Arkansas Healthcare

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Monday he will call lawmakers back to the State Capitol shortly after the ongoing fiscal session to pass legislation to address growing concerns on rising health costs associated with so-called PBMs, or pharmacy benefit managers.

Asa Hutchinson Jonathan Dismang Jeremy Gillam
Arkansas Times

Arkansas Legislative leaders are asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to call a special session to pass legislation that would license and regulate pharmacy benefit managers through the Arkansas Insurance Department. The governor is to address the request during a 3 p.m. press conference Monday.

Identical letters to that effect were written Friday by Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia.

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson presenting part of his Arkansas Works plan, the state's version of Medicaid expansion.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Trump administration issued guidance to states on Thursday regarding the terms of adding work requirements for Medicaid coverage and Arkansas’s governor is ready to take advantage of the policy shift. Medicaid is a health insurance program for low-income people administered by states but primarily funded by the federal government. Eligibility is largely determined by income levels, which were expanded under the Affordable Care Act.

UAMS
UAMS

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences says it will lay off 258 workers and leave another 350 or so positions unfilled as it addresses a $30 million hole in its budget.

The university chancellor notified 10,900 employees Monday. The school said in a statement it could no longer use reserve money to ensure that it wouldn't exceed its $1.5 billion budget. Spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said the cuts will save $30 million in the rest of this fiscal year and about $60 million next year.

UAMS has employees in 73 of the state's 75 counties.

marijuana
npr.org

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw a monkey wrench into the Natural State’s long-awaited launch of Arkansas’ medical marijuana industry next month by rolling back an Obama-era policy Thursday that opened the door to the legalization of pot in Arkansas and 29 other states.

Governor Asa Hutchinson DHS director Cindy Gillespie
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The governor of Arkansas is touting an 11 percent drop in the state's Medicaid rolls over the past year as he faces another potential fight in keeping the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion alive another year.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday that enrollment in the state's Medicaid program dropped by more than 117,000 people from 2017 to 2018. Nearly 59,000 of that came from the state's hybrid expansion, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie and shows a progress chart to reporters alongside Division of Children and Family Services Director Mischa Martin.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Officials at the Arkansas Department of Human Services say more than 80,000 people were removed from the state's Medicaid rolls in 2017 after new technology and data were used to show they were ineligible for the benefits.

Nearly one-third of those cases involved people who did not report changes of address as required by the state. More than 25,000 people were removed from the program because they were receiving public benefits from more than one state.

Arkansas Center for Health Improvement President Joe Thompson (left) and Arkansas Insurance Department Commissioner Allen Kerr exchanging notes after speaking to a legislative committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Friday is the last day of open enrollment for signing up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare exchanges, or marketplaces

State officials are predicting more Arkansans to enroll this year than the last -despite efforts by the Trump administration to limit the enrollment period and to curtail outreach and advertisement about its existence.

The exchange has been open since November 1st and closes December 15th. Enrollees can choose between private insurance plans and determine eligibility for federal subsidies, made possible by the ACA.

US Department of Veterans Affairs

Friday marks the end of the enrollment period for people seeking insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

What was once a three month sign up period was shortened to 45 days under the Trump administration. Jim McDonald, executive director of Enroll the Ridge in Jonesboro, said the decreased timeframe changed the approach of the Arkansas’s navigators who help people sign up for insurance.

Thirty cents of every health care dollar is wasted, according to speakers at a recent “Cost of Health Care in Arkansas” symposium at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law.  What accounts for some of the waste? Unnecessary procedures with substantial costs that usually offer little or no health benefit to the patient.  

Examples of low-value care include unnecessary diagnostic imaging, vitamin D screenings, annual electrocardiograms (EKG) for patients without symptoms or risk factors, antibiotics for a simple respiratory infection and aggressive treatment for lower back pain before it has a chance to improve through rest and gentler therapies.

Patients themselves may have to put a stop to low-value care, says Dr. Joe Thompson with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

“They have the most skin in the game, so to speak,” he said.

flu shot
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A mass flu vaccine clinic will be held Wednesday at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock. Flu shots will be available from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Hall of Industry at 2600 Howard Street off of Roosevelt Road.

People with health insurance should bring their insurance cards, while those without coverage will also be able to get the vaccine at no charge. The clinic is being hosted by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration building in Little Rock.
KUAR News

Data from Arkansas' Department of Finance and Administration show that most applications for medical marijuana distribution sites came in for Pulaski County, the state's most populous county, while the largest number of cultivation applications list Jefferson County.

AACF / AACF

President Trump is ending some federal insurance subsidies for people covered under the Affordable Care Act. KUAR’s David Monteith spoke with Marquita Little, Health Policy Director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, about what the cuts will mean for Arkansans’ access to healthcare.

DAVID MONTEITH: President Trump announced he’s cutting cost-sharing reductions, or subsidies for some people insured under the Affordable Care Act. Can you tell us what’s getting cut and who will be impacted?

pediatric exercise science lab at the Arkansas Children's Research Institute
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center on Tuesday unveiled an exercise science lab designed to help researchers better understand how physical activity promotes better health. Officials say it’s only the second such facility in the nation.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined officials inside the lab, which is equipped with treadmills and other equipment, to mark the opening. Hundreds of children from a broad range of backgrounds will take part in the research, said the center’s Director Sean Adams.

Gov. Mike Beebe
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

In a rare public disagreement with his Republican successor, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday called the proposed Graham-Cassidy amendment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act “a terrible bill” that would hurt the state’s economy and healthcare marketplace.

