$200,000 grant strengthens project-based reporting fellowship

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 Reporting Fellowships on Health Care PerformanceThe Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, the educational arm of the Association of Health Care Journalists, has been awarded a grant of $200,000 to continue a fellowship program that helps journalists understand and report on the performance of local health care markets and the U.S. health system as a whole.

The AHCJ Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance were launched in 2010.

The program, supported by The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based private foundation, allows experienced print, broadcast and online reporters to pursue significant reporting projects over a year’s time related to the U.S. health care system. The reporters concentrate on the performance of health care systems – or significant parts of those systems – locally, regionally or nationally. The fellows are able to examine policies, practices and outcomes, as well as the roles of various stakeholders.

“Too often, the finances and inner workings of hospitals and health systems are black boxes,” said Karl Stark, president of the AHCJ board of directors and the health editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer“Through this generous grant, the fellowship provides reporters with the resources and tools to shine light into dark places and pursue stories that serve the public interest.”

Read more about the program and the grant.

Health costs, journalism and transparency: One site opening door to price data

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.

clearhealthcomHere’s a resource for health care costs – and a creative journalistic model of crowdsourcing, data collection, mapping, reporting and blogging.

ClearHealthCosts.com was started by former New York Times reporter and editor Jeanne Pinder. She received start-up funding from foundations (Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY and others listed on the website) and ClearHealthCosts now has a team of reporters and data wranglers chipping away at some of the difficult questions that patients need answered: How much is this treatment going to cost me? Can I find a better price?

It’s about shedding light on a health care cost and payment system that, to use Pinder’s word, is “opaque.” Some of what they are doing is specific to a half-dozen cities; other projects are building out nationally.

The data collected by ClearHealthCosts focuses on elective or at least nonemergency procedures such as imaging, dental work, vasectomy, walk-in clinics, screening (mammograms and colonoscopy) and blood tests. Much of the data is crowdsourced, and focused on New York area, including northern New Jersey and other suburbs; the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas; and Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio in Texas.

A recent grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation via its Prototype Fund will let ClearHealthCosts collaborate with KQED in San Francisco and KPCC/Southern California Public Radio in Los Angeles to crowdsource Califoria prices. Earlier, Pinder’s team did a crowdsourcing partnership with the Brian Lehrer Show at WNYC public radio in which hundreds of women shared mammogram payment information, and their thoughts. It led to a series of blog posts including here and here. 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.

  • Stefanie R. Bryant, morning anchor/medical reporter, KTAL-Shreveport, Bossier City, La.
  • Lisa Chamoff, independent journalist, New York (@lchamoff)
  • Michelle R. Charles, reporter, Stillwater News Press, Stillwater, Okla.
  • Rebecca C. Jeffrey, reporter/anchor, KNWA/KFTA-Fayetteville, Ark. (@RCJeffrey)
  • Alexa Z. Ura, reporter, The Texas Tribune, Austin, Texas (@alexazura)

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.

Tennessean reporter investigates complaints over Medicaid dental provider

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 Wilemon

Tom Wilemon

Quite a few folks in Tennessee are upset right now with DentaQuest, the giant dental benefits company that took over the contract to provide oral health services to poor kids under the state’s Medicaid program earlier this year.

Two hundred black dentists are riled that they were cut from the provider network. The state dental association has withdrawn its support for DentaQuest’s contract. And some consumers (including a group home operator) are saying the company is making it harder for patients to get the care they need.

Meanwhile, company officials insist that no child with TennCare benefits has lost access to dental care under their watch. They defend their performance in Tennessee, saying that screenings have increased and that the state network of 864 providers – one for every 857 patients – exceeds nationally recommended standards.

What is going on? The Tennessean’s Tom Wilemon has been working to find out. His story last month offered a look at the situation.

In this Q&A, he gives an update and some additional insights into his reporting. He also shares some wisdom with others who might find themselves tackling a similar story.

Nine journalists receive AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellowships

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.

The Association of Health Care Journalists has named the 2014-15 class of the Regional Health Journalism Fellowship, an annual fellowship program for reporters and editors across the United States.

The program, which changes regions each year, will focus this year on journalists from the South Central United States, namely Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The program begins next month. The first class of fellows came from the northern Midwest and Plains. The second class of fellows came from the Southeast. And the most recent class of fellows came from the Western region of the country.

