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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

Reporter looks into rise in kids’ orthodontic care in Wash.

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 Jlhopgood via flickr.

Image by Jlhopgood via flickr.

Though a state investigation has failed to prove that any dental providers committed fraud, scandal still hovers over Texas’ Medicaid orthodontic program.

Now questions are being raised in Washington, where there has been a spike in the number of poor kids with braces. Medicaid orthodontic spending in the state jumped from $884,000 for braces for just 1,240 kids in 2007 to nearly $27 million for 21,369 children last year, Sheila Hagar reported in a July 5 package for the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Wash.

What is going on? Hagar talked to a Walla Walla orthodontist, Thomas Utt, D.D.S., in her quest to find out. Utt has been worrying about the increase and has been raising concerns on the state level.

“We should be taking care of people who really have a need,” Utt told Hagar. But “need” appears to be a moving and subjective target in the state when it comes to braces, Hagar reported. 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.

  • Deborah Adedoja, student, Austin College, Philadelphia
  • Marie Benz, editor, MedicalResearch.com, Narbeth, Pa.  (@mariebenz_md)
  • Mary Forman, student, Boston University, Niskayuna, N.Y.
  • Gary Heiting, senior editor, AllAboutVision.com, Stillwater, Minn.
  • Vladimire Herard, independent journalist, Chicago
  • Fran Hopkins, senior editor, Clinician Reviews, Parsippany, N.J.  (@FMFHopkins)
  • Linda Johnson, CAR coordinator, Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington, Ky.  (@lpalmateer33)
  • Rachel Monahan, reporter, The Lund Report, Portland, Ore. (@rachelmonahan)
  • Kim Mulford, health reporter, Courier-Post, Cherry Hill, N.J. (@CP_KimMulford)
  • Natasha Persaud, editor, Remedy Health Media, New York
  • Susan Schackman, producer, CBS News, New York
  • Richard Scott, health journalist, Philadelphia
  • Shara Yurkiewicz, staff reporter/medical journalism fellow, MedPage Today, New York,   (@sharayurkiewicz)

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.

Stories missed the inequality of violent death in young people

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.

News outlets duly noted the recent study showing that injuries and violence kill more young people in the U.S. than any other cause of death. But the coverage scarcely mentioned the researchers’ most troubling and revealing finding: How the burden of these deaths varies enormously by race, ethnicity and social class.

Take a look at figure 2 from the study showing age-adjusted suicide and homicide rates in the U.S. by race and ethnic origin in the year 2010. The unit of measure is the number of deaths by suicide or homicide per 100,000 members of each population:

Age-adjusted suicide and homicide rates in the USA by race and ethnic origin, 2010.

Generated with use of the CDC’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System on Feb 19, 2013.Age-adjusted suicide and homicide rates in the USA by race and ethnic origin, 2010.

You can see that rates of suicide are three to four times higher among American Indian and Alaskan Natives and non-Hispanic whites than other populations.

Rates of homicide are more than eight times higher among blacks than among whites, and homicide deaths are three times more common among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than among whites. Continue reading

Early trends emerge following Medicaid expansion

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.

Image by Colin Dunn via flickr.

Image by Colin Dunn via flickr.

A couple of stories have begun to trickle out from states about the impact of Medicaid expansion on hospitals.

This one from the Arizona Daily Star by Stephanie Innes, for instance, reports that uncompensated care dropped by a third in the first four months of 2014 from the prior year – a pretty significant number. The hospitals in that period wrote off $170 million in 2014, versus $246 million from Jan through April in 2013.

She uses data from the state’s hospital industry to report on uncompensated care (both bad debt and uncompensated care) and the hospitals’ bottom line.

“The Arizona hospital report shows the average operating margin of Arizona hospitals has gone up from 4 percent in 2013 to the current rate of 5.2 percent — a signal to some health experts that the Affordable Care Act will be a net positive for hospitals’ bottom lines,” she wrote. Continue reading