health

Mary Meehan | Ohio Valley ReSource

At a moment when food aid agencies are working to provide healthier food to the poor and the elderly, President Donald Trump has proposed a 21 percent cut in funding for the agriculture programs that support them.

It’s a move that advocates say is bad for people who need food and local farmers who provide it.

To understand why folks are worried is to understand Appalachia’s dependence on food programs. Research at West Virginia University found 15 percent of people there are food insecure. A study in Athens, Ohio, showed half of the families enrolled in Head Start couldn’t count on regular meals. And in Kentucky, where one fourth of children in poverty cope with hunger, God’s Pantry program director Danielle Bozarth struggles to keep up. She said it’s unclear what specific food-related programs might be hurt by budget cuts.

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A new poll shows growing support for a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, despite Kentucky having the highest rate of smokers in the nation.

The latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll shows 71 percent of Kentuckians support a comprehensive statewide-smoke free law compared to 66 percent over the last two years.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says such a law would help reduce second-hand smoke and discourage young people from becoming smokers.

“When people don’t see smoking as much, they’re not likely to do it and where we have to stop the smoking is with young people,” Chandler says. “Those are the people who are the most influenced by these things.”

Howard Berkes/NPR

A bipartisan group of legislators has asked President Donald Trump to make more money available for black lung health clinics as they face an increase in cases of the disease among coal miners.  

More than 20 clinics would benefit from the $3.3 million increase lawmakers are requesting. The clinics provide miners with health screenings, medical care, and assistance in securing black lung benefits.

The lawmakers wrote in a letter to the president and the White House budget director that the level of funding for clinics has been frozen for the past five years.  

When House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act so that people can buy insurance that's right for them, and not something created in Washington, part of what he's saying is that he wants to get rid of so-called essential health benefits.

That's a list of 10 general categories of medical care that all insurance policies are required to cover under the Affordable Care Act.

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Kentucky has ranked first in the country in deaths from lung cancer for years, and about a third of those deaths were related to smoking, according to a 2016 study released by the American Cancer Society.

A lot of public attention is now focused on overdose deaths from heroin and other drugs, but studies show deaths from lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers were three times as high as deaths from overdoses in 2015.

I spoke with Heather Wehrheim, advocacy director of the American Lung Association in Kentucky. She says addressing the public health effects of tobacco use should be more of a priority for not only the state, but also the public.

Pence to Visit Louisville to Promote Health Plan

Mar 9, 2017
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday as he tries to make the case for repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama's health care law.

Pence is set to appear with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin at the event in the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has been a critic of the health care legislation backed by President Donald Trump and Pence.

Pence was in Ohio and Wisconsin last week in support of the repeal.

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A new statewide polls finds 42 percent of Kentucky adults say they aren’t getting the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll also found that the availability of healthy food options remains a barrier for many low-income Kentuckians.

Nearly one-quarter of low-income earning adults said they didn’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods. Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President Ben Chandler said better eating would lead to better results for the commonwealth.

Stephen George

After President Donald Trump cited Gov. Matt Bevin’s claim that the Affordable Care Act is “unsustainable and collapsing” in Kentucky during his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear delivered the official Democratic response: Don’t dismantle Obamacare.

“You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it,” Beshear said during his speech, which was broadcast from a diner in Lexington.

“Does the Affordable Care Act need some repairs? Sure it does,” Beshear said. “But so far, every Republican idea to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite your promises to the contrary.”

Alix Mattingly

Gov. Matt Bevin said Monday despite praise for Kentucky’s embrace of the Affordable Care Act in recent years, the initiative has been an “abject failure” in the state.

“Kentucky, which has long been vaunted as an example of the opposite, I’m telling you as a matter of fact has been an unmitigated disaster,” Bevin said at a news conference after governors attended an event with President Trump.

Bevin has long opposed the Affordable Care Act, which made more people eligible for Medicaid in Kentucky and created a state exchange, Kynect, for people to purchase health insurance.

Courtesy Mountain Comprehensive Care

Mike Caudill runs Mountain Comprehensive Care Corporation in five eastern Kentucky counties. Many of his 30,000 patients gained insurance through Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. No one knows if or when those folks might lose coverage. But, Caudill said, the impact could be considerable.

“I don’t want to be a Chicken Little that the sky is falling. On the other hand, neither do I want to stick my head in the sand,” he said. “A lot of it is the unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen.”

Caudill runs federally qualified health centers, providing primary and preventive care such as doctor’s visits and vaccinations. They also support community programs including a day care and a service providing fresh fruits and vegetables to 700 people who are chronically ill. If there are significant changes in his revenue because of a repeal of the ACA, Caudill said, those programs that improve the quality of life in the community would be the first to go.

Benefind Homepage-screenshot

Kentucky’s state auditor has released a report detailing problems with last year’s rollout of Benefind, the new online portal for state benefits like health care, food stamps and cash assistance.

Both the administrations of Gov. Matt Bevin, who took office nearly three months before the rollout, and that of former Gov. Steve Beshear, which spearheaded the development of the new system, had identified problems with Benefind before its introduction.

But Michael Goins, communications director for Republican Auditor Mike Harmon, placed the blame for Benefind’s problems squarely on Beshear.

Mary Meehan

Dona Wells walked through what’s left of the EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky. Boxes fill what use to be offices. Sterilized medical supplies are in disarray. A light flickers on and off in the back hallway. She doesn’t see a point in fixing it. At 75, she still runs 25 miles a week, but Wells is tired.

“I was going to retire anyway, probably this year,” she said. But I wanted to do it on my terms, not Gov. Bevin’s terms.”

That would be Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who recently signed two bills into law further restricting abortion services: one requiring an ultrasound as part of abortions and another prohibiting the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The final straw for Wells came in the form of a new license requirement from the state. Wells has been battling restrictive rules for most of the clinic’s 28 years, but the battle is over now. She’s closing the clinic.

John Ted Dagatano

She asked to not be identified. And it’s understandable given the stigma attached to addiction. For this story, we’ll call her “Mary.”

Mary lives in eastern Kentucky and has struggled with an addiction that began with painkillers and progressed to heroin.

“As soon as I opened my eyes, I had to get it,” Mary said. “And even when I did get it, then I had to think of the next way that I was going to get.”

Mary was using when she learned she was pregnant with her first child. She sought treatment but the disease had a tight grip on her.

The child was born dependent on opioids and went through the pains of withdrawal shortly after delivery.

“To see that little boy go through that stuff, you’d think that I would, like, change my life around immediately but I didn’t,” Mary said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I was in complete denial that because of my choices, it was my fault that he was going through that.”

As Congress weighs repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday sought to keep its conservative-style Medicaid expansion under the federal health the health law.

Benny Becker

On any given day in Martin County, Kentucky, the water system loses more water to leaks than it delivers to paying customers through their faucets. The water system is under a state investigation for the third time since 2002. Customers complain of frequent service interruptions and discolored water, and their bills come with a notice that drinking the water could increase the risk of cancer.

This is the state of infrastructure in a county that’s mined many millions of dollars worth of coal since the early 1900s, providing the power required for America’s industries and modern comforts. As with many coalfield communities, all the profit and advances the area’s laborers and natural resources made possible haven’t left much evidence of improvement in the local economy and infrastructure.

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