Kara Leigh Lofton

Appalachia Health News Coordinator

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2016, Kara filed 140 reports aimed at healthcare consumers in West Virginia and adjacent regions, with topics ranging from health insurance policies to midwife-assisted home births. Kara’s stories were about evenly divided between her radio reports and short pieces she wrote for internet readers. Eight stories reached a national audience through NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” including several pertaining to the impact of record-breaking flooding in West Virginia and the threatened loss of health benefits for former miners. Kara’s radio stories are often illustrated by her own photographs, posted on WVPB’s website.

Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. One of her nationally broadcast reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” garnered a first place award for a feature story from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.

Kara’s work has been published by Kaiser Health News, Medscape.com, The Hill (the news outlet and blog serving Congress), Side Effects Public Media, Virginia Living, and Blue Ridge Outdoors among other outlets. She has also written and photographed for Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree.

Prior to and during her university years, Kara had stints living internationally, spending months in Morocco, Spain, Turkey, and England, with shorter visits to Zambia, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and a half-dozen countries in western and central Europe. In the fall of 2015, she toured Guatemala (using her conversational Spanish), where she reported on its woefully underfunded health system. In her spare time, Kara enjoys hiking with her nurse-husband and their three friendly dogs, practicing yoga, and reading.

Ways to Connect

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Open enrollment for insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces started last week. Things are a little bit different this year and recent announcements from the Trump administration have resulted in a fair bit of consumer confusion. So there are a few major changes to be aware of. First, this is a very shortened enrollment period.

 


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The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for five more years. All three of West Virginia’s representatives voted in favor of the bill.

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, more commonly known as CHIP, expired on September 30th due to Congressional inaction. CHIP provides insurance to 9 million children, including more than 20,000 West Virginians. 

A bill to fund the program has been languishing for several weeks in the Senate.

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Open enrollment for health insurance opened this week and things are a little bit different this year. 

The enrollment window this year is half what it has been. Buyers now have six weeks instead of 12 to sign up for a plan through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Another change this year is that premiums have increased dramatically – about 29 percent for Blue Cross Blue Shield Plans and 19 percent for CareSource plans on average. The increase will affect about 15 percent of West Virginians in the marketplace.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In 2016, 40 percent of Lakewood Elementary School students were being raised by a grandparent. That’s a stunning statistic considering that kids being raised by grandparents sometimes struggle with behavioral issues, and behavioral issues can cause problems with academics.

This year, that number dropped to 15 percent, but Lakewood principal Kelly Hayes thinks that’s a temporary dip, with more in the pipeline.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Grandchildren being raised by grandparents often spend months or even years of their lives bouncing from one home or situation to another. Inconsistency and a constant sense of the unknown can fuel anxiety, anger and aggression in them.


Patrick Morrisey, W. Va. Attorney General
Janet Kunicki / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A bipartisan group of state attorneys general, including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, are urging health care companies to develop programs that might mitigate opioid abuse.

The letters urge the companies to adopt programs that promote better prescribing practices, such as limiting prescriptions of opioids to seven days for new patients, limiting the daily dose of opioids based on strength and requiring the initial use of immediate-release formulas.

The letters point to a similar program implemented by CVS Health Corporation as an example of work well done.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Congressman Evan Jenkins hosted a roundtable in Charleston yesterday focused on the federal response to fentanyl and other dangerous synthetic opioids that are flooding the Appalachian region. Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids on the streets today. Just 3 milligrams of the drug can kill an adult male compared to about 30 milligrams of heroin.

 

 

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The analysis looked at the percentage of children with Adverse Childhood Experiences – commonly known as ACEs. West Virginia scored higher than the national average of 46 percent.


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Late last week, President Trump announced the federal government would stop Affordable Care Act subsidies to insurance companies, which the White House argues are illegal.

About 19,000 West Virginians received such subsidies in 2016, with an average monthly saving to their insurance bills of a about $100, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services data.

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At the Kanawha County circuit court, the Roberts family is celebrating. Today, Andy and Debbie have adopted their grandchildren, Preston, age 6, and Tesla,19 months.

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At the Epsworth United Methodist Church in Ripley, West Virginia, five grandparents sit around a table listening to a speaker tell them, “You are not alone.”

 

 

Although prayer is mentioned frequently at the meeting, religion is not the subject of today’s conversation - rather, how to communicate with grandchildren after grandparents are thrust into the role of primary caregivers.

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In 2014, more than a third of all children who were removed from their homes due to parental alcohol and drug use were placed with relatives. In many ways, that’s good news for kids. Research shows that grandfamilies protect against trauma and promote resilience. But the arrangement can also be incredibly difficult for the grandparents themselves - many of whom are older and dealing with their own challenges - especially when it comes to physical health.

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As the opioid crisis continues to impact Appalachia, children are being left behind. This morning we have the first of a series of stories about grandparents who take on the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren. To begin the series, health reporter Kara Lofton talks with professor Megan Dolbin-MacNab - a researcher at Virginia Tech who is studying grandparent headed families - about the health impacts of this arrangement. 

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A new health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill would fundamentally alter Medicaid financing and reduce federal spending for health coverage, according to a new analysis released today by the nonpartisan think tank Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Joseph Reed has been a family doctor in Buckhannon, West Virginia for more than 50 years. Now in his early 80s, Reed continues to see patients a couple days a month at St. Joseph’s hospital. In our next installment of our occasional series, Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton talks to Reed about his career and how he’s seen medicine change over the last half century. 

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A new study indicates that children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy may have less risk of developing asthma.

Previous studies found that reducing exposure to things that aggravate asthma like pet dander can help control the condition. But the new study, published today in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that exposure to certain allergens before asthma is established, may help prevent kids from developing asthma at all.

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A bipartisan coalition of 37 states and territories are calling on health insurance companies to help find solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis.

West Virginia and Kentucky attorney generals Patrick Morrisey and Andy Beshear announced the coalition in press conference at Marshall University Monday afternoon.

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If you look at the data, West Virginia has enough pediatricians to cover the number of children here. What there aren’t enough of is many pediatric specialties such as pediatric allergists, neurologists or rheumatologists. And that’s forcing many families like the Laxtons to seek care out of state.

Lori Laxton met me at McDonalds in Beckley. When her daughter was four she began having trouble with her kidneys.

The closest pediatric urologist was at the University of Virginia Medical Center - 3.5 to four hours away from her home in Pineville.

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A number of studies have been published in recent years looking at the connection between sitting too much and poor health outcomes. But a new study published today found that adults who sit for one to two hours at a time without moving may have a higher mortality rate than adults who sit for the same total amount of time, but in shorter segments.

Study participants who sat more than 13 hours a day usually in bouts of 60 to 90 minutes at a time were twice as likely to die earlier than those who sat for the same amount of time, but got up and moved more frequently.

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A new study has found that sedentary older adults who add less than an hour of moderate physical activity per week can improve overall physical functioning.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 1600 men and women ages 70-89 over an average of 2.6 years. All had problems moving normally at the beginning of the study and most reported fewer than 20 minutes of physical activity a week.

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