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Noonletter, Dec. 10, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Not gonna hear it

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it would not consider a case involving Planned Parenthood and the state of Kansas.

That means Kansas and Louisiana can still decide which medical providers appear competent enough to take on Medicaid patients.

But more notably, states’ power to exclude a clinic on other grounds — if, for instance, it provides abortion services — are limited.

A federal appeals court ruled in February for Planned Parenthood and against the states. The Supreme Court’ s refusal to hear the case leaves that decision in place.

The high court’s stance to sit out the case, and possibly reverse the appeals court, at least marks a short-term win for Planned Parenthood and for abortion rights. It comes from a court still broadly seen as at least a threat to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that has barred states from outlawing abortion.

By refusing to rule on the case, the court let stand a decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that found limits on a state’s ability to bar Medicaid dollars going to some clinics that also offer abortion services.

But the case doesn’t pivot cleanly on abortion rights. Rather, it focused on a clause in Medicaid law letting patients choose which provider they want to perform a given medical service.

Kansas had argued a state can limit what clinics a patient can use when relying on Medicaid to pay the bill.

Then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration decided to deny Planned Parenthood Medicaid funding more than two years ago. It cited secretly recorded video that its promoters said showed the organization discussing the sale of body parts from fetuses — although it didn’t include the Kansas affiliate. It also questioned Planned Parenthoods billing in other states and a dispute over solid waste disposal at its Overland Park offices.

Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer, who succeeded Brownback, took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which the high court left standing, said states can determine whether health care providers act competently. But its powers to pick and choose what outfits are eligible for Medicaid are limited.

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito dissented on the high court's decision to take a pass on the case. Thomas wrote the dissent and cited, among other things, conflicting rulings from various appeals courts.

“Because of this Court’s inaction,” the dissent reads, “patients in different States — even patients with the same providers — have different rights to challenge their State’s provider decisions.”

Cost of coverage

If you rely on your employer for private medical insurance for your family, chances are you’re paying more. If you’re an employer subsidizing your workers’ coverage, your costs likely are going up as well.

A report from health research organization the Commonwealth Fund shows rates for family coverage continue to climb in Kansas and across the country.

Nomin Ujiyediin notes that rates for people signing up to cover a single employee, however, dropped in Kansas in 2017 even as they continued to climbed elsewhere in the United States.

The dropping rates for single coverage plans in Kansas seems to be an anomaly. Ujiyediin spoke with state insurance officials, health care watchdog groups and private insurers. None could explain why single-person policies appeared to drop in price.

Prairie petrol

Who doesn’t love sub-$2 gas?

For starters, Kansas oil producers. Now that OPEC producers have decided to cut production — hoping lower supply means higher demand — the mostly small-scale operators who absolutely do not form a cartel in Kansas have fingers crossed they can see prices head upward.

Oil prices are expected to rise after leaders from OPEC (even as Qatar drops out) and Russia decided to decrease oil production for the first six months of 2019.

Brian Grimmett notes that oil prices have swung dramatically in recent months and fell by almost a third in just the last three weeks.

The head of the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association told Grimmett the move by OPEC could help local producers as they continue to recover from the 2014 oil price crash.

Even before the recent price tumble, Kansas oil people felt antsy about ramping up production

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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