For reporters tasked with covering health news in 2018, it was a busy year. From the fight over Kentucky’s Medicaid changes to the opioid crisis, there was plenty of news on the health beat.
Below, WFPL Health Reporter Lisa Gillespie shares some of her favorite stories from the past year.
If we’re lucky, we’ll all become old one day. And often what I think about in getting older is having children, grandchildren and having a family. But another part of it that isn’t as nice to think about is getting sick, and how the health care system takes care of us – and doesn’t – when that happens.
This story is about how a man who didn’t want to be resuscitated in the event his heart or pulse stopped. But care was withheld before his heart or pulse stopped – when his pulse and heart were slowing. We’ll never know if treatment to reverse his heart from slowing would have worked. But we do know that he didn’t get that treatment, and he died. This is a story of a system-wide problem, and one daughter who wonders what could have happened if he’d gone to a different hospital.
One of the things people don’t think about with medical advancements and longer life expectancy is what people have to do to keep living. I told the stories of three older adults who had jobs and continue to work because they can’t afford not to. All three shared worries about what will happen when they physically cannot work anymore.
I’ll never forget riding a car with Silas Bowen. Every time the car would go over a bump, he’d wince and clutch the seat. The ride was about 25 minutes but felt like it lasted forever. Bowen is one strong person – he has a somewhat rare syndrome that means his bones frequently fall out of socket. That’s why going over those bumps is super painful for him. And until recently, Bowen had taken prescription opioids to deal with the pain. But with the increased awareness that people were becoming addicted to prescription opioids, government regulators told doctors to scale back on prescribing. Bowen is one of many people with chronic conditions who’ve had a hard time gaining access to opioids.
The federal government in August rolled out a nationwide ban on smoking in public housing, with local housing authorities responsible for enforcement. The ban is an attempt to improve the health of public housing residents. But there’s also another side to this story – living in public housing means a person doesn’t have much money or a choice of where to live. And putting a ban on indoor smoking is one more thing that residents don’t have a choice about, or at least without the threat of eviction.
Changes to the Medicaid program were by far the biggest continuing story I covered in 2018. First, the federal government approved Kentucky’s waiver to put in place copays for some adults with Medicaid (among other changes), then an advocacy group sued the federal government for doing so. And two days before those changes were to go into effect, a federal judge ruled to stop the changes.
Just recently, the federal government re-approved the waiver, and Kentucky is now set to implement the changes next year. There’s been a lot of confusion for enrollees in Medicaid – I can’t tell you the number of emails and calls I’ve received asking if that person would have to work 20 hours a week to keep coverage.
I thought creating a calculator to help people navigate what might change for them would be helpful, so I paired up with our data reporter, Alexandra Kanik, to do so. This was before the Kentucky government had released its own calculator or a consumer-friendly version of changes.