State Health

Stories about health in Arkansas, from the state Department of Health to campaigns to reduce the number of preventable accidents.

Arkansas Department of Correction

The Arkansas State Medical Board dropped a possible investigation Thursday into a Department of Correction-affiliated doctor’s role in obtaining a lethal injection drug.

The board was reviewing whether an ADC doctor might have used his license to help obtain a lethal injection drug from the McKesson Company.

McKesson sued the department in April, claiming a physician’s license on file had been used to purchase the drugs under false pretenses.

Board attorney Kevin O’Dwyer says the board ruled to drop the matter after finding no proof of the doctor’s involvement.

Rusti Barger

Rusti Barger, a stay-at-home mom of six, delivered her first two babies in the local hospital. When she became pregnant a third time in 1999, she and her husband David, from rural Faulkner County, chose to have a home birth. They hired a midwife who instructed her to undergo a state-mandated medical risk assessment. Barger made an appointment at the county public health clinic. And that’s where, she says, things went awry. 

Joe Thompson is CEO of the Arkansas Center For Health Improvement
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

For lawmakers, caregivers and patients  a solution to the state legislature’s multi-year process of bringing a new type of coordination to a traditional Medicaid population is set to be finalized this summer.

PASSE, or Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, will be a new oversight entity made up of nonprofit and for-profit health providers to manage the care of the state’s medically needy Medicaid population. It includes the elderly, developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The deadline for these companies to apply to be in PASSE is June 15, according to the Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Insurance Department.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas's General Assembly has given initial approval to healthcare changes not possible under President Obama. 

The modifications would move about 60,000 out of the subsidized Medicaid expansion that took place after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and under the guidance of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. These recipients would become customers in the regular exchange. The changes also include new Medicaid work requirements.  

A final vote is expected Wednesday morning.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Echo Soza lives at Our House, a homeless shelter for the working poor in Little Rock. The 47-year-old housekeeper was uninsured a few years ago when she had a stroke.    

“I actually was hospitalized and then lost my housing and then came here,” she says.  

Arkansas Suicide Prevention Hotline Bill Heads To Full Senate

Mar 22, 2017
LA Johnson / National Pubic Radio

Arkansas’s first non-natural cause of death is by suicide, just slightly ahead of car accidents, and more than twice as often as homicide, according to the  Arkansas Department of Health.

It is also one of two states in the nation without a state suicide hotline. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

A bill to cap the number of enrollees in the state’s Medicaid expansion pool at its current rate, roughly 332,000, is progressing through the Arkansas legislature despite violating federal law.

HB1465, sponsored by Rep. Josh Miller, (R-Herber Springs), passed the full House earlier this month and is scheduled to go before the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committee Wednesday.

Approved by the legislature and then-Gov. Mike Beebe in 2013 as the Private Option, the state's response to the Affordable Care Act of 2009 provides health coverage for low-income Arkansans. It was rebranded by Gov. Asa Hutchinson as Arkansas Works in 2015.

The federal government currently pays for 95 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs, and that is slated to drop to 90 percent in 2020.

“It’s not a boon to the people of Arkansas,” said Miller.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Fewer than a dozen speakers piped up at the Arkansas Department of Health’s first public hearing today, and the whole affair — advertised around the state and referrenced often on social media — finished in about 40 minutes.

Several speakers voiced concern that the health department was overreaching for quality control through proposed batch sampling and laboratory testing thresholds, and that such a regulatory structure was hindering the rollout of the therapy, and promises to pass those costs on to the patients. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

The same week that federal Republicans unveiled a proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ARKids First program which they say sent the state’s uninsured rates for children plummeting from 25 percent to less than five percent.

ARKids First offers a Medicaid option for kids from low-income families as well as a second option for kids from moderate-income families.  Two parents with two kids on a household income of less than $51,273 would be eligible for ARKids B, while a single parent with one child and an income of less than $22,748 would be eligible for the Medicaid option.  The program is not often referred to as Medicaid but simply as ARKids First.

J. Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

Last May, sisters Anais, Elise and Emory Bowerman spent the night at a Girl Scout slumber camp in Lowell. The girls came home the next day covered with ticks. 

“One second my life was going great," says Anais, 11. "Then a tick bites me and it’s all ruined.”

Anais, a budding artist, says her hands started to shake. Her sisters Elise, 10, and Emory, 7, also started to feel ill.

“I threw up twice," Emory says. "I felt sluggish and my head was kind of dizzy.” 

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

Sales tax on soda will go up from 1.5% to 6.5% in Arkansas next year, under a bill signed by Gov. Hutchinson that aims to raise millions for military retiree tax cuts.  The increase is coupled with a tax reduction on the wholesale price for the syrup used by beverage makers, which has advocates for the poor complaining that the higher tax will be paid only by consumers.

