passes the time listening to music, visiting with family members and watching TV, mostly comedies. They keep her mind off of a painful decision that inches closer every day.

“The social worker came to me and basically told me I had to leave, because my days ran out," Hegger said, pausing between the pumps of oxygen provided by a ventilator next to her. "I had to make a choice.”

Like other Missouri patients in her situation, she will have to leave the state to find a nursing home that accepts her insurance — a dilemma tied to the state's low Medicaid reimbursement rate for long term care.

Photo by Kansas Action for Children

Babies in midsize Kansas counties were more likely to die before their first birthdays than those in counties with larger or smaller populations, according to the 2016 Kids Count report.

The annual report, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compares states and counties on a variety of measures related to children’s health, financial well-being and educational prospects. In some cases, the most recent data was from 2015, while in others it was from 2014.

Heartland Health Monitor file photo

Open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act starts Tuesday. People in Kansas and across the country will be able to log in to the online marketplace, healthcare.gov, and purchase plans for 2017 with federal subsidies based on income.

Kansas families who buy health insurance through the online marketplace for 2017 could pay $20,000 or more if they have serious medical problems, according to federal data.

Most families likely won’t pay that much because they qualify for subsidies, but the information shows that even low-premium plans can become costly.

KHI News Service photo

When politicians talk about government’s role in caring for the nation’s seniors, they usually limit their comments to shoring up Social Security and Medicare. There’s little mention of elder abuse, end-of-life issues or how best to help families cope with a loved one’s dementia.

“That’s common, and there are reasons for it,” says Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services from 2009 to the end of July of this year.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

As communities across Kansas struggle to accommodate an influx of people with mental illness in their criminal justice systems, religious leaders are calling for a new approach in Lawrence.

A group called Justice Matters, which represents 23 congregations, released a report this week called “Restorative Justice at Home.” The report contains several recommendations to beef up Douglas County’s mental health treatment options as an alternative to a proposed expansion of the county jail.

Mike Sherry / Heartland Health Monitor

Supporters of a new mental health crisis center in Kansas City hailed the facility as a model for the rest of the state — and beyond — during its ceremonial opening this afternoon.

“Other communities in Missouri are going to have their eyes on this project because they want to emulate it,” said Mike Nietzel, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH).

Nietzel was one of many speakers who took to the podium outside the new Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center, at 12th Street and Prospect Avenue.

BigStock Images

At first, the man appears drunk.

He’s walking along an on-ramp from Lackman Road onto I-435 in Lenexa, Kansas. At 1 p.m., traffic is heavy.

The man doesn’t react well when a police officer arrives.

“He takes a few swings at the officer. They’re obviously not Mike Tyson swings, but they’re swings nonetheless, where if something happened right there it could very easily spill over from the shoulder onto the highway where somebody would really get hurt,” Lenexa police Capt. Wade Borchers said, recounting an incident from earlier this year that involved another officer.

Oregon.gov

When individual health insurance plans go on sale on healthcare.gov next week, many Missourians will probably be more than a little shocked to see some rate increases as high as 40 percent.

Similar increases are popping up nationwide, but different states have different powers to address them.

Take Oregon, for example.

Each year around late April, insurance companies send the state their proposed rates, starting a conversation about what’s fair based on the cost of health care and the health of customers.

Noah Jeppson / Creative Commons-Flickr

This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. to include a statement from the CEO of U.S. Engineering. 

Up to 7,500 people who worked in the Jackson County Courthouse after a retrofit dispersed asbestos throughout the building will be eligible for medical monitoring under an $80 million settlement reached Tuesday night.

The settlement was agreed to after a jury was chosen but before the class-action case was scheduled to go to trial today at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

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