“This is one of the most important programs we offer,” said AHCJ Executive Director Len Bruzzese. “We had many fine applicants because more and more journalists recognize the need to take charge of their own career development, especially in building their expertise in health coverage. We look forward to working with them and appreciate the support of their newsrooms.”

Read more about the program and who was chosen for this year’s class.

GAO report on medical loss ratio finds insurers spend little on quality improvement

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.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office generated some minor headlines last week when it reported on how much health insurers paid in rebates to policyholders in the first two years under the Affordable Care Act’s medical loss ratio (MLR) rules.

A close read of the report, “Private Health Insurance: Early Effects of Medical Loss Ratio Requirements and Rebates on Insurers and Enrollees,” reveals important details about how insurers spent the premium income they collected from consumers and businesses. The report shows insurers spend very little on quality improvement, that they report modest profit numbers and that MLR rules have not had caused them undue harm.

Continue reading

Clearing the air on a WHO study

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.

Last week, I encountered yet another example of why it’s so important to always read the whole study — not just the press release. In this case, it was actually a report, not a study. A press release from Alzheimer’s International with the somewhat misleading headline, “Smoking Increases Risk Of Dementia” arrived in my inbox, citing a new World Health Organization report that put smokers at a 45% higher risk for developing the disease than non-smokers.

When I opened the report, I learned that the “news” touted in the press release was actually just a summary of old research. There was nothing new here. Nor was there proof of causation – the cited evidence showed associations.

As I looked more closely at the report, I found an error that appeared to undermine its conclusions and suggest a sloppiness and lack of rigor.

Continue reading

Engaged-patient proponent Gruman dies

Trudy Lieberman

About Trudy Lieberman

Trudy Lieberman, a former president of AHCJ, is a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review, where she blogs about health care and income security issues. She is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health where she blogs about paying for health care. At Consumer Reports, she specialized in health care and health care financing. She has won more than 25 awards and five major fellowships.

Jessie Gruman, founder of the Center for Advancing Health, died Monday. She had spent more than 20 years there focused on getting people engaged in their health care from the patient perspective. Longtime AHCJ member Trudy Lieberman, who has spent the last couple of years as a fellow at the center, offers a tribute.

Jessie Gruman, who died Monday, was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. Her loss will be keenly felt by all of us in the health and medical communities who knew her, worked with her, sought her guidance, tried to emulate what she stood for – honesty and integrity come to mind – and who were, most of all, her friends.

Jessie had been dealt a bad hand healthwise, having suffered cancer as a young adult that returned several times over the years. In the last year, when she told us she had metastatic lung cancer, we knew time was short. But as Kate Lorig, one of the William Ziff Fellows at Jessie’s Center for Advancing Health, put it, “Jessie lived until she died.”

Continue reading

Elder advocates release international model human rights convention; will go before UN

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.

The Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons — a proposed international convention that aims to provide legal protections to older persons under international human rights law, was released last week after months of work by legal scholars, human rights advocates and policymakers from more than a dozen countries. Delegates will present the Declaration before the United Nations on August 1.

The Chicago Declaration addresses numerous issues facing the world’s older population, from medical decision-making to abuse. Participants say it is not meant to supersede or diminish any greater rights granted to older persons that may already exist in local, state or national law.

It calls upon nations to raise public awareness and educate older persons of their rights, as well as encourage programs that promote inter-generational relationships. The John Marshall Law School, Roosevelt University and East China University of Political Science and Law jointly supervised the work.

Continue reading

Looking at the relationship between scarcity, unhealthy behavior

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health. To help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network, Rojas-Burke will hunt for resources, highlight excellent work and moderate discussions with journalists and experts. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or tweet to @rojasburke.

People with low socioeconomic status are more likely to act in ways that harm their health compared with those higher on the ladder of income and social stature.

On average, they smoke more, they exercise less and their diet is less wholesome. As a group, they are even less likely to use seatbelts. Researchers have struggled for years to understand why this is so. It involves more than the inability to pay for goods and services that promote health. Cigarettes are expensive, after all. Walking and many other forms of exercise don’t require money, and neither does clicking a seatbelt.

Photo by Roman Pavlyuk via Flickr

One explanation that’s drawing a lot of media attention, perhaps to the point of going overboard, is the idea that poverty overloads the capacity of the brain to make sound decisions. This is the hypothesis advanced in “Scarcity,” an important, fascinating – and expertly publicized – book by behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan and cognitive psychologist Eldar Shafir that has been the basis for dozens of news reports since it was published in August. Continue reading