Category Archives: Health policy

VA secretary addresses some of department’s challenges #ahcj15

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: Pia ChristensenRobert McDonald

Pia Christensen/AHCJRobert McDonald

More than 140 journalists at Health Journalism 2015 gathered early Friday to hear Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald – and to question him about VA policies, including the agency’s notorious opaqueness with reporters.

McDonald readily acknowledged that the VA has had what he called a “Kremlin-esque” mentality, and told the roomful of journalists that he was trying to change it. The VA is publishing patient access data (waiting times for appointments) on the website every two weeks, and he said he’s trying to promote a culture of openness. Continue reading

Native American tribe wields sales tax to promote healthier eating

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.

Image by  Mike Licht via flickr.

Image by Mike Licht via flickr.

Hoping to encourage healthier eating habits, leaders of the Navajo Nation have imposed a potentially precedent-setting tax on junk food and sodas.

The 27,000-square-mile territory, which extends into Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, as of April 1 added a 2-cent sales tax to an existing 5-cent sales tax on most goods sold there, Eliza Barclay reported for National Public Radio’s food blog, The Salt. Fresh fruits and vegetables sold on the reservation have been tax-free since October as part of the tribe’s healthy eating initiative. Continue reading

Health Journalism 2015 agenda covers gamut of health care

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.

<span class="credit">Pia Christensen/AHCJ</span>AHCJ President Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor, business, health and science at <em>The Philadelphia Inquirer</em>, gives tips on covering hospital finance at Health Journalism 2014.

Pia Christensen/AHCJAHCJ President Karl Stark, the assistant managing editor, business, health and science at The Philadelphia Inquirer, gives tips on covering hospital finance at Health Journalism 2014.

We have posted descriptions of nearly all of the panels planned for Health Journalism 2015 and it’s an agenda packed with timely and useful sessions for anyone covering health.

Field trips on Thursday will feature trips to Stanford University, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford Health Care, Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory, the Division of Clinical Anatomy at Stanford University and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System to learn about simulation training, pediatric heart care, hospital disaster preparation, veterans’ rehabilitation, early detection of cancer and much more. Continue reading

The other part of health reform: Changing the delivery of care

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.

AHCJ webcastReforms to the health care delivery system have been overshadowed by the Affordable Care Act enrollment story but there are stories galore to be found.

The 2010 law takes steps to shift how we deliver health care – to do a better job of managing chronic diseases, to make hospitals safer, to move away from fee-for-service, to get more quality for our health care spending. It’s a big challenge but it doesn’t get as much attention as the coverage aspects of the ACA, partly because it’s not so politically radioactive.

Join Joanne Kenen, AHCJ’s health reform core topic leader, and Patrick Conway, M.D., M.Sc., director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, for a discussion on new ways of delivering care, evaluating what works and some early results. Health care providers around the country are taking part in CMMI initiatives and private sector counterparts.  There will be plenty of time for questions from participants during this members-only webcast.

SCOTUS: Some things to note as we wait for a decision

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.

By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Roberts Court (2010-) - The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Roberts Court (2010-) – The Oyez Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On March 4 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell. A ruling is expected in late June – though it’s possible it could come earlier. The plaintiffs argue that the health insurance subsidies should only be available to people living in states running their own Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges or marketplaces, not the 34 states using the federal exchange via HealthCare.gov. They cite four words in the text of the law “established by the state” to make this argument. The Administration says it’s clear from reading the full text of the 906 page law that subsidies were to be available in all 50 states, no matter what kind of exchange they have.

So the Supreme Court has heard the King v. Burwell challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Now what?

Good question.

Much of the coverage suggested that the March 4 oral arguments seemed to favor the administration, particularly because Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the deciding swing vote on the court, asked some questions showing skepticism of the plaintiff’s case.

But all that tells is precisely that – he asked some questions showing skepticism. He won’t necessarily vote that way. He backed scrapping the entire statute back in 2012 and made clear at that time that he detested the law.

Oral arguments are interesting and important – but rarely decisive. If you think you know how the court will rule – well you have a 50-50 chance of being right.

