health

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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.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday that would do away with the law’s major reforms, including the requirement to have health insurance or pay a penalty and the ban on insurers refusing coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Under the proposal, people wouldn’t be required to get health insurance, nor would employers be required to offer it. Instead, groups of people and small employers could come together to form “independent health pools” to negotiate rates.

Federal Judge Blocks Humana-Aetna Merger

Jan 23, 2017
Stephen George

Humana and Aetna won’t be allowed to merge, according to a ruling from a federal judge out on Monday. Antitrust and competition issues were cited.

The companies will likely appeal the ruling, handed down from Washington, D.C. District Court Judge John Bates. An appeal could take another six months to a year.

Tom Noland, spokesperson for Humana, said the company was prepared for this outcome and is still reviewing the 153-page decision. He also noted that whatever the final outcome, Humana will continue as a company.

“The fact that we have millions of members, most of whom renew every year, shows that we do great work,” Noland said.

Stopping Superbugs: A New Farm Rule Targets Antibiotic Resistance

Jan 23, 2017
Nicole Erwin

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control offers a stark example of the declining power of medicine’s most important weapons against infectious disease. The CDC noted that a patient who died at a Nevada hospital last year had an infection that was resistant to 26 different antibiotic treatments. That’s essentially the entire antibiotic arsenal doctors had.

There’s an antibiotic problem in the U.S. Some just aren’t working anymore as resistant bacteria, so-called “superbugs,” are growing. Part of the problem lies with farms, where massive amounts of antibiotics have been used on livestock, including animals that aren’t even sick.


J. Tyler Franklin

At about 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Republicans moved one step closer to repealing a law they have railed against since the moment it was passed nearly seven years ago.

By a final vote of 51-48, the Senate approved a budget resolution that sets the stage for broad swaths of the Affordable Care Act to be repealed through a process known as budget reconciliation. The resolution now goes to the House, where leaders are hoping to approve it by the end of the week.

The powerful tool sets up a fast track for repealing large parts of Barack Obama's major domestic achievement; the best guess is that the Senate is still several weeks away from largely repealing Obamacare. But as the process continues, large questions still loom over how — and when – Republicans will replace the healthcare law.

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