Author Archives: Joanne Kenen

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

Exploring ‘preventable harm’ and making it accessible to readers

Sarah Kliff

Sarah Kliff

Vox’s Sarah Kliff, who has an AHCJ Reporting Fellowship on Health Care Performance, is writing a series about fatal, preventable medical errors.

Not the inevitable tragic things that can happen to a patient – but the ones that we know how to avoid, the lives that should not be at risk.  Kliff spent several months on one story – actually a story and accompanying video and graphics – that combined insights about how hospitals think central line infections and a gripping narrative about the death of a 3-year-old girl.  You can find the story here.

Kliff wrote a “How I did It” essay for AHCJ that addresses a lot of the nuts and bolts of a vast project like this. She outlines how she reached out to patients/families, how she organized the voluminous – initially not searchable – medical records, how she found researchers who could elucidate things she did not fully understand in those records.

And she talks about the power of a good analogy to both organize a 5000-word narrative and give readers an accessible entry point to her work. Read about how she did it.

Look at how health quality measures have become a jungle

"Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project - edited" by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) - Levels adjusted from File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg, originally from Google Art Project.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.Some experts view the burgeoning number of quality measures as health care's Tower of Babel.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Tower of Babel (Vienna) – Google Art Project – edited.” Licensed under Public Domain.Some experts view the burgeoning number of quality measures as health care’s Tower of Babel.

Quality measures are good, right? We all want our doctors and hospitals to follow best practices and be held to them.

It’s not so simple.

Put aside for the moment whether the measure is accurate – we don’t always know or agree on what the best thing is in health care (Exhibit A: mammograms).

There’s another quality problem.

There too many quality measures. Oodles and oodles of quality measures. Continue reading

Gauging ‘success’ at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

lightbulbThe Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, created by the Affordable Care Act, is trying new ways of delivering health care and testing new incentives and payment models. Some ideas are likely, even expected, to fail. Others may lead to new ways of delivering higher quality care for less money.

CMMI also is supposed to help spread new ideas so they’ll take root in the real world. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has the authority to expand approaches that reduce spending – and halt those that do not. This is a more flexible approach than officials had with “demonstration projects” prior to the ACA.

The agency’s website is a goldmine of health care innovation. Read more about what CMMI is tasked with doing, how it will do it and how the success or failures of its projects will be determined in this new tip sheet.

Add context to your reporting by recalling who Medicaid actually serves

Photo: Sheila Steele via Flickr

Photo: Sheila Steele via Flickr

Here is an article that stood out amid the tidal wave of media coverage of Medicare and Medicaid’s 50th anniversary this year. It’s a piece about why Medicaid matters, posted on the Health Affairs blog.

As you read, keep in mind that the article is written by two people who strongly support the program: former Denver Health Chief Executive Patricia Gabow, who serves on the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission and on the National Governors’ Association Health Advisory Board, and former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. It is not, by and large, a critique. Continue reading

Medicaid expansion shapes hospital financial health

ccok-county-hospitalWe’ve all written a lot about the “Medicaid gap” – the low-income people who can’t get coverage under the Affordable Care Act because their states have opted out of Medicaid expansion. The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that 4 million people fall in this gap.

According to Moody’s Investors Service, nonprofit hospitals in expansion states have seen their bad debt from unpaid bills drop an average of 13 percent as they treated more patients who have coverage. In non-expansion states, bad debt rose.

Reuters’ Robin Respaut recently looked at how the Medicaid gap has affected two iconic urban safety net hospitals who treat a lot of low income people – Cook County in Chicago and Grady Memorial in Atlanta. Continue reading

Some hospitals slow to adopt new systems of care

PhotoJoel Dinda via Flickr

Photo: Joel Dinda via Flickr

We’ve told you over and over again on this blog that the Affordable Care Act isn’t just about coverage. It’s also about changing how health care is delivered, moving away from fee-for-service to a more value- and quality-based system. Medicare is aiming to have half of its payments under alternative payment models by 2018.

That means hospitals have to change. But not all of them want to.

Fee-for-service is the preferred business model for many. Why should those hospitals want to go through considerable expense and upheaval to switch to a new system that demands more – and may well pay less? Continue reading

Study indicates better health savings account ‘literacy’ needed

Source: 19th Annual Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care. © Towers Watson 2014.

Source: 19th Annual Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care. © Towers Watson 2014.

For the purpose of this blog post, let’s leave aside the decade-plus ideological fight about whether health savings accounts (HSAs) are a good or bad idea.

Let’s just look at what happens to people who have them, at least according to this recent article by Michael Fletcher, a national economics correspondent for The Washington Post. His argument is that people could save money on health care – if they knew how to use their HSAs. Continue reading

Conservatives yet to rally around specific ACA reform proposal

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

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

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.

A look at how states are addressing balance billing abuses

service-invoiceWe’ve all read about patients who were careful to choose an in-network doctor or hospital but still ended up with some care provided out of network – and unanticipated bills.

One of the most memorable accounts was in Elisabeth Rosenthal’s “Paying Till It Hurts” New York Times series, when she recounted the story of the patient who – unbeknownst to him – had an out-of-network assistant surgeon alongside his carefully selected in-network surgeon. The assistant submitted a $117,000 bill. Continue reading