Category Archives: Health and safety

Brownback should veto bill giving state control of Medicare

praeger“To include Medicare into an attempt to make political statements about the Affordable Care Act, I think, is wrong,”  said Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger (in photo). It is wrong. Yet House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Brownback needs to veto the bill, which is being promoted by an out-of-state group, and not jeopardize the health care of senior citizens. Praeger also cautioned that there could be political consequences if Brownback signs the bill: “I would be very nervous if I were running in a statewide campaign about making that bloc of seniors upset.”

Delay in alerting residents to water pollution is outrageous

waterfaucetWhat’s even more alarming than the report that the groundwater in several northwest Wichita neighborhoods is contaminated is the news that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discovered the pollution in 2009. Why didn’t KDHE tell residents about the pollution sooner? Funding used for testing private wells wasn’t made available through the KDHE’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program until earlier this year. So some residents have been drinking and bathing in potentially cancer-causing water for the past four years because KDHE couldn’t scrape up some money to test a few more wells? That’s outrageous.

GOP candidates support state takeover of Medicare

doctormedicareNot only did the Legislature approve a bill that could put the state in charge of Medicare, but all of the GOP candidates for Kansas insurance commissioner think it is a good idea. Seriously? At a forum in Wichita last week, the four Republican candidates said they supported Kansas joining a compact of states seeking to exempt themselves from federal health care rules. Though their comments focused on the Affordable Care Act, House Bill 2553 would give the state control of all federal health care programs, subject to congressional approval, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Sandy Praeger, the state’s current insurance commissioner (does she really have to retire?), warned that a state takeover of Medicare “could jeopardize the coverage and benefits that seniors have come to count on.” Senior citizens need to call Gov. Sam Brownback at 877-579-6757 or contact him through his website at governor.ks.gov and tell him to veto House Bill 2553. They, and all other Kansans, also need to think carefully about whom to vote for in upcoming elections.

Some relief for Kansans in seeing Sebelius go

sebeliustestifyFor Kansans who felt some guilt by association during the worst of the passage and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, there is some relief in seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius step down. The former Kansas governor was a smart choice for the key Cabinet post in 2009 because of her experience and her passion for health care policymaking and commitment to covering the uninsured. And Sebelius exits with ACA enrollment at 7.5 million – more than the target. But what an ordeal, including that appalling initial flop of the HealthCare.gov website. Any benefit for Kansas from her status was lost to partisanship, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wanted nothing to do with the ACA. Sebelius’ resume is now tarnished and her political career is surely over. Perhaps she will write a book about her experience at the center of the biggest political storm of the Obama presidency. It’s hard to believe now that Sebelius, as governor, had approval ratings in Kansas as high as 70 percent back in 2007.

Pro-con: Does Sebelius leave a positive legacy?

sebeliuslaughingImplementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. And Kathleen Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies. More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of the early problems. Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. Any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters. – Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic

It’s been quite a year for the former Kansas governor. October brought the failed launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which Sebelius initially characterized as simply the result of surging consumer demand for Obamacare and a “great problem to have.” December brought more embarrassing news as Sebelius waived the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance by categorizing Obamacare itself as a hardship worthy of exemption. This was just one of many on-the-fly rewrites the administration claimed the authority to make under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Though she is leaving now, her legacy is secure, as her name adorns several of the most consequential federal cases resulting from the law. Her resignation doesn’t change the fact that Democrats will remain politically accountable for a law sold on a fraudulent promise from President Obama. But this latest news does mean that not even the secretary of health and human services will get to keep her insurance plan. – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal

Now even harder for GOP to repeal Obamacare

healthcaregovpageThe more than 7 million Americans who signed up for Obamacare (along with millions more who gained insurance through their parents or through expanded Medicaid) make “it highly unlikely that Republicans will be able to deliver on their promise to repeal the law,” columnist Doyle McManus wrote. It would be very hard to take insurance away from that many people. But, McManus wrote, “that doesn’t mean Obamacare is guaranteed to succeed. The program still faces a series of difficult tests – most important, keeping costs under control so insurance premiums don’t soar in coming years.”

Pompeo convinced that GM foods are safe, needed

food“The science is clear” that genetically modified foods are safe, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board. Pompeo introduced a bill this week that would require that new GM foods be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; currently, such review isn’t mandated. The bill also would give the FDA sole authority on whether to label GM foods – barring states from imposing their own regulations. Supporters of labeling argue that it informs consumers, but Pompeo contends that a patchwork of unscientific state regulations creates burdens and barriers for Kansas farmers. “It’s a big deal to our growers,” Pompeo said.

Kansas gets costs, not benefits, of expanded Medicaid

healthcaregovOne of the projected costs of expanding Medicaid is the “woodwork effect.” It refers to people already eligible for Medicaid who come “out of the woodwork” as they learn about the program. But this effect happens even in states such as Kansas that refuse to expand Medicaid, because of all the publicity about the Affordable Care Act. Kansas’ enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 415,284 in February, up more than 17,000, or 4.3 percent, from monthly averages before the launch of the ACA insurance marketplace. So Kansas’ costs are increasing, but it isn’t receiving the financial benefit of expanding Medicaid.

