Return to McAllen illustrates changes ACA has brought to health care system

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: Peter Dutton via Flickr

Photo: Peter Dutton via Flickr

In June 2009, Atul Gawande wrote an influential New Yorker article, about the community of McAllen, Texas, which has some of the highest per-capita Medicare costs in the nation. At the time, “The Cost Conundrum” had a significant impact on the national debate over the legislation that would become the Affordable Care Act – not so much on the health insurance coverage aspects but about wasteful spending and flawed incentives built into our payment system.

McAllen was awash in waste, fraud and abuse, with millions spent on care of little to no value to the patient. The spending could not be blamed on socio-economic factors because nearby El Paso was a very similar community, but with half the per capita Medicare costs, and same or better outcomes. Gawande wrote this about McAllen: Continue reading

Eight-part series on hepatitis C finds unique moment in an epidemic

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Kristin Espeland Gourlay

Kristin Espeland Gourlay

While working on a documentary about opioid addiction, Kristin Espeland Gourlay, the health care reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio, discovered there was another story waiting to be covered: hepatitis C.

She writes that new drugs had hit the market with reported cure rates of 95 percent or more, but they cost upwards of $90,000 for a full course. She found that the arrival of these new drugs coincides with another trend: Millions of baby boomers who contracted the disease decades ago are just now showing up in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, sick with something most didn’t know they had.

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJ

Add to that a wave of new infections, spreading among younger injection drug users – people who got hooked on opioids and then turned to heroin – and she found that it was a unique moment in the history of an epidemic.

In this AHCJ article, she shares what she learned, what sources she used, as well as a list of potential story ideas. As she points out, this epidemic will impact many lives but also state budgets.

Read how she did her reporting and what she learned.

Learn about the candidates for AHCJ’s board of directors

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Photo: FutUndBeidl via Flickr

Several people have declared their candidacy for AHCJ’s board of directors and their statements are available for members to review.

Each year, members in AHCJ’s professional category elect members of the board. Six of the 12 director positions come up for election each year for two-year terms. Continue reading

Journalists expose weaknesses in Idaho’s fragmented, threadbare mental health system

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.

Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton

Emilie-Ritter-Saunders.jpg

Emilie Ritter Saunders

Last fall, The Idaho Statesman newspaper and NPR member station Boise State Public Radio ran a series titled, “In Crisis,” that explored Idaho’s fragmented and underfunded mental health care system.

Statesman business reporter Audrey Dutton (@IDS_Audrey) and Emilie Ritter Saunders (@EmilieRSaunders), who was then the BSPR digital content coordinator, collaborated on the series. Both journalists produced stories for print, radio and online.

Dutton and Saunders found that Idaho’s threadbare mental health care system does not serve well the many Idahoans who need quality, timely and appropriate behavioral and mental health care.

Their work could serve as a blueprint for journalists covering this challenging story in any state. In the series, Dutton and Saunders reported that the state does not have enough psychiatrists or treatment facilities for the population they serve and that it doesn’t have enough mental health resources for the state’s poorest residents.

They also report that about 25 percent of the state’s residents are living with a mental illness, which is a bit higher than the national average of 20 percent. And, they found, Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, about 48 percent higher than the national rate.

As is common throughout the United States, Dutton and Saunders wrote that, in addition to leaving many Idahoans without proper care, the mental health system is so frayed that the police are often called when a patient suffers a mental health crisis and the state’s courts and jails are among the largest providers of mental health care. Sadly, they added, those with mental illness frequently are hospitalized because more appropriate settings for mental health care are unavailable. They also found that the state Medicaid program serves those in need inadequately.

Read more about how they did the reporting in this article for AHCJ members.

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 members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Gwin Grimes, editor, Alpine Avalanche, Alpine, Texas (@Rockslides)
  • Jake Harper, health reporter, WFYI, Indianapolis (@jkhrpr)
  • Karen Rider, independent journalist, Cromwell, Conn.
  • Ellen Rolfes, multimedia reporter, PBS NewsHour, Arlington, Va. (@ellenmhr)
  • Khrista Rypl, web producer, WNYC, Bayside, N.Y. (@khristap)
  • Taylor Sisk, contributing editor, North Carolina Health News, Chapel Hill, N.C.

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 and tools to help you.

Babies or bust? What new data on millennial birth rates means for the future

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at susan@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: H is for Home via Flickr

Photo: H is for Home via Flickr

It’s no secret that raising children is an expensive proposition. But for millennials, who entered adulthood during the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, the 2007-09 recession appears to have done a double-whammy on their decision to enter parenthood.

A recent study by the Urban Institute found that women in their 20s had fewer babies amid the soft economy than those in previous decades. And while it is still too early to know whether they will “catch up” by having children later, the paper written by Nan Marie Astone, Steven Martin and H. Elizabeth Peters raises questions about the implications such a population dip both can have not only on U.S. families but also upward mobility and society. Continue reading

More aging boomers at risk of becoming elder orphans

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 and Home Care Technology report. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Maria Torroella Carney

Maria Torroella Carney

Are you familiar with the term “elder orphan?” That’s how one researcher describes a coming wave of childless and unmarried baby boomers and seniors who are aging alone and unsupported, with no known family member or designated surrogate to act on their behalf.

Nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are already part of or are at risk to join this vulnerable group. With no family member available to check up on them, elder orphans require more awareness and advocacy to ensure their needs are met, said Maria Torroella Carney, M.D., chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York. She presented results of a case study and literature review on the topic on May 15 during the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society in suburban District of Columbia. Continue reading

What that recent emergency department survey didn’t tell us

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.

emergency-roomEarlier this month many of us received a news release from the American College of Emergency Physicians about a survey that indicates emergency department visits are rising along with coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act. This was happening even though one important goal of the health law is to connect people with primary care physicians so they wouldn’t feel compelled to go to the ED for primary care.

While many of us ignored the release or, at most, wrote a brief; some large news outlets did give the survey big play, even linking the increase to expanded Medicaid coverage. The tone of that coverage, at least in a few pieces I saw, was that this was a negative development. Continue reading

Seniors struggle to access adequate dental care

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: Maggie Osterberg via Flickr

Photo: Maggie Osterberg via Flickr

Many Americans lose their private dental benefits when they retire.

But Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program for seniors, does not cover routine dental procedures.

The situation leaves millions of elders, living on fixed incomes, making hard choices about when to seek care – and, as in Thelma Chappell’s case, postponing a dental visit until the pain gets too bad to ignore. Continue reading

Debunking myths designed to hinder price, quality transparency efforts

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.

When writing about transparency in health care prices and quality, journalists should expose the myths that health care providers promote. That’s the advice Francois de Brantes gave during a session on price and quality transparency at Health Journalism 2015 last month.

The executive director of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute (HCI3), de Brantes (@Fdebrantes) said, “Call them on their bull sh–. Their arguments against price and quality transparency are bogus.”

Yet when state legislatures consider laws promoting the public reporting of health care prices and quality ratings, provider organizations often lobby against these laws. “What are they protecting?” he asked. “Doesn’t the public have a right to know?” Continue reading