Bryan Thompson

Bryan is the health reporter for Kansas Public Radio.

Hospitals in Kansas City have been seeing hundreds of kids with a viral respiratory illness.

Bryan Thompson reports, the virus typically causes only mild--if any--symptoms, but it can be severe in some cases.

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The two U.S. Senators from Kansas say they won't play politics with the budget bill containing the final $300 million in federal funding for a state-of-the-art bio-security lab under construction adjacent to the Kansas State University campus. The $1.25 billion lab is scheduled to open in 2023, barring any further hurdles.

One of the subplots in this political year is the battle over coal. A Washington group with deep Republican ties is pouring a quarter-million dollars into TV ads urging Kansans to join Governor Sam Brownback in fighting-quote-"for Kansas jobs and cheaper energy." It's a reference to one of the state's longest simmering political battles – the dispute over the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas. Bryan Thompson explores the controversy...

The Secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services says new federal labor rules may interfere with services that help disabled Kansans live in their own homes.

As Bryan Thompson explains, the concern is about overtime for workers who are hired and supervised by people with disabilities. 

KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett told a legislative panel a new rule scheduled to go into effect January first will change the way overtime is calculated for these workers.

Four safety net clinics in Kansas have been awarded federal funding to create or expand mental health services for low-income Kansans.

Bryan Thompson reports that funding is part of almost $55 million dollars in similar grants nationwide through the Affordable Care Act.

The four clinics will each receive $250,000. The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas saw 2,500 patients for mental health issues last year. CEO Krista Postai intends to use the new money to integrate medical and behavioral care.

A new report from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services says Kansans on Medicare will save more than $10 million dollars this year on prescription drugs, with a lesser-known provision in the Affordable Care Act.

You probably know about the mandate to buy health insurance, the glitches in the federal exchange, and the Supreme Court challenges to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

But did you know that the health care law also helps Medicare beneficiaries who pay high out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs?

The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Kansas 15th overall for child well-being. While that’s one spot higher than last year in the overall state rankings, Bryan Thompson reports the numbers aren’t so good, in terms of the economic well-being of Kansas kids.

Shannon Cotsoradis, who heads the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, says Kansas families are struggling, economically.

“In 2012 we have 19% of children living in poverty,” she says. "That’s unchanged from 2011, but the trend has increased significantly over time. Just a few years ago, we were at 15%.”

A new study by the White House Council of Economic Advisors says the decision not to expand Medicaid is costing Kansas millions of dollars, and thousands of jobs.

(photo courtesy of University of Kansas Hospital)

A federal grant of more than 12-million dollars will fund a new, three-year partnership between the University of Kansas Hospital and medical providers in Western Kansas. As Bryan Thompson explains, the money is from an Affordable Care Act program aimed at spurring innovation in health care.

Jeffrey Beall, flickr Creative Commons

Congress is working on legislative fixes to some of the problems that caused the recent scandal in the VA healthcare system. Among other things, the bills would create a nationwide program patterned after one the agency has been testing in Kansas and a handful of other states. It allows veterans who live a long way from VA medical centers to get care from local doctors. But as Bryan Thompson reports, Senator Jerry Moran is raising concerns about the agency’s plans to end the pilot program before the national version of it is up and running.

Senator Moran is worried that Kansas veterans like Hugh Steadman will be abruptly cut off from the care they need if the pilot program ends before the VA bill is passed, and the agency is ready to implement it nationwide. Steadman - who flew combat missions over Germany as a bombardier during World War II - lives in Great Bend. He used to have to drive two hours to the VA medical center in Wichita, a trip that was getting harder for him to make. Things got a little easier when the VA opened an outpatient clinic in Hays, but Steadman says that’s still more than an hour’s drive each way.

“Well, it’s getting to be quite a problem, because I’m 89 years old now, and my kids don’t like me to drive out on the highways, and I think they’re probably right," Steadman says.

But for the past year, Steadman’s driving time has been cut to just 10 minutes. That’s because a VA pilot project now pays for him to see a doctor in Great Bend. The project is called Access Received Closer to Home, or ARCH. The VA launched the pilot program in Kansas and four other states in 2011--three years after Congress authorized it. Pratt was the Kansas test site, but things didn't go well there.

“It failed pretty miserably.”

Vincent Wilczek is in charge of finances for Pratt Regional Medical Center. Wilczek says primary care doctors in Pratt and the nearby communities of Stafford and St. John signed up to do business with the VA, but were quickly turned off by the process.

“It failed pretty miserably,” he says. "They found it to be very burdensome, cumbersome to work with the VA, because it’s a very authorization-driven system. And then some of the requirements they were requiring of the physicians were just very hard for local physicians to do.”

The providers in the Pratt area stopped participating in 2012. That could have ended the pilot project in Kansas, but it didn’t. Instead, Humana, which administers the program, reached out to providers in other communities. That’s when St. Rose Ambulatory and Surgery Center, in Great Bend, got involved. One of the primary care providers there is Dr. James McReynolds. He says the VA bureaucracy takes a little getting used to, but he’s had no trouble getting authorization for necessary medical care.

“They do authorize a certain number of visits and/or labs and/or x-rays for each patient. It’s variable for each patient, and if you want more, you do have to request more,” he says.

McReynolds says he was happy to participate in a program that made it possible for veterans to get care closer to home. And veterans in Kansas and the other participating states seemed to like it too. Ninety percent of those surveyed by the VA said they would recommend it to other veterans. Hugh Steadman, the World War II veteran from Great Bend, says that's what he would have said if asked.

“I really like it," he says. "I sure do hate to see it quit. I’ve got several friends that go up there also, and it sure made it easy on us old-timers, where we don’t have to drive so far.”

Despite the rave revenues from veterans, the VA recently said it planned to end the ARCH program. Testifying to a congressional committee in June, the VA's Philip Matkovsky said the agency had the authority to extend the program but wasn't planning to.

“ARCH does expire as a contract," he says. "It was a firm-term contract with a base one year and then two option years, which expires I believe September 30th. Andy typically, unless the contracting officer can determine a compelling reason to extend that—and I’m not a contracting officer—we let contracts expire.”

Senator Moran strongly disagrees with that decision…

“ARCH comes about from legislation that I introduced as a House member," he says. "It has a lot to do with my background as a congressman from the First District of Kansas, a congressional district larger than the state of Illinois, but with no VA hospital.”

Moran has been urging the VA for months to continue the program. He sees it as a bridge to the nationwide program authorized in the bill still working its way through Congress.

“The idea that I was pushing about services closer to home over the last 4, 5, 6 years is something that is now front and center in bipartisan legislation that is expected to pass Congress, and be signed by the President," he says. "And yet, we still have a Department of Veterans Affairs who, presumably, is reluctant to implement and pursue these programs in part, I think, because the VA’s funding, if they pay for services outside the VA, it’s less money that they’ve had to use within the VA.”