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Health News We Need to Know

Health News We Need to Know

Host Dr. Wayne Tuckson talks with reporters Ja'Nel Johnson with WFPL Radio and Laura Unger with the Louisville Courier-Journal, who discuss recent and important health news.
S11 E15 Length 28:06 Premiere: 1.17.16

Health News We Need to Know

There was no shortage of health care news in the commonwealth during 2015, as debates over the effectiveness of Kentucky’s statewide insurance exchange fueled the gubernatorial campaign and heroin abuse statistics continued their troubling rise. On a more positive note, Kentucky saw the incidence and mortality numbers for colon cancer decline sharply over a 10-year period due to a coordinated effort by the state’s medical community.

In this week’s Kentucky Health, host Dr. Wayne Tuckson talks with two Louisville reporters who provide depth and context to some of the most important health news stories from last year.

Laura Ungar is the health enterprise reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal and also writes for other Gannett newspapers, including USA Today. She has been with the Courier-Journal since 2004. Ja’Nel Johnson is the community health reporter for WFPL in Louisville. She joined the public radio station in fall 2014.

Both reporters devoted much of their time and resources during the final months of 2015 to covering the prospects for Kentucky’s state government-run health exchange, Kynect, and how the Cabinet for Family and Human Services will administer Medicaid going forward. Kynect was introduced in 2013 by Gov. Steve Beshear as the commonwealth’s own extension of the federal Affordable Care Act. Since Kynect started, approximately 500,000 Kentuckians have used the exchange, either applying for expanded Medicaid benefits or joining private insurance plans that may be subsidized.

However, Gov. Matt Bevin vowed to shut down Kynect once he took office, and said he would explore changing the state’s Medicaid enrollment program – which accepted Kentuckians who made up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level in annual income – to a model that requires Medicaid recipients to contribute a portion of their income to the cost of services.

Ja’Nel Johnson says that Bevin often cited Indiana’s Medicaid plan, which requires co-pays from recipients, as a model his administration would study. A phrase Bevin uttered often on the campaign trail, requiring recipients to have “skin in the game,” appears to be an important requirement for the Medicaid plan he seeks to implement, she says.

“Some Indiana folks I’ve talked to who like the Indiana plan say that it’s good [for recipients] to have ‘skin in the game’ because then you feel like you are more invested in it,” Laura Ungar says, “but then there are others who say that’s not right.”

Johnson and Ungar say the Beshear administration did a superb job marketing the Kynect exchange, but that the services it provides are still confusing to many Kentuckians. Most people who have accessed the exchange have done so to receive expanded Medicaid benefits, rather than to sign up with a qualified private health plan, Johnson says.

Bevin reiterated his position to shut down Kynect and change the state’s Medicaid program as 2015 came to a close, but Johnson says the process to accomplish both will take a year at least. The governor has requested federal permission to end Kynect and transition Kentuckians to the ACA exchange, and has also asked for a waiver to allow his administration to craft its own Medicaid program. The time lag in getting federal approval and coming up with a new model will allow for more debate on both issues, both reporters say.

“I definitely think there is opposition to [Bevin’s plans], particularly to scaling back Medicaid,” Ungar says. “And I’ve done a lot of reporting in Eastern Kentucky, looking at folks who were against what they called ‘Obamacare’ but then kind of got turned around when they got on Medicaid and were able to go to the doctor for the first time and get the care they needed, get the screenings they needed.”

Health Disparities Persist Among Different Groups

Johnson talks about her reporting for WFPL’s multimedia series Sick and Tired, which examined the persistent racial disparities in the quality of health care among minorities in Louisville. In the series, Johnson matched up statistics from a 1985 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that examined minority populations with more recent numbers. She also interviewed individuals and families in Louisville whose daily lives have been affected by inadequate health services.

“I was really blown away by how long some of these health disparities have been in play,” Johnson says. She explains that while some statistics have improved for minorities since the 1980s, others – such as a much higher incidence rate for breast cancer among black women compared with white women – have remained constant, or even become worse.

Johnson says that, based on her research and reporting, a “comprehensive plan of action” is necessary to reduce health disparities among minorities. In addition to addressing insurance availability, such a plan would require “a myriad of things,” she says, “such as getting people access to health care, giving them transportation, [and asking], are they getting culturally competent care?” Some persons of color, especially those who haven’t received regular care throughout their lives, may be more comfortable interacting with a medical professional who shares their experiences or background, Johnson says.

Ungar notes that Kentucky is also faced with a sizable economic gap among its citizens that often falls along the urban-rural divide and leads to limited health care options for those living out in the country. The commonwealth has long been faced with a shortage of medical services in its rural counties, she says.

“Another thing that I keep hearing [concerns] health literacy – and literacy in general,” she adds. “In terms of educational attainment, Kentucky unfortunately ranks near the bottom of the nation on that, as well. That goes hand in hand with health literacy.”

Drug Abuse and Treatment

One of the most important health stories of 2015 in Kentucky actually started in rural Southern Indiana, when a major HIV outbreak originating from intravenous drug abuse spread throughout Scott County, north of Louisville. Ungar and Johnson both reported on the outbreak, which led to a warning from the Centers for Disease Control that compared the conditions in Scott County with the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

The HIV outbreak spurred Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to authorize a needle exchange program for Scott County. Louisville’s health department opened its own needle exchange in summer 2015, following the passage of legislation earlier in the year that allowed state health departments to operate the facilities. Johnson says that around 1,200 persons used the Louisville exchange last year, and that other counties in Kentucky are considering opening ones in 2016.

Louisville’s needle exchange program is not without controversy, Johnson says, with concerns ranging from needle disposal to the larger issue of reducing drug dependency. “Just from going to some [Louisville] Metro Council meetings, their main concern is treatment,” she says. “The people are coming to your facility and getting needles, but are you referring them to treatment, and how many of them are actually accepting treatment, and going through with it?”

Both Johnson and Ungar say that public officials and health professionals in Kentucky will need to refocus their energies on drug treatment in 2016. Several years ago, state officials made a coordinated effort to reduce prescription pain medication abuse, and had success. Now, Ungar says, many of the people who abused such drugs have transitioned to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get.

This uptick in heroin abuse is affecting a wide population statewide, but is particularly troubling in rural areas due to the lack of medical services. Ungar and Johnson both have found that many substance abuse programs in Kentucky lack a sufficient focus on mental illness treatment, which is often needed for addicts.

Reversing the Numbers for Colon Cancer

Ungar says that one of the most encouraging stories on Kentucky’s 2015 health care beat concerns the state’s success in reducing both its incidence rates and mortality rates for colorectal cancer. Due in large part to the efforts of the Colon Cancer Prevention Project, started in 2004 by Dr. Whitney Jones of Louisville, Kentucky has substantially improved its screening rates for colorectal cancer, which were among the worst in the country at the turn of the century. This screening initiative has led to a sharp drop in both incidence and mortality.

Screening “is not a fun procedure, but it is a necessary procedure,” Ungar says. “It can not only find cancer at an early stage, but even prevent cancer, because it can find precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum and have them removed during the procedure. Since Dr. Jones’ group started 11 years ago, the screening rate actually has more than doubled. It’s more than 70 percent now [for adults over 50]. And deaths [from colon cancer] are down more than 25 percent. That’s a huge difference, and it’s been cited nationally.”

Program Details

Kentucky Health

About Kentucky Health

Learn how to improve your health through education and increased awareness. Dr. Wayne Tuckson, a colorectal surgeon in Louisville, hosts.

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GERD: A Burning in the Chest and a Whole Lot More

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as GERD, is a painful but common condition caused by irritation in the lining of the esophagus. Dr. Tuckson talks with Jeff Allen, M.D., director of laparoscopic surgery at Norton Surgical Specialists, about surgical options for GERD.

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Lung Cancer: Improving Treatment and Decreasing the Mortality

Though lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from cancer in the United States, there is cause for optimism. Dr. Tuckson talks to Jason Chesney, M.D., director of the UofL Health-Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, about new developments in the treatment of lung cancer.

  • Sunday October 24, 2021 7:00 am ET on KET2
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Carotid Artery Disease: A Precursor to a Stroke

Carotid artery disease can cut off the flow of blood to the brain, potentially causing a stroke. Dr. Tuckson discusses life-saving surgical solutions for carotid artery disease with Nick Abedi, M.D., a vascular surgeon with Fayette Surgical Associates.

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Environmental Pollution: Trees and Bushes as the Fix

Ted Smith, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil at the UofL Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, talks about how planting trees can reduce air pollution, decrease certain health risks and encourage participation in outdoor activities.

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Glaucoma and Cataracts: What's Clear and Are They Inevitable?

Dr. Tuckson talks with ophthalmologist Frank Burns, MD, of Middletown Eye Care, about glaucoma and cataracts.

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Medical Information: Discerning the Wheat from the Chaff

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Oral Cancer and HPV: The Surprising Connection

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GERD: A Burning in the Chest and a Whole Lot More

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Lung Cancer: Improving Treatment and Decreasing the Mortality

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Nutrition and Weight Management

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Medications: A Modern Miracle, But Are They Safe and Available

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The Immune System: Not Just Fighting Infections

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New Approaches to Shoulder Replacement

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Oral Healthcare: Our Teeth Should Last a Lifetime

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Top

Season 11 Episodes

Oral Health in Rural Kentucky

S11 E27 Length 27:35 Premiere Date 6.19.16

Addiction's Impact on the Family

S11 E26 Length 28:36 Premiere Date 6.5.16

Oral Health for Seniors

S11 E25 Length 27:14 Premiere Date 4.17.16

Complications of Pelvic Surgery

S11 E24 Length 27:45 Premiere Date 4.10.16

Common Eye Disorders

S11 E23 Length 28:17 Premiere Date 4.2.16

Hospice Care

S11 E22 Length 27:53 Premiere Date 3.27.16

Cervical Cancer: A Global Epidemic

S11 E21 Length 27:29 Premiere Date 2.28.16

PTSD: Not Limited to the Military

S11 E20 Length 27:09 Premiere Date 2.21.16

African American Health Care in Louisville

S11 E19 Length 27:26 Premiere Date 2.14.16

Human Trafficking

S11 E18 Length 28:20 Premiere Date 2.7.16

Preterm Infants and Their Care

S11 E17 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 1.31.16

Help for Teenage Parents

S11 E16 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 1.24.16

Health News We Need to Know

S11 E15 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 1.17.16

Diagnosing and Treating Dyslexia

S11 E14 Length 28:12 Premiere Date 1.10.16

The Diabetes Epidemic

S11 E13 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 1.3.16

Cancer in Kentucky: Are We Winning the War?

S11 E12 Length 27:27 Premiere Date 12.27.15

Adult Orthodonture

S11 E11 Length 27:24 Premiere Date 12.20.15

Stress and Adolescence

S11 E10 Length 27:11 Premiere Date 12.13.15

Crohn's Disease and Colitis

S11 E9 Length 27:04 Premiere Date 11.22.15

Advances in Telemedicine

S11 E8 Length 26:14 Premiere Date 11.15.15

Lung Cancer in Kentucky

S11 E7 Length 26:44 Premiere Date 11.8.15

Greater Louisville Medical Society

S11 E6 Length 26:49 Premiere Date 11.1.15

Cervical Disc Surgery

S11 E5 Length 27:03 Premiere Date 10.25.15

Training New Doctors

S11 E4 Length 28:37 Premiere Date 10.18.15

Best Practices for Prenatal Care

S11 E3 Length 27:19 Premiere Date 10.11.15

Knee Replacement

S11 E2 Length 26:28 Premiere Date 10.3.15

Chemotherapy: New Advances, a New Age

S11 E1 Length 26:22 Premiere Date 9.26.15

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