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Research examines impact
of soda taxes on oral health

Is there a soda tax debate coming to your community? The potential for such taxes address problems with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are important angles to explore, but don’t forget the oral health aspect of the soda tax story.

While Berkeley, Calif., is the first city in the country to approve such a “sin” tax, it might have opened the door for other communities to do so.

Mary Otto has collected relevant research and resources for reporters who might be called on to cover soda taxes.

Mark your calendar for Health Journalism 2015

Health Journalism 2015

Check out our general outline of events for Health Journalism 2015, scheduled for April 23-26 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Information is provided on registration, the conference hotel, travel instructions and our growing list of sponsors.

The conference will once again feature dozens of panel sessions, workshops field trips, a Freelance PitchFest and the annual awards luncheon.

Take advantage of the early-bird discount to save on conference registration fees.

What reporters need to know about covering Ebola

AHCJ webcast
Recorded Nov. 11

Media audiences far away from west Africa are seeing more and more Ebola-related stories in their own states or communities. What do reporters need to know?

AHCJ members got some help sorting out the answers to that question in a webcast with Alexander P. Isakov, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of Emory University’s Critical Event Preparedness and Response. Emory has treated four Ebola patients. Mike Stobbe, medical writer for The Associated Press, posed members' questions to our guest.

Participants heard insights into the facts of Ebola that reporters should know, leaving with better understanding of the topic, story ideas and reliable resources.

Enter your best work of 2014 in AHCJ's annual contest


Since 2004, the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism have recognized the best health reporting in print, broadcast and online media.

Entries can include a wide range of health coverage including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics. The contest was created by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups.

Last year's winners included an investigation that found criminals running diet supplement companies, a series revealing the failure of hospitals to provide life-saving newborn screening tests and an examination of efforts to prevent childhood deaths in Africa and Asia.

HOW I DID IT: Latest updates

Photo: Alex Proimos via Flickr

Five journalists named 2015 Reporting Fellows on Health Care Performance

The Association of Health Care Journalists has awarded five journalists AHCJ Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance for work to be completed in 2015. The program, in its fifth year, is meant to help journalists understand and report on the performance of local health care markets and the U.S. health system as a whole.

The fellowship program, supported by The Commonwealth Fund, is intended to give experienced print, broadcast and online reporters an opportunity to concentrate on the performance of health care systems – or significant parts of those systems – locally, regionally or nationally. The fellows are able to examine policies, practices and outcomes, as well as the roles of various stakeholders.

Webcast: Fluoridation and your community

AHCJ webcast
Recorded Oct. 16

Community water fluoridation has been hailed as one of the public health triumphs of the 20th century. Numerous studies have shown fluoride at optimum levels reduces cavities. But critics continue to fight water fluoridation efforts, armed with papers they say highlight the dangers of fluoride.

With battles playing out in communities from Alabama to Oregon, what do reporters need to know about the science and pseudo-science behind water fluoridation? Learn more from Shelly Gehshan, director of  children's dental policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Mary Otto, AHCJ's oral health core topic leader

Tip sheet: Covering the links between housing, health

Broaden the conversation about health care to include questions about social support – especially safe, affordable and stable housing.

Megan Sandel, M.D., M.P.H., an expert on the impact of housing on child health, says journalists would do well to broaden the conversation about health care to include questions about social support – especially support for safe, affordable and stable housing. This tip sheet includes key stories to pursue and critical insights on the housing-as-health-care trend.

Joseph Burns
Joseph Burns

Learn about premium rate increases for 2015

As the nation’s health insurers file rate requests with state insurance departments, the news about health insurance premium increases is coming out almost daily now. The deadline for submitting rate requests on the marketplaces was June 27.

Premium rate review is an important story, but it’s a complex story. Here's some background on the process of premium rate review, as well as tools, resources and tips for doing the most nuanced and accurate reporting on this important topic.

Senior substance abuse a silent, growing epidemic

Eileen Beal

Older Americans have been misusing, abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol, tobacco and herbal substances for decades. Now they are also abusing drugs – both prescription and illegal – in increasing numbers, according to an NIA/NIH update. The most prevalent abuse is in the age 50 to 59 cohort, in which abuse of illicit drugs and non-medical use of prescription drugs rose from 2.7 percent to 5.8 percent between 2002 and 2010.

A CASA Columbia study found that substance abuse was an especially serious issue for older and aging women, who “get addicted faster, using smaller amounts of a substance, than any other demographic group.” The report also found that when older women show signs and symptoms of alcohol and/or prescription drug abuse, most physicians “don’t even consider an addiction diagnosis.”

Find out why this is happening now and how to cover it.

Loss of smell, taste takes toll on quality of life

Barbara Bein
Barbara Bein

Unlike problems in vision and hearing, age-related losses to smell and taste have only recently gained attention. Like declines in the other senses, losing the ability to smell different odors and scents and to taste food can lead to serious quality-of-life and safety issues.

When the sense of smell or taste diminishes, the world becomes a different place. Adults who have trouble smelling and tasting often have poor appetites, which can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and weakened immune systems. Losing the ability to enjoy food can also contribute to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.