ACA working despite efforts of ‘haters’

healthcaregovpage“It has been obvious for some time now that the great fear among these politicians and conservative pundits was not that Obamacare would fail but that it would succeed,” wrote columnist Bob Ray Sanders. “I can only imagine how they must feel after watching people line up around the country Monday in an attempt to register for health care on the last day of enrollment, and to see the number of participants swell over the 7 million mark.”

Legislature doesn’t want ACA to work in Kansas

healthcarereformEven after its disastrous rollout, the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections and enrolled 7.1 million Americans in private insurance plans by Monday’s deadline. This is on top of the more than 3 million adults younger than 26 who were added to their parents’ insurance plans, and on top of the millions who gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. “It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast,” President Obama said. But state GOP legislators are still determined to keep the ACA from helping low-income Kansans. The Kansas Senate voted last week to prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid unless the Legislature approves. And the House approved a bill to remove Kansas from the ACA (and potentially Medicare) and join a multistate compact.

ACA saving seniors on prescription drugs

drugsSince enactment of the Affordable Care Act four years ago, Kansas seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved nearly $94 million on prescription drugs, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Closing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D has saved about 40,500 Kansans nearly $32.5 million, for an average savings of $800. Nationally, ACA has saved seniors $9.9 billion on prescription drugs, according to HHS.

About half of eligible Kansans picked insurance plan

healthcaregovpageAs of March 1, about 29,000 Kansans had selected a private insurance plan on the health care marketplace – not quite half of the 65,000 Kansans who are eligible, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 10,000 Kansans who went on the marketplace were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. If Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature allowed a federal expansion of Medicaid, about 150,000 additional Kansans would qualify for health insurance.

KDHE quietly approved massive hog-farm expansion

seaboardhogsGiven all the controversy, debate and public hearings in the late 1990s and early 2000s about corporate hog farming, it was stunning how quietly the Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a massive expansion of a Seaboard Foods hog-feeding operation in western Kansas. The permit was signed on Feb. 26 but wasn’t public until last week, when the Sierra Club sent out a news release criticizing the state’s approval, Associated Press reported. With the expansion, the facility in Greeley County will become the nation’s second-largest hog-feeding operation, according to the Sierra Club, and will generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Concerns about corporate hog farms haven’t changed: pollution, overwhelming smell and depletion of water supply.

Latest anti-Obamacare bill another dead end

healthcaregovpageThe Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, passed a bill last week that would require Affordable Care Act health insurance navigators to undergo background checks, be fingerprinted and pay an annual $100 registration fee, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. But as Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, noted, Missouri passed similar requirements, and they were blocked by the courts. Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, said it was disheartening “to have policymakers working so hard to put up barriers to people helping their friends and neighbors and community members enroll in private insurance plans in the private market.”

Lawmakers ignoring public opinion on marijuana

marijuanaBills to allow medical marijuana continue to go nowhere at the Statehouse. And Attorney General Derek Schmidt and other law-enforcement officials issued a formal warning last week not to bring pot into Kansas from Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal. But the official resistance contrasts sharply with the interest among Kansans that shows up in surveys: 64 percent of the Kansas voters in the recent Public Policy Polling survey said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use, as did 50 percent of Republicans; 42 percent of voters support making it legal for recreational use. A 2013 SurveyUSA poll of Kansas found 70 percent support for legalizing medical pot, which also was endorsed by more than two-thirds of the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature.

Public wants Medicaid expansion; Legislature doesn’t care

healthcaregovAnother survey shows strong public support for expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Yet the Legislature still won’t hold a hearing on it. The poll by Public Opinion Strategies, which was commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, found that 72 percent of Kansans, including 59 percent of Republicans, support accepting federal funds to broaden access to Medicaid. A 2013 Kansas Hospital Association poll found that 60 percent of Kansans support expanding Medicaid. By blocking expansion, Kansas has already lost out on nearly $70 million in Medicaid funds since the start of this year, according to the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition.

Rogen right to highlight apathy about Alzheimer’s

rogen,sethGood for actor Seth Rogen for not only going to Capitol Hill to help his chosen cause – more federal funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease – but also shaming senators for variously dozing through, skipping and leaving the hearing, with the notable exceptions of ranking Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas and subcommittee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. By the time Rogen spoke, Moran and Harkin were the only senators on the 18-member panel listening. “Very symbolic of how the government views Alzheimer’s. Seems to be a low priority,” Rogen later told his 1.84 million Twitter followers. Former six-term Kansas congressman Dennis Moore also testified about his own diagnosis in 2011. “Alzheimer’s is creating an enormous strain on the health care system, families and the federal budget,” Moore said. The disease cost Americans $203 billion in 2013, including $142 billion spent by Medicare and Medicaid.