The increase comes at a time when soda has largely fallen out of favor with consumers, as they seek healthier alternatives.  PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) spent its advertising dollars this year on a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl promoting its new LIFEWTR premium bottled water instead of its traditional cola drinks.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

  

Renee Green stays home with her 7-year-old disabled son, Adam, who has seizures throughout the day and cannot communicate or eat. She recently quit her job in human resources to care for Adam full time using coverage obtained through the Affordable Care Act.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA / Arkansas Public Media

Several medical doctors today hinted that they would not prescribe medical marijuana to patients even when such treatment is available because its risks and benefits are scientifically unproven.

Still, the Arkansas Board of Health unanimously (with one abstention and a few absences) approved the health department's draft rules and regulations for medical marijuana. It now begins a phase of adoption that includes public hearings. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek/Arkansas Public Media

In Washington the Republican-controlled Congress is speeding toward a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While GOP leadership at the Arkansas state Capitol has said lawmakers should wait and see what happens, some conservative members of the legislature want action now.

J. Froelich

Springdale resident Melisa Laelan caught the mumps last November from her kids even though she and her children were vaccinated. Her case is not unusual, one of 2,421 in Arkansas. What is unusual is that nearly half of all cases nationwide are in Arkansas.

“It was miserable,” she says. “I experienced severe pain on the side of my neck. You can’t swallow anything because if you do it hurts.”

The inflammation in her salivary glands caused her jaw to swell. She had fever and aches. The illness lasted ten days. 

“This is an epidemic,” says Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist with the Arkansas Department of Health. “Our normal case count is 3 or 4 a year. And a majority of our cases are among the Marshallese.”

Arkansas Public Media

CORRECTION: This story originally mistook a projection from the Arkansas Department of Health about when its rules and regulations will be finalized for when medical marijuana will actually be available to patients in the state. We regret the error. 

CORRECTION: Future medical marijuana users will not have to pass a law enforcement background check but caregivers who are legally empowered to purchase and handle the drug therapy on the patient's behalf will.

The Arkansas Department of Health late Monday afternoon released a draft of the physician's written certification necessary for an Arkansan with one of the qualifying 18 conditions to get medical marijuana once the state's dispensaries are licensed and running.

Arkansas Public Media

For most questions on Arkansas's Medical Marijuana Amendment, the refrain from the state's Department of Finance and Administration as well as its Department of Health has been consistent and continual: the answers are right there in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

Center for Economic and Policy Research 2008

Note: An earlier version of this story said there was no cost estimate available for paid maternity leave for state workers. In fact, a 2015 financial impact statement put the costs to the state of six-weeks paid maternity leave at $354,000, according to a story published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 15. Neither source referred to in this story, when asked, made mention of this earlier cost estimate. 

Little Rock Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker is re-introducing paid maternity leave, a state worker benefit he tried and failed to get through the last legislative session.

Filed Monday, House Bill 1046 would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more. Employees who’ve worked less than a year are explicitly excluded, as are those at public colleges and universities, many of whom have already signed contracts with ample paid leave, maternity or otherwise.

It does include qualifying part-time employees.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman's never been in such a political position. She's a surgical oncologist. That's good for generating approving smiles, not to mention a very liveable wage. On Monday, she was picked to chair the new Medical Marijuana Commission.

Well, "chair" — more like hotseat.

"Care to share how you voted on amendment 6?" a reporter asked new medical marijuana commissioner Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman.

"You don't have to answer that if you don't want to," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Jake Bleed interrupted. "We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," he told her.

"We're all here to carry out the intent of the voter," she parroted.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s secured federal approval to keep the state’s public/private healthcare partnership, renamed “Arkansas Works," but a debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act continues at the federal level, and Arkansas’s budget remains deeply dependent on federal money from “Obamacare.”

In 2014 Hutchinson was elected on a promise to dismantle the state’s Obamacare model. This week he traveled to Washington for federal approval to keep and tweak it.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansans with certain ailments may look forward this morning to a prescription marijuana option in the near future. Voters approved ballot issue 6, the so called Medical Marijuana referendum, 53 percent to 47 percent last night.

Lawyer David Couch was the ballot issue’s biggest advocate. He said there are perhaps tens of thousands of Arkansans who already use marijuana for medicinal reasons, and the vote will simply move them into a “legitimate marketplace.”

SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE

Arkansas voters will decide to legalize medical marijuana November 8th. But medicinal hemp is already available for purchase over-the-counter.

Hemp, like marijuana, contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol, an ingredient in supplements and creams boasting this active ingredient are best sellers at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, says wellness manager, Carrie Hilderbrandt.

“We carry a wide variety of soft gels, liquids, oral applicators, lozenges and topical balms.”

This member-owned cooperative, the only store like it in Arkansas, sells two brands of hemp-based cannabidiol products, one organic and the other conventionally grown, ranging in price from $20 to $70.

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