Governor Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Governor's Office / You Tube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday put the weight of his office behind Congress’ latest attempt to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, saying the Graham-Cassidy bill now circulating in the U.S. Senate was the “best and last opportunity” to replace the Affordable Care Act passed by former President Barack Obama.

Hospital pharmacist Mandy Langston remembers when Lulabelle Berry arrived at the emergency center of Stone County Medical Center in Mountain View, Ark., last year.

Berry couldn't talk. Her face was drooping on one side. Her eyes couldn't focus.

"She was basically unresponsive," Langston recalls.

About one in four first responders suffers from moderate to major depression, according to an ongoing University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences study that seeks to examine the effects of job stress on firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Married to a firefighter herself, Sara Jones, a psychiatric nurse practioner and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at UAMS, said much research has gone into the causes and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and law enforcement officers but not much is known about the effects of trauma on firefighters and EMT’s.

Inside Dr. Tammy Post's medical clinic lobby on Willow Springs Road in Johnson, a silvery wall fountain trickles; beyond the water feature is a spacious suite of examination rooms. Post, a board certified family and osteopathic medical practitioner says she’s interested in alternative medicine but never imagined she would become an advocate for medical marijuana.

“I was one of those doctors that thought marijuana was all the myths we believed about a gateway drug,” she says. “I believed it to be illicit and dangerous, like ecstasy and heroin and cocaine.”

Over the past two months, Post has certified more than a hundred patients for Arkansas Department of Health medical marijuana registry identification cards. That's roughly one of every eight approved statewide so far.  

Daniel Breen / KUAR News

Dozens of parents and children rallied against proposed cuts to the federal budget in Little Rock Wednesday, saying they would severely impact Medicaid services in Arkansas. Arkansas Community Organizations hosted the “Children for Healthcare” Day of Action across from Stephens Elementary School, where kids wrote symbolic postcards addressed to U.S. Rep. French Hill.

Gwendolynn Millen Combs teaches at Stephens Elementary. She’s also an Air Force veteran, and a Democratic hopeful for Hill’s seat in the House.

The latest numbers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show Arkansas had the second-highest opioid prescribing rate in the nation in 2016, after Alabama. There are enough painkiller prescriptions being filled for every Arkansan to have a bottle.

The rates reflect the number of initial and refill prescriptions dispensed per 100 people at retail (non-hospital) pharmacies, which represent 88% of prescriptions in the United States. For Arkansas, the rate is 114.6.

U.S. Senator John Boozman Recovering From Heart Surgery

Aug 16, 2017
U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R) at Little Rock's VA Hospital
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

U.S. Senator John Boozman is recovering from a successful follow-up procedure to a 2014 heart surgery. Boozman's office says he'll be back to work when the Senate reconvenes in September.

The 66-year-old underwent the procedure at a Washington D.C. area hospital on Tuesday. Boozman staff say it was "recommended by doctors who have been monitoring his aorta since a tear in it was surgically repaired in 2014."

U.S. Senator John Boozman in the Republican Party of Arkansas headquarters in 2016 during a campaign interview.
KUAR News

U.S. Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., has scheduled a follow-up surgical procedure next Tuesday (Aug. 15) that’s related to an emergency heart surgery he underwent a little more than three years ago.

Boozman, Arkansas’ senior senator, had surgery April 22, 2014, to fix an aortic dissection. The procedure was performed at Mercy Hospital in Rogers. The medical staff at the time said the surgery went as planned.

CDC, National Vital Statistics System

The politics of public health will be at play as Arkansas moves forward with studying pregnancy-related deaths.

Arkansas has the third-highest rate of women who die during pregnancy or delivery, according to the United Health Foundation. This has prompted a study into the matter.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Karen Tricot Steward / KUAR News

After being called to the White House earlier this week to discuss healthcare, Governor Asa Hutchinson says the Trump administration appears to be reaching out in a broader way for input on the future of the nation's healthcare system.

"There's going to be a slower and more thoughtful process coming up. What we saw in the Senate last week was a bill that did not go through the committee process and did not have hearings. It was limited and it failed to pass. And so now I hope that you will see... broad coalitions come together," Hutchinson tells KUAR News.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says a meeting in Washington with other governors and Trump administration officials to discuss the health care overhaul was productive and that he's encouraged there's a commitment to include him and leaders from other states to find solutions to concerns with the law.

Hutchinson's office said the Republican governor traveled to Washington on Monday morning for the White House meeting to discuss options for improving the health care system. Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said the governor will return to the state Tuesday.

Willie Freeman says he used to avoid smiling, and if he did, it was in a way almost no one could see, with his mouth closed. He was embarrassed of his rotten teeth.

“I wouldn’t go around people and if I did smile, you know, nobody would see me smile,” said Freeman. “My teeth was so messed up, you know, I had gaps everywhere,” he said sitting in an office at Little Rock’s low-income, non-profit Harmony Health Clinic, waiting for an appointment.

What's The Skinny

Jul 28, 2017

A decisive early Friday vote on a GOP-led Obamacare "skinny" repeal comes up short. Why Arkansas's Senators voted for the failed measure amidst evidence that state public opinion may not be quite on their side.

Both of Arkansas’s U.S. Senators - Tom Cotton and John Boozman – joined a failed effort in the early morning hours, around 1:30 a.m. Washington D.C. time, to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. While three Republicans (Linda Murkowski-AL, Susan Collins-ME, John McCain-AZ) voted with Democrats to defeat the proposal, Cotton and Boozman joined with the majority of their party. The vote was 51-49.

Late Wednesday night Arkansas’s four member U.S. House delegation, all Republican, split over a vote to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis division. That’s the non-partisan government office charged with scoring things like healthcare repeal bills for cost and how many would gain or lose insurance coverage.

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