Megan Hart

Megan Hart joined the Kansas Health Institute in 2015 as a journalist for the KHI News Service, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration with KCUR, KCPT and Kansas Public Radio.

Previously, she was a business reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal, where she also covered the state economy, agriculture and health care. Before moving to Topeka, Megan was a reporter for The Muskegon Chronicle (Michigan) and The State News (East Lansing, Michigan). Megan has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Chinese from Michigan State University.

Aubri Thompson has already had her share of challenges by age 21: She left the foster care system without a designated caregiver, lived without a steady home for more than a year and became a single parent before finishing college.

Thompson lived in the Kansas foster care system from age 14, when she was reported as a runaway, until she “aged out” at 18. During that time, she moved 21 times, staying in foster homes, group homes and mental health treatment facilities.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday signed a bill creating a task force to examine the Kansas foster care system.

The number of children in the Kansas foster care system has set records in recent years, passing 7,100 in April. The death of an abused boy in Kansas City, Kansas, also raised concerns about whether the system was protecting children. 

In voting for a $1.2 billion tax increase to bolster the budget for the next two years, the Kansas Legislature avoided a projected $900 budget hole and began restoring past cuts to the mental health system.

Safety concerns continue to prevent recertification of Osawatomie State Hospital, although a recent inspection didn’t find any evidence of the patient violence that prompted federal officials to decertify it in late 2015.

Staffing shortages and concerns about security and patient safety prompted the initial order. Certain they had addressed those issues, state officials appeared confident the state-run psychiatric hospital would pass muster. 

Gov. Sam Brownback defended his signature tax cuts this week after lawmakers overrode his veto of a bill repealing them, but he may have exaggerated their impact.

A bill to replace funding for Medicaid and the Kansas mental health system lost to budget-balancing cuts last year is headed to Gov. Sam Brownback.

Senate substitute for House Bill 2079 would increase a fee that health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, pay to do business in Kansas from 3.31 percent to 5.77 percent. HMOs are a type of health insurance that typically has lower premiums but only covers care within a network of doctors and hospitals. 

Kansas House and Senate negotiators have come up with an amended foster care task force bill but are working against the legislative clock to get it passed.

A few years ago, Olathe attorney Shanelle Dupree noticed a pattern in the foster care cases she handled: Most parents had little understanding of the system or what to do if they wanted their children back.

So she started a class to try to change that. Once a month, parents who have a child in foster care can meet in a Johnson County family law courtroom to learn more about the basics of the child welfare system. Most parents are referred by the courts as part of the plan to prove they can take care of their children, Dupree said.

Kansas is on track to spend less than a third of what it did six years ago on cash assistance and to serve a third as many low-income people, according to a state budget office memo.

Those numbers have been falling steadily since Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011, when Kansas began incorporating work requirements for programs like cash assistance and food stamps in an effort to break what the governor described as “cycles of dependency.”

A new law will allow Kansas crisis centers to treat involuntary mental health patients for up to 72 hours, but it isn’t clear if lawmakers will fund it.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday signed House Bill 2053, which allows crisis centers to treat people deemed a danger to themselves or others because of a mental health or substance use disorder. The bill had passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 27-12 after some amendments. 

Kansas lawmakers have struggled since 2015 on whether to investigate alleged discrimination against same-sex couples in the state’s foster care and adoption system.

Now some think they’ve hit on an answer: Ask people working in the foster care system if they think the issue needs a deeper look.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, has asked the Legislative Post Audit Division to conduct a survey about potential bias against same-sex couples in child placement decisions.

Editor’s note: Kansas privatized its foster care system in 1997 after a lawsuit revealed widespread problems. Twenty years later, the number of Kansas children in foster care has shot up — by a third in just the last five years — and lawmakers are debating whether the system once again needs serious changes. The Kansas News Service investigated problems in the system and possible solutions. This is the first story in a series.

The Kansas House gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill creating a task force that will recommend improvements to the foster care system.

The House Children and Seniors Committee passed the bill in March after collecting testimony from foster parents, law enforcement officials and child welfare advocates. Many of those who testified expressed concerns about social worker caseloads and lack of coordination in the system. 

Another poll has found strong majorities of Kansans support expanding Medicaid, but some political experts say it isn’t likely to make a difference this legislative session.

The latest Medicaid expansion poll found about 68 percent of Kansans surveyed said they supported expanding the program to non-disabled adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or annual income of about $16,600 for an individual and $33,400 for a family of four. About 60 percent of Republicans polled said they also supported expansion.

A bill to increase oversight of the Kansas foster care system hit a snag after state officials said its wording could jeopardize millions in federal funding.

The bill would create an interim oversight committee that would study problems in the state’s foster care system and submit a corrective action plan to the Kansas Legislature. The House Committee on Children and Seniors approved the bill in March, but it still must pass the full House and Senate.

The Kansas House voted Tuesday to substantially reduce a tax the state had struggled to enforce on e-cigarette liquid.

A motion to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that would expand Medicaid eligibility failed Monday in the Kansas House, 81-44. At least 84 votes were needed to override the veto and move the bill to the Senate.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. March 30.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday morning vetoed a bill to expand Medicaid eligibility in Kansas, spurring a short veto override effort in the Kansas House that likely will continue next week.

Kansas has plenty of reports on problems in its foster care system but needs a plan to fix them, according to members of a House committee.

The House Children and Seniors Committee voted Tuesday to create a foster care task force that will present a plan for improvements to the foster care system by January.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, said the state needs to do more than study the foster care system.

“This task force is not for oversight. It’s for corrective action,” he said.

The leader of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services wants the state’s two psychiatric hospitals to be exempt from a concealed carry law set to take effect in July.

KDADS Secretary Tim Keck told a legislative committee this week that the department is seeking authorization to continue banning concealed guns in Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals. The two hospitals treat people with mental health conditions who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

Kansas tax receipts came in about $37 million above estimates in February, chipping away at the state’s budget deficit.

The Kansas Budget Office on Wednesday reported about $331.5 million in tax receipts for the month, which was about 13 percent higher than projected revenue. Tax revenues were up about 9 percent compared to February 2016.

A bill that would allow treatment centers to detain Kansans in mental health crisis for up to three days moved forward Thursday after months of work to develop a compromise.

A Kansas House committee overseeing budgets for social services offered appreciation to programs serving the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illnesses.

Legislators may not be able to offer much more than that.

Kansas is one of three states that doesn’t allow first responders to carry a drug to reverse opioid overdoses.

Rep. Greg Lakin, a Republican from Wichita, wants to get the state off that exclusive list. A bill in the House Health and Human Services Committee would allow first responders to carry medication to reverse opioid overdoses.

healthcare.gov

From the Kansas Health Institute:

About 12 percent dropped coverage, close to national average.

Almost nine out of every 10 Kansans who selected health insurance on the federal online marketplace paid for at least the first month of their coverage this year, offering one bit of stability in the sometimes-turbulent marketplace.

Funding cuts and changes for children’s programs across the state became a reality at the start of this month — and that means fewer Kansas families will receive some services.

An official with TARC, a Shawnee County organization that serves people with developmental disabilities, said the nonprofit was out of options for administrative cuts in the wake of state funding reductions.