A few things did come out that health journalists should note. Continue reading

Sullivan, autobiography recognized with NAACP Image Award

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: Len Bruzzese/AHCJ

Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJ

Louis W. Sullivan, who spoke to Health Journalism 2014 attendees about his just-released autobiography, has won an NAACP Image Award for the book.

Sullivan, the founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine – the first predominantly black medical school – served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush from 1989-93. Continue reading

Discount drug pricing: Cutting through the controversy

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.

Image by Bill Brooks via flickr.

Image by Bill Brooks via flickr.

Independent journalist Lola Butcher reports that debate about the government’s 340B Drug Pricing Program continues to build as the program expands.

“Like all good controversies, this one has enthusiastic advocates and wild-eyed opponents, and it’s easy to get snagged by the passion of the partisans,” she writes in a new tip sheet. Continue reading

Experts share realities behind generic, specialty drug pricing

Loren Bonner

About Loren Bonner

Loren Bonner (@lorenbonner) is a reporter for Pharmacy Today. She has freelanced as a health care writer and multimedia producer, and worked in public radio in New York and Connecticut. Bonner obtained her master’s degree in journalism with a health and medicine concentration from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Photo: Abby via Flickr

Photo: Abby via Flickr

Health journalists received a few lessons in economics during a discussion last week on some alarming drug trends – largely the result of a broken market – that are threatening patient care and undermining the U.S. health care system.

At a New York City chapter eventPhil Zweig, a longtime financial journalist who also runs a group called Physicians Against Drug Shortages, spoke about the scarcity of generic drugs in hospitals and clinics – a problem that has persisted for years. Hospital group purchasing organizations (GPOs), which are not regulated and essentially negotiate supply purchases for hospitals, have the ability to charge market share to the highest bidder. Zweig said they can do this because the safe harbor provision in the 1987 Medicare anti-kickback law excluded GPOs from criminal prosecution for taking kickbacks from suppliers.

“The more you can pay to a GPO, the more market share you get,” Zweig said.

Because of the exclusive contracts that GPOs award, the number of competitors in the market shrinks, which has led to a shortage of generic prescription drugs – everything from sterile injectables to chemotherapy agents. Continue reading

Covering an ACA grant for ‘superusers’ in Pennsylvania

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: Chris Wong via Flickr

Photo: Chris Wong via Flickr

Most of us have heard about “super-users” – patients who are constantly in and out of the hospital, running up large bills. Most have multiple chronic diseases, are poor, and often have mental illness or substance abuse problems. Most live alone, and some are homeless.

Four communities – Lehigh Valley, Pa.; Kansas City, Mo.; San Diego and Aurora, Colo. – have received grants under the Affordable Care Act to tackle the super-user problem. (Other non-ACA-funded initiatives are also underway). Investigative reporter Tim Darragh, formerly of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., spent a year tracking the grant in the Lehigh Valley. The super-user innovation grants, which were issued in 2012, provide $14.3 million and (at least for Lehigh) expire in mid-2015.

Darragh, now a reporter at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, looked at a broad range of issues in the project. He also was able to weave narrative into the policy reporting. The Morning Call recently published five pieces:

Continue reading

In sad, compelling stories, journalists are documenting a mental health care system in crisis

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.

Photo: Jan Bommes via Flickr

Photo: Jan Bommes via Flickr

Imagine the outcry if patients with cancer or any other chronic condition lacked standard, appropriate care. Such ill treatment would not be tolerated.

Yet the U.S. health care system routinely fails to provide basic care to Americans with mental illness, says Patrick J. Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island and co-founder of One Mind, an organization seeking new treatments for neurologic and psychiatric diseases of the brain.

For a series of articles in USA Today, Liz Szabo quoted Kennedy on mental health care in America: “The failure to provide treatment and supportive services to people with mental illness – both in the community and in hospitals – has overburdened emergency rooms, crowded state and local jails and left untreated patients to fend for themselves on city streets.”

The burden of inadequate mental health care falls on individuals and families, but also on emergency rooms, hospitals, jails and other institutions, making this topic well worth the rich and deep coverage Szabo and other journalists have committed to it. Such coverage is important, as reporters have found in Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, and it can be rewarding because it forces journalists to confront and explain some most challenging health care issues in our society. Continue reading