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Vaping, Medicaid and Opioids — Top Health Stories Of 2019

A wide range of healthcare issues drew headlines in 2019, affecting the lives of millions of Americans. Here are some highlights from Side Effects Public Media's coverage across the Midwest:

Vaping. In the second half of the year, this crisis exploded onto America's consciousness. 

Hundreds of people were stricken with vaping-related lung illnesses, and dozens of deaths were recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Side Effects told the story of one Kentucky woman who lapsed into a coma. And beyond the medical concerns, Americans struggled to address the problem. In Indiana, for example, schools debated whether to handle vaping as an issue of discipline or public health.

Opioids. As addiction continued to ravage America — and governments sought compensation from drug makers — communities searched for creative solutions. In Kentucky, new programs helped grandparents and others caring for the children of mothers and fathers who were struggling with addiction. In Indiana, a group handled their grief in an unusual way: by boxing in a small gym. And a Side Effects investigation highlighted the questionable claims of a therapy touted as a sure-fire way to overcome addiction. 

Medicaid. States in the Midwest continued to wrestle with the health insurance program aimed mainly at low-income residents. In Kentucky, a new governor rejected a plan for work requirements. In Indiana, work requirements were challenged in court, prompting the state to put the idea on hold. But Missouri doubled down on limiting Medicaid expenses, knocking thousands of people off the program.

Measles. Measles cases continued to pop up around the Midwest, triggering fears of an outbreak at major events such as the Kentucky Derby. Parents worried about the impact on children with compromised immune systems, and in Illinois, some doctors vowed to drop patients who refused vaccinations. 

Access. Side Effects also highlighted broad problems in the U.S. healthcare system, including hospital closings and cutback in Iowa and other rural areas, and the barriers faced by refugees and other immigrants. Serious problems also hit specific groups, such as the high rates of maternal and infant mortality among African-Americans.