Lessons learned in covering passage of a soda tax

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.

Tom Lochner

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 elections, Tom Lochner covered the debate over soda tax questions on the ballots in Berkeley and San Francisco. When the results became clear, he reported on the outcome for the Contra Costa Times.

In this Q&A, Lochner offers his insights into how the historic vote in Berkeley unfolded, why the soda tax didn’t pass in San Francisco and he shares a few words of wisdom for reporters who may find themselves covering soda tax debates in their own communities.

Berkeley’s penny-an-ounce tax passed in spite of heavy opposition from the American Beverage Association. Bourque predicted a sea change in the air. “The tides have turned on Big Soda.”

In this Q&A, Lochner offers his insights into how the historic vote in Berkeley unfolded and he shares a few words of wisdom with reporters who may find themselves covering soda tax debates in their own communities.

Going international for dental care: Questions patients should ask

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.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are traveling abroad each year for health care services.

Many factors are helping to drive the medical tourism trend, including the aging of the baby boom generation, cheap airfares, a growing number of online resources dedicated to health-related travel and the promise of savings on costly procedures such as major dental restorations that patients lacking coverage would need to pay for out-of-pocket care.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo playerBettie Cross of  KEYE-Austin, Texas, took a look at dental vacations in a recent segment. She talked with patients who headed to Mexico for dental care and came back with different stories to tell.

Kim Conley, who decided to get three dental implants in Cancun, returned with video tapes her husband made documenting everything from the resort where they stayed to the dental office where she got her treatments. Continue reading

Emanuel: Stories of longevity may be missing important points

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.

Ezekiel Emanuel

Ezekiel Emanuel

It’s not that Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., necessarily wants to die right after he blows out 75 candles on his birthday cake. He just doesn’t want to live to a ripe old age if it means disability, disease or dementia.

Emanuel briefed reporters on the issues of quality versus quantity of life during a Dec. 12 webinar sponsored by Reporting on Health. It was also the theme of his controversial Atlantic article, “Why I Hope to Die at Age 75.”

“You don’t actually pick your own title; I certainly didn’t pick that Atlantic title.” he told more than 200 online participants. “It probably was good for sales for the Atlantic …”

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Grant will allow comprehensive tracking of journal retractions

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.

Adam Marcus

Adam Marcus

Ivan Oransky

Ivan Oransky

A $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation will be used to create a database of retractions from scientific journals, extending the work done by  Adam Marcus and AHCJ Vice President Ivan Oransky on their Retraction Watch blog.

The grant was awarded to the Center for Scientific Integrity, a nonprofit organization set up by Marcus and Oransky. Continue reading

Investigating elder guardianship in Florida

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.

Institutionalized without justification. Stripped of all rights and dignity. No, it’s not some tale out of Guantanamo. It’s happening in cities and towns all over the U.S. Many frail, impaired, or just “unwanted” older adults are shut away, separated from their life savings, forced to endure countless indignities, and in some cases, lose their right to self-determination. It’s legal, but elder advocates say it’s another form of elder abuse.

Image by  MTSOfan via flickr.

Image by MTSOfan via flickr.

The treatment of Sarasota’s most vulnerable is the focus of a terrific series on elder guardianship from Barbara Peters Smith at the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune. Her profiles of these elders whose lives were forever changed will make you want to reach out and speak with seniors and families in your own community. Any one of these stories could be that of your grandmother or mother or brother.

Finding the impetus for this series  came about quite by chance, as Smith describes in her “How I did it” piece. It involved many, many phone calls, emails and old fashioned footwork led to hard scrutiny of a system that appeared out of control. Despite many challenges, including how to verify many of the stories she heard, Smith found a pattern that was hard to ignore, and did the due diligence necessary to verify and vet the information used. A phone call, an editor who listened, and a woman desperate to leave a facility she didn’t want to be in provided the appropriate news hook.

When Smith met two women at a seminar on elder fraud, she had no idea what that conversation would lead to. By listening and by using her journalistic instincts, she uncovered a problem larger than she ever  imagined. By keeping your antenna up and thinking “big picture,” you also may find a great news story hidden in a seemingly random conversation.

Powerful Alzheimer’s narrative nets radio documentary award

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.

When done well, there may be no better medium for storytelling than radio. When vivid narrative is paired powerful audio, “There’s something about sound that puts our imaginations to work, making us more active participants in the story we’re hearing,” as journalism professor Casey Frechette wrote recently.