Legislature’s priorities messed up on health care

doctoroutHere is how out of whack the Legislature’s priorities are: A bill that would commit Kansas to join a state health care compact, separate and apart from the federal government, cleared a House committee this week without debate. This even though the bill is a complete dead end, as it would require federal approval. Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, can’t even get a hearing on a bill to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid. This even though expansion would inject an estimated $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years while providing thousands of Kansans with needed insurance.

Medical marijuana bills are gathering dust

marijuanaState House and Senate committee chairmen are showing no interest in holding hearings on legislation to establish rules and regulations for medical marijuana in Kansas. The bills are gathering dust in committees chaired by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, and Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, the website Kansas Watchdog reported. “This is a discussion of national prominence now, and to put your head in the sand or put your hands over your ears and say ‘I just don’t want to hear it’ really smacks of a certain level of inability to learn that’s troubling,” complained Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City. “It troubles me to think that there are people in elected office like that.”

Medical society not expecting Medicaid to expand soon

healthcaregovA top legislative priority of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County is the expansion of Medicaid, but society officials aren’t expecting the Legislature to approve that this session – though they are more hopeful about next year. Society president Donna Sweet, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and director of internal medicine education at Via Christi Health, told The Eagle editorial board that business models show that allowing the federal Medicaid expansion would be good for the state. She also raised concerns about Kansans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under Kansas’ current rules but don’t earn enough to qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. But Jon Rosell, the society’s executive director, doesn’t think the Legislature will act on expansion this year, in part because it’s an election year.

Brownback: Listen to Utah governor on Medicaid

Doctor Speaking with PatientAnother GOP governor has come to his senses and is backing the federal expansion of Medicaid. Unfortunately, it isn’t Sam Brownback. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said last week that his state would expand Medicaid to cover more low-income citizens. “Doing nothing is not an option,” he said. It shouldn’t be for Brownback, either.

Kansas can do more to discourage smoking

smokingteenKansas’ 2010 passage of a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and other indoor spaces has been good for residents’ health. But Kansas ranks 41st among states for per capita spending on tobacco prevention and smoking cessation ($1 million annually) while spending $200 million a year to treat smoking-related diseases among KanCare recipients, according to a new report from anti-smoking groups. If state leaders wanted to do more to address such numbers, they could increase the 79 cents-per-pack cigarette tax, which is 36th in the nation. “We know that raising the price of cigarettes makes it less likely that youth will be smokers,” Jeff Willett, vice president of programs for the Kansas Health Foundation, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. The governor and lawmakers also could devote more of the multistate tobacco settlement proceeds to smoking prevention (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Kansas spend $32 million a year). Most obviously, they could close the hypocritical loophole that continues to allow smoking at state-owned casinos.

Have debate, committee vote on medicinal marijuana

marijuanaKansas advocates of medicinal marijuana are due committee hearings and a full debate at the Statehouse. So are Kansans, given that 70 percent of those polled a year ago by SurveyUSA for KWCH, Channel 12, favored legalizing medical pot. A more than two-thirds majority of the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature also recently recommended a bill to allow people to use marijuana if they have certain medical conditions and a physician’s recommendation. Such endorsements merit notice by the full Legislature, apart from the rapid gains that the legalization movement is making elsewhere in the country.

Don’t accept Brownback’s decision on Medicaid expansion

doctoroutThe public and state lawmakers shouldn’t accept Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to block a federal expansion of Medicaid in Kansas. The health and well-being of too many Kansans are at stake, in addition to the economic health of the state and its hospitals. Brownback had been sitting on the fence on expansion, neither supporting it nor ruling it out. But Monday his office issued a statement saying he wouldn’t recommend it this year. Because Brownback and the Legislature blocked expansion last year, about 78,000 low-income Kansans are already in a coverage gap of not qualifying for Medicaid or for the insurance premium subsidies offered by the Affordable Care Act. Maybe if Brownback and state lawmakers went without insurance this year they would show more concern for others.

Wagle should lead effort to expand Medicaid

waglenewKansas Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, thinks that “Kansas should partner with the federal government and should work toward finding solutions that cover everyone that needs to be covered” by health insurance. Nonetheless, she doesn’t think the Legislature will agree to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid, blaming that reluctance on problems with the Affordable Care Act. “I think it will be very difficult to do this year because of the unpredictability of the federal plan and the instability of the plan,” she told the Kansas Health Institute News Service. Wagle and Gov. Sam Brownback should lead efforts to change lawmakers’ minds and expand Medicaid, either through KanCare or a private marketplace. They should point out that expansion would inject more than $3 billion into the state’s economy over the next seven years, according to a Kansas Hospital Association report. And not expanding means that about 78,000 low-income, uninsured Kansans would fall into the gap of not qualifying either for Medicaid or ACA subsidies, according to new estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation.