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Take 5 for your Health

A quick, clickable roundup of health news from our region

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NURSES RALLY TO PROTEST STAFFING AND COMPENSATION AT RESEARCH MEDICAL CENTER

Dozens of registered nurses and supporters marched and chanted outside of Research Medical Center in Kansas City on Thursday evening to draw attention to labor issues. The picketers, who were organized by the National Nurses United union, say the hospital is failing to comply with its own staffing plan and the resulting staffing shortage is affecting patient care. Research nurses are currently negotiating a new contract. The previous contract expired on May 31, according to the union. National Nurses United organized a similar protest at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park in July. Both Research Medical Center and Menorah are owned and operated by HCA Midwest Health.

—Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

KANSAS OFFICIALS REVIEWING DECISION UPHOLDING REGULATIONS FOR HOME CARE WORKERS

Kansas officials are reviewing a recent federal appeals court ruling that requires the state’s Medicaid program to pay in-home care workers minimum wage and overtime. Officials at the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services issued a statement shortly after the ruling was handed down Friday saying they were attempting to determine its “potential impact” on the state’s Medicaid program, known as KanCare. Previously, KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett had said that having to pay home care workers more — particularly those who provide sleep cycle support — would increase costs and reduce access to services that help frail seniors and people with disabilities live in community-based settings rather than in nursing homes. Having to pay them minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — would cost the state an additional $12 million, Bruffett told Kansas lawmakers last spring.

Kansas and eight other states filed friend-of-the-court briefs opposing a U.S. Department of Labor regulation requiring third-party employers to pay in-home care works minimum wage and overtime. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed an earlier trial court ruling that had blocked enactment of the regulation. It’s not yet clear when the new regulation will take effect. The plaintiffs in the case, Home Care Association of America v. Weil, are trade associations representing the nation’s home care providers. They have until early October to ask the appeals court to reconsider. They also have the option of asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

—Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

GALLUP SURVEY SHOWS UNINSURED RATES IN MISSOURI AND KANSAS CONTINUE TO FALL

The proportion of Missourians without health insurance fell by 4.3 percentage points from 2013 to the first half of 2015, according to Gallup survey results published earlier this month. The rate of uninsured Missourians now stands at 11.4 percent, compared with 15.2 percent in 2013. The decrease occurred even though Missouri neither expanded Medicaid nor set up its own state-based marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Kansas, which like Missouri did not expand Medicaid or set up its own insurance exchange, also saw a drop in its uninsured rate, albeit a more modest one that its eastern neighbor. According to Gallup, the rate dropped from 12.5 percent in 2013 to 11.3 percent in the first half of 2015.

Nationwide, the uninsured rate plunged from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent through the first half of this year. The drop in the uninsured rate comes two years after the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obamacare, took effect. The rate is the lowest since Gallup began keeping track in 2008. The survey is the first since the Supreme Court ruled last month that, under the ACA, premium subsidies are available in states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, as well as in states that did.

—Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

CHILDREN’S BOOK OFFERS FRESH TAKE ON DISABILITIES 

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was on hand earlier this month for the unveiling of a book to educate children about interacting with people who have disabilities. “Darby Boingg Has an Adventure and Meets a Person with Disabilities” features Boingg, a wallaby with human characteristics, who meets Ian, a young man in a motorized wheelchair. Sunflower State Health Plan hosted the book signing at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. The event featured author Michelle Bain and Ian Kuenzi, a Topekan with cerebral palsy who was her inspiration. Bain is an author and entrepreneur who has partnered with Sunflower State Health Plan’s parent company, Centene, on a series of books about health issues. The book will be distributed free to Sunflower clients. Sunflower is one of three private insurance companies that administer KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program. “I thought it was very important to have something for young kids to look at and reference when it comes to people with disabilities,” Kuenzi said. “(Something that shows) that we can do everything others can do with the right supports.”

—Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

KANSAS LAUNCHES AD BLITZ TO INCREASE CHILD SUPPORT COMPLIANCE

Two Kansas government agencies are teaming up on a $50,000 ad campaign urging employers to follow federal child support law.

These posters, created by JNA Advertising, will be used in an ad campaign urging Kansas employers to report new hires for child support collection. (Photo credit: Andy Marso | KHI NEWS)

These posters, created by JNA Advertising, will be used in an ad campaign urging Kansas employers to report new hires for child support collection. (Photo credit: Andy Marso | KHI NEWS)

The law highlighted in the campaign requires employers to report new hires to the Kansas Department of Labor so the department can withhold any child support the new employee owes. The Department for Children and Families (DCF), which handles child support enforcement in the state, partnered with the labor department to hire JNA Advertising in Overland Park to create television and print ads for the campaign. Trisha Thomas, DCF’s director of child support services, hopes the ad campaign will lead to millions in additional child support revenue. One poster features a robust stalk of broccoli with the text: “You can’t make sure Kansas kids eat their vegetables. But you can make sure they have the support they need.”

States set their own penalties for not following the reporting law, but there is no fine for non-compliance in Kansas. Missouri hasn’t traditionally levied fines either, but the state’s Department of Social Services is in the process of implementing some. Intentional failure to report new hires in Missouri will soon result in a $25 fine. An employer who conspires with an employee to flout the reporting law faces a $350 fine.

—A.M.

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