Barbara Bein shares tips on how to cover smell and taste disorders in older adults.

Six things to remember in reporting on health care costs

health care costsHealth care costs lack transparency and are wildly variable, not just from region to region but sometimes from block to block within the same city.

It is a complex topic, with chargemaster prices, what insurers paid and what consumers pay (if anything). Then there are the administrative rules set by Medicare and Medicaid and the negotiated rates between insurers and providers.

It's daunting, but three reporters have teamed up to offer guidance for reporting on health care costs.


How will states prepare for second ACA enrollment season?

AHCJ webcast
Recorded Sept. 23

Joanne Kenen, AHCJ's topic leader on health reform, discussed the upcoming second enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act with Heather H. Howard of the State Health Reform Assistance Network, including what journalists should watch for and what stories to expect to cover. 

Frailty and its impact on health

Recorded Sept. 16
Frail people are those whose bodies are wearing down and whose reserves of stamina and energy are being depleted, making them more vulnerable to all kinds of adverse outcomes. Join Samuel Christopher Durso, M.D., head of geriatrics at Johns Hopkins, and Liz Seegert, AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, for a discussion of the issue and what and how reporters might cover it in their region.

Breaking down barriers to care

Recorded Aug. 14
Covering health care requires writing about the cost of care. Determining if costs are rising or falling and by how much is an integral part of the beat.

But A. Mark Fendrick, M.D., the director of the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design at the University of Michigan, suggests it’s time to shift the discussion from how much the United States spends on care to how well we spend money on health care.

Is your community fighting tooth decay with school-based dental sealant programs?

Applying sealantsHave you visited a school-based dental sealant program in your state or community? There may be a good story there.

Can’t find one to visit? That may be another worthwhile story.

Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are applied to children’s permanent back teeth to seal the narrow grooves on the chewing surfaces and keep out decay-causing bacteria and food particles. Studies show that the procedure can reduce the incidence of tooth decay by 60 percent.

But poor and high-risk kids who could benefit the most from sealants are not always receiving them. 

Use data to cover the Affordable Care Act

Katherine HempsteadThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has six databases on its "Reform by the Numbers" website that can be useful for reporters covering health care. In an exclusive briefing at an AHCJ New York chapter meeting in June 2014, the Foundation's Katherine Hempstead, Ph.D., discussed the highlights of the databases.

The databases can answer many questions, such as whether consumers are having trouble paying their sky-high deductibles or whether waiting lines are growing at doctors’ offices. Want to know how your state exchange differs from others? This data can help. Hempstead also offers ideas for stories that can be mined from the data no matter your technical abilities.

Medicare payments data by state

The government release of information about Medicare payments to health professionals, a total of $77 billion in the single year of 2012, means unprecedented access to details of how public funds are spent. For 35 years, the data have been off limits to the public. The release has already generated stories by health journalists, with possibilities for more stories in the weeks and months ahead. To help with these stories, AHCJ has broken down the data by state in spreadsheet format for members to download.

Webcast: Finding fresh stories in newly released Medicare data

Craft a memorable pitch and get that assignment

AHCJ webcast

How can a writer, who's new to a publication, craft such an impressive pitch, that even if the story doesn't sell, keeps the door wide open for next time?

In this webcast, "Beyond the basics of pitching: Becoming that dream writer," a panel of top editors talk about pitches they loved and could not walk away from. 

Make your pitch communicate the story you want to tell, and impress editors in the process. 

Download CMS data on hospital costs

AHCJ offers federal government data showing what hospitals across the country charge Medicare for the same treatment or procedure. The 2011 data includes bills submitted by 3,300 hospitals for the 100 most commonly performed treatments. This allows a basis for some local or regional comparisons and a starting point for stories on hospital costs.

Reporting on costs requires interview strategy, resources

The cost of medicines, devices, tests and treatment is such an important element of health reporting that it is included in AHCJ's Statement of Principles: "Strive to include information about cost and insurance coverage in any reporting of new ideas in medicine."

To that end, Brenda Goodman, AHCJ's topic leader on covering medical studies, and Michael Schroeder, who covers health for Angie's List Magazine, have contributed tip sheets to help reporters get that vital information. Goodman focuses on several resources where you might find pricing information, while Schroeder shares his strategy and the specific questions he asks sources about costs.


Association of Health Care Journalists Covering Health: An AHCJ blog

In global struggle to care for aging populations, plenty of room for improvement
Compared with other industrialized nations, patients age 65 or older in the U.S. are generally in poorer overall health and have more challenges ...

How, and why, some schools provide dental care for needy children
In a series of stories, “The Burden of Poverty: A Backpack of Heartache,” reporters at the School News Network, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., are ...

Why do rural hospitals close and what does it mean to communities?
Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar had an interesting story recently in USA Today about rural hospital closures. The pace of closures has picked ...

Freelancer concerns: You might get caught in your pajamas
Freelance journalist Jenni Prokopy recently agreed to do a podcast interview, not realizing that it would include video. Working at home, she was ...

How to leverage local angles on fall prevention
One of the NIH initiatives highlighted last week by director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., during his keynote at the Gerontological Society ...


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