President’s Corner: Stark reflects on conference, latest AHCJ developments

Karl Stark

About Karl Stark

Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor for business, health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, serves as president of the AHCJ board of directors.

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Photo: Kris Hickman/AHCJAbraham Verghese

Health Journalism 2015 made me smarter.

I’ll give two examples. First, there was the pleasure of listening to Abraham Verghese, physician and master storyteller, who works in the heart of Silicon Valley, the foundry of disruption, and is quite up to date.

But he also believes in the touch and the rituals of the physical exam. He insisted that we not discard the old values when we take up new gadgets. And he talked about how compassionate listening is a sublime thing and part of the ritual of being a doctor.

Listening is part of the ritual of being a journalist too, which probably explains why his talk was so inspiring.

Another highlight was listening to independent journalist Heather Boerner talk about how she crowd-sourced funding for her book, “Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory Over HIV.” Boerner wrote 9,000 words for a $100 assignment. (There is a diagnosis for this: It’s called “journalism.”)

Read more …

Conservatives yet to rally around specific ACA reform proposal

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at

Guy Boulton

Guy Boulton

Guy Boulton, a veteran health reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, took a look at some of the conservative health care policy proposals we’ll be hearing more about as the 2016 campaign gets underway.

Conservative critics of the Affordable Care Act, in and out of government, haven’t rallied around a specific replacement plan, or even a specific repair plan.

But Boulton notes that proposals by conservatives generally allow more flexibility in designing health plan benefit packages. Insurance might be cheaper for some people – but more expensive for others. And without standard requirements it might be harder for consumers to compare their options. Continue reading

Beware of hype about how consumers will benefit when health insurers merge

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



One important question to ask about any health insurance merger is how will the deal will affect the local market.

It’s said that all politics is local and the same is true in health care. That’s why antitrust regulators will look closely at Anthem’s proposed acquisition of Cigna and Aetna’s proposed deal to buy Humana, which we covered earlier this month. Continue reading

For successful information requests, be familiar with guidelines for HHS public affairs staff

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), a founding member of AHCJ, is an independent writer and editor specializing in health care and policy. Wielawski, a member of AHCJ's board of directors, is chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee and serves on the Freelance and the Finance and Development committees.



A year ago, AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee brokered an appeals process with the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services media office for reporters facing unreasonable delays or inadequate responses from agency public information officers.

I’m happy to report that we’ve had a number of successes since then in clearing information logjams for individual reporters and policing violations of HHS’s media policy. But a year’s experience with this process has also made us wiser about what we need from AHCJ members to be effective. Continue reading

Evidence-based reporting leads to award-winning exploration of robotic surgery

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Laura Beil

Robotic surgery has exploded in popularity in recent years, but is that because it actually improves patient outcomes over traditional surgery methods or because of marketing campaigns? That is one of the questions Laura Beil dove into in her award-winning story for Men’s Health, “What’s Wrong With Robotic Surgery?

In a story that involved months of reporting, Beil “used FDA and legal documents to explore concerns over the safety” of a prostate robotic surgery procedure and wove together her findings “into one concise narrative that engaged and informed Men’s Health readers.”

The reporting required FOI requests for adverse events from surgery (along with documents related to recent inspections and findings), legal documents from malpractice lawsuits and a class action suit against the manufacturer, and dozens of scientific studies to determine whether robotic surgery represented an advance in treatment.

Beil also describes the pushback after publication, adding that posting corporate responses online is a powerful way to expose unjustified pushback. Read about how she did her reporting.

A physician offers his view on the White House Conference on Aging

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The, New America Media,, 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.

Bruce Chernof, M.D.

Bruce Chernof, M.D.

Bruce Chernof, M.D., is a geriatrician, president of The SCAN Foundation, based in Long Beach, Calif., and a former chairman of the Federal Commission on Long Term Care. He was in the audience for last week’s White House Conference on Aging, listening from multiple perspectives. Overall, he said in a phone interview, he was pleased with the outcomes.

Q: What were your overall impressions of the conference?

A: It’s important the President was there and spoke up as forcefully as he did. We needed the President to take part in this conversation. It was a very interesting and different conference but I liked the underlying theme: how do we discuss and transform aging? Everyone likes to talk about the scary stuff first – the diseases, the falls, the dementia. There’s not enough focus on the positive aspects of aging, and that limits our ability to focus on everything older adults can and do contribute. 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.

  • Vik Adhopia, senior reporter, CBC News-Health Unit, Toronto Canada
  • Sara Champlin, Ph.D., The University of North Texas, Mayborn School of Journalism, Denton, Texas
  • Renee Despres, independent journalist, Silver City, N.M.
  • Amanda Gardner, independent journalist, Sandia Park, Calif.
  • Ted Griggs, reporter, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
  • Maggy Hanlon, editor,, Scranton, Pa.
  • Scott Harvey, news director & content content coordinator, KSMU Radio, Springfield, Mo.
  • Mark McCarty, Washington editor, Medical Device Daily, Manassas, Va.
  • Kathleen McGrory, reporter, The Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Emily Schmall, correspondent, The Associated Press, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Edgar Walters, reporter, The Texas Tribune, Austin, Texas

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.

Examining psychology, racism in wake of Charleston shooting

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

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

Photo: CDC Public Health Image Library/Amanda MillsAn African-American boy is seen walking with a teacher in Atlanta.

Photo: CDC Public Health Image Library/Amanda MillsAn African-American boy is seen walking with a teacher in Atlanta.

“Our anxiety and fear is palpable,” New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham wrote recently.

Racism’s Psychological Toll,” written for The New York Times Magazine, highlights the emotional distress that victims of racially motivated aggression can feel and raises questions about the possible link to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The Q&A piece, along with several others, was part of the magazine’s look at racial violence in the wake of the June 17 shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead. After the shooting, a website linked to the white gunman charged in the shooting surfaced with a racial manifesto and photos of him with a Confederate flag.

Continue reading

Acronyms, health care and the poor: Understanding hospital safety net payments

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

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

Joanne Kenen

The months-long controversy between Florida and the federal Medicaid program over funding for hospitals and clinics that serve uninsured low-income people drew attention to these uncompensated care pools. In Florida the arrangement is called the Low-Income Pool – better known as “LIP” (a gift to headline writers).

So what are these payments? And how do they differ from a Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) arrangement?

At least nine states, including Florida, have some kind of Medicaid waiver arrangement with the federal government that involves payments to safety net hospitals and, in at least some states, community health centers.

Joanne Kenen, AHCJ’s core topic leader on health reform, explains in a new tip sheet. Read more.

Spotlight on sepsis: Reporting on ‘dirty little hospital horror’

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 She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at

Cheryl Clark

Cheryl Clark

As senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media for more than six years, Cheryl Clark wrote more than 1,300 stories about hospitals’ efforts to improve quality and safety and related issues.

Rates of sepsis seemed to be one more dirty little hospital horror to explore, one that the Joint Commission said cost hospitals about $16.7 billion annually. Yet hospitals’ efforts to tackle it seemed hidden behind improvement initiatives attracting more attention, such as reducing hospital-acquired infections, and preventable readmissions, lowering emergency room wait times and raising patient experience scores.

The story she wrote for the June 2014 issue of HealthLeaders’ print magazine, on how U.S. hospitals are improving recognition and treatment of sepsis — which is diagnosed in 750,000 patients a year and kills 40 percent — won the 2015 National Institute of Health Care Management prize in the trade print category. They said the story was “most likely to save a life.”

In a new article for AHCJ, she explains how she did her reporting, despite a lack of data and sources who didn’t want to talk. Read more.