telemedicine

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — When Christi Graber checked into the St. Catherine Hospital emergency room late last year, she thought she was having a heart attack.

Her left arm ached, she felt dizzy, and she experienced shortness of breath.

The hospital’s cardiologist wasn’t available that night or for the next three days, so Graber had two options: Travel by ambulance to see a cardiologist more than two hours away in Hays during a snowstorm; or simply go home. Ultimately, she and her husband drove home.

In April, the Kansas Supreme Court said the state’s constitution gives women a right to abortion.

That landmark ruling bolsters an ongoing lawsuit to expand access to abortion in Wichita. The case aims to clear the way for a clinic there — unable to find any willing, local doctors — to lean more on physicians in other states.

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A judge ruled Monday that Kansas cannot stop telemedicine abortions, thwarting the latest attempt by state lawmakers to prevent doctors from providing pregnancy-ending pills to women they see by remote video conferences.

A Kansas law prohibiting drug-induced abortions via telemedicine is being challenged by a women’s health clinic in Wichita that provides abortions.

Trust Women Wichita on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law from taking effect on Jan. 1.

“Our mission as an organization is to provide reproductive health care to people in the state of Kansas and elsewhere, and to provide that care to underserved communities,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women Wichita.

Kansas lawmakers gave the go-ahead Monday to expand telemedicine services after reaching agreement on abortion language that had threatened to scuttle the move.

The bill cleared the state Senate and House by large margins, but only after eleventh-hour brinksmanship that gave anti-abortion forces the assurances they demanded.

Kansans for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, fought for weeks to maintain a clause in the legislation designed to discourage a court challenge over its ban on drug-induced abortions.

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A political fight over abortion restrictions could prevent passage of a proposed bill in Kansas that could improve telemedicine access for rural areas.

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A proposed telemedicine bill has Kansas medical providers pushing for a new chance to make their services eligible for reimbursement.

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A telemedicine bill aimed at improving health care access for Kansans, particularly in rural areas, may get bogged down in abortion politics.

The legislation would mean insurance companies can’t refuse to pay for services provided long-distance that they would cover at an in-person office visit.

More controversially, the bill would not allow drug-induced abortion or other abortion procedures through telemedicine.

BRYAN THOMPSON / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

When evening falls, Brian Hunt makes his way to a comfortable chair in a sunroom on the south side of his house near La Cygne, Kansas. But he’s not settling in to relax. He’s going to work.