A 25-minute radio documentary,  “Living well with dementia – a personal journey” from journalist Pieter Droppert provides a vivid example of radio’s power for storytelling. The piece won first prize for Best Radio Documentary in the 2014 UK Broadcast Journalism Training Council student journalism awards.

Alzheimer's Walk 2013, Atlanta, GA

Image by Susumu Komatsu via flickr.

We are introduced to Droppert’s mother, Audrey, whose disease has progressed to the stage where she no longer recognizes him. We also meet Tommy Dunne, who talks about life with early-onset dementia, and hear from experts who are working to increase awareness of this devastating disease and improve quality of life for those requiring nursing home care.

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State waivers and the next Supreme Court ACA challenge

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.

A recent Health Affairs blog post by Heather Howard (a familiar name to AHCJ members who have attended the panels or webcasts she’s done for us) and her colleague Galen Benshoof at the State Health Reform Assistance Network (housed at Princeton) outlined an aspect of the coming King case on exchange subsidies. The information was new to me, and may be unfamiliar to other reporters too. I’ve summarized the key points below and included story ideas at the bottom. You can read the original (more detailed) post here.

justice scales

Image by HoustondwiPhotos mp via flickr.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) encourages state innovation in many ways, but one of the most significant is the “Wyden waivers” or the State Innovation Waivers program in section 1332 of the law. They become available in 2017, although planning can start earlier.

Some states are thinking about taking these waivers,  which include “exchanges, benefit packages, and the individual and employer mandates.” States can get all the federal money that would have gone into those provisions – hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars – but they have to provide comparable coverage and it must be affordable. HHS and Treasury have released some guidance but not a whole lot of detailed rules and instructions.

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Second open-enrollment period discussed at Atlanta chapter event

Andy Miller

About Andy Miller

Andy Miller (@gahealthnews) is the editor and publisher of the nonprofit Georgia Health News. The former health care reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a member of AHCJ's board of directors and leads the association's Atlanta chapter.

The Atlanta chapter of AHCJ and the Alliance for Health Reform sponsored a Dec. 2 event focused on the second open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act.

The panel discussed the state of navigator assistance, narrow networks and slower-than-expected enrollment since the insurance exchanges opened Nov. 15. About 25 AHCJ members and invited guests gathered for the event.

Joining me on the panel were Trey Sivley, a division director in the office of Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner; Lisa Stein of Seedco, which runs a navigator program in Georgia and three other states; and Dorian Martindale of Whitefoord, a federally qualified health center in Atlanta.

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Pucker up: Research into kissing may help with future bacterial therapies

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.

Dutch researchers have concluded that during a 10-second French kiss, partners exchange an average of 80 million bacteria.

Their study, “Shaping the Oral Microbiota Through Intimate Kissing,” was recently published in the journal Microbiome.

The researchers conducted their investigation with the help of 21 human couples visiting Amsterdam’s Royal Artis Zoo on a summer day in 2012. They administered a questionnaire on the kissing habits of each partner in each couple and collected samples of tongue and salivary microbiota from each participant before and after a “controlled kissing experiment.” Then they offered a probiotic yogurt drink containing marker bacteria to one of the partners in each couple prior to a second French kiss to quantify the number of bacteria exchanged.

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

Photo: Marin Wibaux via Flickr

The findings suggest that a shared microbiota is able to develop in the mouths of partners. While collective bacteria in saliva were eventually washed out, those on the surface of the tongue were able to find “a true niche, allowing long-term colonization,” the researchers wrote.

“French kissing is a great example of exposure to a gigantic number of bacteria in a short time,” lead researcher Remco Kort of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research said in a story published online by the BBC. “But only some bacteria transferred from a kiss seemed to take hold on the tongue.

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Contest entries provide insights, education into reporting

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.

One of the most inspiring parts of my job comes every spring: That’s when I get to see the winning entries in the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Often they are pieces I’ve seen over the previous year – many of which I’ve blogged or tweeted about or we’ve had the reporters write about their work for us. But there are always a few surprises that I had missed when they were published or aired.

Andrew Holtz, a health news veteran and longtime contest judge, has had the same experience. “Like most AHCJ members, I follow health news closely. Still, several of the entries surprised me. Not only were they delightful pieces of journalism, they revealed stories I hadn’t known,” Holtz said in an email. Continue reading