Sarah Fentem

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.

The top administrator at Missouri’s sole abortion provider testified during the last day of a hearing that state officials had become increasingly combatative in relations with the clinic during the past year.

Kawanna Shannon, director of surgical services at Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, said the change in relationship was proof the clinic’s inspectors were coming to the clinic with an agenda to find problems to prove the clinic was unsafe. 

“It seemed as if they didn’t understand their own regulations, as if they didn’t understand the womens’ anatomy,” she said. “Just asking questions that never made any sense … it was as if they had never inspected us at all.”

The chief doctor at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic testified during a high-profile regulatory hearing on Wednesday that the abortions performed there are safe and that the facility has an above-average record of successful procedures.

State health officials earlier this year decided not to renew the license for Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic, citing concerns about patient safety.

The four instances of patient care that caused state regulators alarm were in line with acceptable legal and medical standards of care, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services. The clinic performs thousands of procedures a year, she said. 

Lawyers from Planned Parenthood and the state of Missouri will face off Monday in a hearing that could decide the fate of the state’s last clinic providing abortions.

A member of the Administrative Hearing Commission, a nonpartisan state tribunal that resolves regulatory disputes, will decide if the state broke the law when it denied the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic its license earlier this year.

If Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi rules against the clinic, Missouri could become the first state without an abortion provider since the landmark Roe. v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortions in the U.S.

Health officials are urging Missouri’s 1.2 million Medicare enrollees to research new plans to save money during this year’s open enrollment.

Enrollment in the state-funded health insurance program for older adults begins Tuesday and lasts until early December. Patients can save money by researching and changing plans, federal officials said.

“We’ve seen people save thousands of dollars by switching their prescription drug plan from one year to the next,” said Julie Brookhart, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City regional office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the program.

Proponents of a Medicaid expansion in Missouri want to allow voters to override the state's Republican leaders, who have refused to extend coverage to more people.

The Healthcare for Missouri coalition is collecting signatures on a petition that would place a Medicaid expansion on the November 2020 ballot. If approved by voters, Missouri would expand the health insurance program to those who earn up to $18,000 a year. Missouri is one of 14 states that has not made the program available to more low-income people.

Campaign organizers say the expansion is necessary to extend health care coverage to people who have jobs but lack health insurance.