Health

Health
11:43 am
Fri July 4, 2014

Caring For Veterans Closer to Home

Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, in Wichita
Credit (photo by Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org)

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.”

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Health
11:28 am
Fri July 4, 2014

Health Officials Delay Start Date Of Health Home Service

Kansas health officials delayed a new Medicaid service a day before it was scheduled to begin because it did not have enough contractors to cover the entire state.

The “health home” service was to provide case management for people with chronic medical conditions and those with severe mental illness.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment notified service providers Monday that the part of the program for the chronically ill would be delayed. It was to begin enrolling patients on Tuesday.

The service for the mentally ill will continue.

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Health
12:41 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

KU Law Professor Says Hobby Lobby Impact Limited

Credit Flickr photo by Random Retail, licensed by Creative Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court says certain employers can opt out of including contraceptives in their insurance coverage, based on their own religious beliefs. As Bryan Thompson reports, Kansas reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling follows predictable ideological lines.

Kansas was one of 18 states that sided with Hobby Lobby in the court battle.

Governor Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt called it a victory for religious freedom. Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran chimed in with similar views.

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Health
1:45 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

FEC Dismisses Operation Rescue's Lawsuit

The Federal Election Commission has dismissed an anti-abortion group’s complaint alleging that an abortion rights political action committee helped finance the operations of a new clinic in Wichita.

The political action committee, Trust Women, announced Thursday it received a notice from the FEC this week dismissing the complaint filed last year by Operation Rescue.

The Trust Women Foundation opened a clinic last year in the late Doctor George Tiller’s former medical building.

Health
12:24 pm
Tue June 24, 2014

Mosquito Carrying A New Virus Found In Kansas

Credit wikipedia.org

Health officials say mosquitoes that can transmit a new mosquito-borne virus have been found in Kansas, though there haven’t been confirmed cases of the virus among people.

Chikungunya is a new mosquito-borne virus that’s spread quickly in the Caribbean since December.

There haven't been any confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas. But state epidemiologist Charles Hunt says two types of mosquitoes that can transmit the disease have been found in the state. Hunt says the disease isn’t normally fatal, and symptoms can include fever, muscle and joint pain, rash and headaches.

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Health
12:10 pm
Mon June 23, 2014

Sedgwick County Offers Free HIV Testing For National HIV Testing Day

The Sedgwick County Health Department plans to offer free HIV tests this week as part of National HIV Testing Day.

The procedures will be offered Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the department’s main clinic in Wichita.

National HIV Testing Day began in 1995 to promote testing and early diagnosis.

The health department says more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, with about one in five unaware of being infected. The agency says people in treatment have a 96 percent reduction in transmission rates.

Health
12:04 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Expanded Liquor Sales In Kansas May Have Health Effects

A new report by the Kansas Health Institute lays out the potential health effects of expanding liquor licenses to grocery and convenience stores in Kansas.

    

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Health
12:25 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

ACA Premiums Average Less than $70 a Month in Kansas

A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services says the average out-of-pocket cost in Kansas for individual health insurance through the new federal marketplace is $67 a month. Bryan Thompson has more.

The report says the actual premium averages $290 a month, but most people qualify for a federal tax credit that covers three-fourths of that amount.

In fact, a little more than three out of every four Kansans buying insurance through the federal exchange qualify for some level of income-based tax credit.

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Health
6:24 am
Tue June 17, 2014

Seniors With Alzheimer's Benefit From iPod Therapy

Linsey Norton, Program Director for Central and Western chapter of the Kansas Alzheimer’s Association, adjusts headphones on Kristi Wilson while her husband Barrick Wilson looks on.
Credit Carla Eckels

One of the most heartbreaking things for families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s is that there are very few ways for them to communicate. The Roth Project: Music Memories has partnered with the local Alzheimer's Association in an effort to help families connect with those living with the disease through a new iPod Therapy Program. A Wichita woman living with Alzheimer’s has experienced a bit of a breakthrough through therapy with music.

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Health
12:54 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

Linda Sheppard To Join Kansas Health Institute

One of the top officials of the Kansas Insurance Department has accepted a new position at a Topeka-based health policy think-tank.

The Kansas Health Institute has named Linda Sheppard as Senior Analyst and Strategy Team Leader for KHI's work surrounding health reform, effective the end of this month.

She'll provide analysis of state and federal health reform initiatives, including the Affordable Care Act, and their impact on Kansas.

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