Looking ahead to the second ACA enrollment period

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by jfcherry via Flickr

Photo by jfcherry via Flickr

We’re closing in on the start of the ACA’s second open enrollment season. Both Kevin Counihan, the new HealthCare.gov “CEO” within the Department of Health and Human Services, and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell have been speaking out a bit more about the upcoming season.

But there’s a lot they aren’t saying – or touting. Here are a few things we do – or don’t – know about what to expect by Nov. 15, the start of the three-month enrollment period: Continue reading

Frailty affects quality of life, makes seniors more vulnerable

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Image by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.

The term “frailty” seems to be practically synonymous with aging. And while it’s true that adults naturally have a gradual physical decline as they age, not every older adult is frail and not every frail person is old.

Aging, also called senescence, refers to the biological process of growing older. As people age, it becomes more difficult for the body to repair itself and maintain optimal health, according to Neal S. Fedarko, Ph.D., professor of medicine, division of geriatric medicine and gerontology, Johns Hopkins University. People age differently based on both genetics and lifestyle factors.

Frailty is considered a chronic and progressive condition, categorized by at least three of five criteria: muscle weakness, unintentional weight loss, low physical activity levels, fatigue and slow walking speed. The body loses its ability to cope with everyday or acute stress, becoming more vulnerable to disease and death, as Samuel Durso, M.D., director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained in a recent AHCJ webcast.

Learn more about frailty, and how it affects people’s quality of life as they age, in this new tip sheet.

New ideas for an annual update: Older adults and vaccines

Sally James

About Sally James

Sally James (@jamesian) is a Seattle freelance writer who frequently covers biotechnology and research stories for magazines.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

The season of coughing is around the corner. Ads for flu shots and other vaccinations are getting thicker too. Vaccinations for older adults have new developments this year. A great place to start is this tip sheet from Eileen Beal.

Herd immunity: When writing about vaccines for a certain age group, remember that your audience is not just that group. Communities are protected by the entire immunity of their neighbors and friends. Elders housed in assisted living or nursing homes are at special risk. But college student volunteers, visitors, and grandchildren may need to read your story to avoid unwittingly exposing these older adults. This works backwards also. Older adults who lack up-to-date immunization for whooping cough (pertussis) can expose a newborn when Grandma and Grandpa visit. The booster that many may need is called T-DAP. Continue reading

Choose words carefully when writing about Ebola

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps and completed an internship with Reuters AlertNet in London. She aspires to be a physician, epidemiologist and science writer.

Phot by NIAID via Flickr

Image by NIAID via Flickr

Word choice matters, especially when it comes to covering a deadly disease.

You may have heard the terms “infectious” and “contagious” being used interchangeably in Ebola stories. Even health professionals sometimes use them that way, and that is adequate in many instances. However, minor differences between the two terms may play a role in which one you decide to use in a story.

According to the CDC, contagious means the bacteria or virus can be transmitted from person to person (a communicable disease), and is quantified by R-nought – a mathematical construct that predicts the number of people a contagious individual will infect. Continue reading

Panic is contagious: How to cover public health preparedness

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps and completed an internship with Reuters AlertNet in London. She aspires to be a physician, epidemiologist and science writer.

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

It’s been said that fear travels faster than the virus.

This is true. Given that Ebola is less contagious than many other communicable diseases, it’s easier to catch Ebola panic than Ebola itself. But if you’re a health care journalist writing about Ebola or the Ebola response, it’s sometimes hard to tell the real stories from the sensationalism.

In light of the Ebola diagnosis of  two Dallas health care workers and the CDC initially placing blame on a “breach in protocol,” the past couple of days have seen a flurry of inflammatory Ebola coverage that focuses on the negatives.  One of these is a survey from National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S.: 80 percent of NNU nurses surveyed don’t feel they have received adequate Ebola training.  New allegations have surfaced that nurses treating him “worked for days without proper protective gear and faced constantly changing protocols.” Additionally, there have been federal funding cuts to public health preparedness and response activities: $1 billion less in FY 2013 than in FY 2002, a year in which the nation dealt with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, and anticipated the SARS epidemic of 2003. Continue reading

Supreme Court hears case over teeth whitening, professional board’s power

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by dbking via Flickr

Photo by dbking via Flickr

WASHINGTON — A long-running fight between the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services reached the nation’s high court today.

During an intense hour of oral arguments, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court delved into whether the state board overstepped federal anti-trust laws in sending out threatening “cease and desist” letters to operators of teeth whitening salons in mall kiosks and salons.

Was the board, which is dominated by practicing dentists, unfairly obstructing competition from lower-priced providers? Or was the body fulfilling its obligation to protect the public health by acting as an arm of the state to shut down illegal practitioners of dentistry?

The court’s decision might have implications for teeth-whitening shops around the country, as well as for the state-established boards that regulate a wide range of professions, Emery Dalesio reported in an Oct. 13 story for The Associated Press

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and the struggle over who should be allowed to bleach teeth has been playing out in many states in recent years. Continue reading

Medicare open enrollment is coming: What beneficiaries should know

Bob Rosenblatt

About Bob Rosenblatt

Bob Rosenblatt has been a journalist in Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years, with much of his career focused on aging. At the Los Angeles Times, he started the paper’s first beat on aging and launched a popular advice column on Medicare and health insurance.

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Medicare season is here, and consumers – your readers, viewers and listeners – need lots of help in making their choices.

Open enrollment begins Oct. 15 for the 49 million Americans on Medicare, and ends Dec. 7. This is the time when they can change the way they receive their health benefits, for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2015.

The choices are:

  1. Traditional Medicare, in which patients can get care from any doctor or hospital participating in the Medicare program. Beneficiaries pay for Part B, which covers doctors’ care, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Most people with this coverage also choose Medi-gap, a supplemental coverage which fills in some of the extra costs you may have. HHS just announced the Part B premiums for 2015.
  2. Medicare Advantage Plan, also known as a Part C plan. This is one-stop shopping, in which consumers pay a fee and get care, staying within a network of doctors and hospitals operated by the plan. In return for using the network, they may get some extra benefits, such as drugs, eyeglasses, and perhaps even a gym membership.

Continue reading

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Editing, University of Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia, Mo. (@JacquiB)
  • Carey Head, lifestyles editor, Ponca City News, Ponca City, Okla.
  • KW Hillis, staff/health writer, The Lawton Constitution, Lawton, Okla.
  • Mador Jessica, reporter/producer, BringMeTheNews, Minneapolis (@jessicamador)
  • Amanda Keener, independent journalist, Greensboro, N.C. (@immYOUnology)
  • Soo Rin Kim, student, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo.
  • Nell Lake, independent journalist, Northampton, Mass. (@Nell_Lake)
  • Shirie Leng, independent journalist, Newton, Mass.
  • Adam Rubenfire, reporter, Modern Healthcare, Chicago (@arubenfire)
  • Paula Santonocito, editor, Medical Office Manager, Rutland, Vt. (@MedOfficeMgr)
  • Kit Stolz, independent journalist, Santa Paula, Calif.
  • Ellen Wichman, health care reporter, Chicago Tribune, Chicago (@ellenjeanhirst)

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support

Dallas Ebola case raises questions about care for the uninsured

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

"Ebola virions" by See Source - Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa. PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ebola virions” from “Charting the Path of the Deadly Ebola Virus in Central Africa.” PLoS Biol 3/11/2005: e403 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030403. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

When Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday of Ebola at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, one of many questions that remained unanswered was why the hospital didn’t do more to diagnose and treat Duncan initially. On Sept. 25, Duncan walked into the hospital’s emergency room, was given antibiotics and sent home, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.

The question about what happened on Sept. 25 is important because Duncan could have infected many other individuals between when he was sent home on Sept. 25 and when he returned on Sept. 28 and was put into isolation. Writing in The New York Times, Manny Fernandez and Dave Philipps suggest that Duncan might still be alive if he had been admitted on Sept. 25.

After his death, Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, and other African-Americans, questioned whether Duncan had received substandard care. Continue reading

Americans living longer; some pay more for outpatient services

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

life-expectancyTwo new reports again underscore the need for a comprehensive national long-term services and support initiative.

First, the good news: A new National Center for Health Statistics data brief shows that Americans are living longer. Overall life expectancy rose by 0.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 78.8 years, and was highest for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. Women can expect to live an average of 81.2 years, and men an average of 76.4 years, based on the new analysis.

The report also shows significant decreases in age-adjusted death rates for eight of the 10 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, stroke, influenza, pneumonia and kidney disease.

Now the bad news – a new report released by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services found increased costs associated with critical access hospitals. Medicare beneficiaries paid nearly half of the costs for outpatient services at critical access hospitals – a higher percentage of the costs of coinsurance for services received at these facilities than they would have paid at hospitals using Outpatient Prospective Payment System rates. Continue reading