Tag Archives: FOIA

FOIA lawsuit uncovers audits showing 35 health plans overbilled Medicare Advantage

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.

Fred Schulte

A federal review of health insurers operating Medicare Advantage plans shows that 35 health plans overbilled the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Center for Public Integrity reported on August 29.

Fred Schulte, a CPI senior reporter, said the center obtained 37 MA plan audits through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The documents indicated that 35 of those health plans were overpaid in 2007. The typical overpayment was several hundred thousand dollars.

“Among the insurers charging the government too much: five Humana, Inc. health plans, three UnitedHealth Care Group plans and four Wellpoint, Inc. plans,” Schulte wrote. None of the plans would comment for Schulte’s article. Continue reading

Access denied? Look for other, sometimes less traditional, ways to find sources #FOIAFriday #AHCJ16

Jaclyn Cosgrove

About Jaclyn Cosgrove

Jaclyn Cosgrove is a medical and health reporter at The Oklahoman. She is attending Health Journalism 2016 on an AHCJ Rural Health Journalism fellowship, which is supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

HHS-press-conferenceA Freedom of Information request that takes weeks, if not months, to receive.

Repeatedly getting “No comment” from anyone you speak to.

Encountering a spokesperson who has no interest in building a relationship but, instead, serves as a barrier.

These issues – and how to address them – were discussed at the “Access Denied: How to get the story anyway” panel Thursday at Health Journalism 2016.

Veteran journalists shared how to best navigate the many challenges that journalists face. Continue reading

Journalists, FOIA and the law: When should reporters sue?

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 and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College in New York City, and co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

The job of a journalist is to seek the truth and report it. To provide comprehensive and fair accounts of issues. This mantra is written into the codes of ethics of journalism organizations worldwide.

Fred Schulte

However, when government officials throw up roadblocks, refuse to answer basic questions, and rely on excuses to thwart legitimate investigations into policy, presenting the whole truth to the public is nearly impossible. When requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act are ignored, or responses delayed indefinitely, then it may be time to start filing legal challenges.

Such was the case with the Center for Public Integrity’s investigation into Medicare Advantage plans. Reporters tried for months to speak on the record with officials at CMS about the program’s financial probes and other oversight issues. CPI eventually filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get supporting documentation.

When CMS failed to respond after a year, CPI sued. Is this the only way to get government and other public organizations to open up their records? According to this tip sheet from Fred Schulte, it depends.

HuffPost dives into public records on King v. Burwell

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 by dbking via Flickr

Photo by dbking via Flickr

A key issue in King v. Burwell, the health care reform case argued before the Supreme Court in early March, is whether Congress intended to make certain subsidies available to eligible people across the country or only to those living in states that created their own health insurance exchange.

Sam Stein and colleagues at the Huffington Post filed public record requests with several key states, including some  in which prominent GOP governors did not establish exchanges. The reporters also reviewed records from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and more than 50,000 previously released emails from the Oklahoma governor’s office. The requests covered a period between the March 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and August 2011, when the IRS ruled that the subsidies should be available in all states.

How much discussion did Stein find about the risk of losing subsidies? Continue reading

Court strikes down USDA claim that food stamp program data is exempt from FOIA

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), a founding member of AHCJ, is an independent writer and editor specializing in health care and policy. Wielawski, a member of AHCJ's board of directors, is chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee and serves on the Freelance and the Finance and Development committees.

SNAPIn a victory for advocates of government transparency, a federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected the government’s arguments for withholding data on how much money individual retailers earn from food stamps.

Acting in a case brought by a South Dakota newspaper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously ruled against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s claim that a federal law bars disclosure of retailers’ earning from food stamps.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls filed suit after the USDA rejected the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request for data on annual payments to individual retailers from 2005 to 2010. The USDA argued that a law protecting the privacy of retailers’ applications to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (the official name for food stamps) prohibited release of that information. A district court had earlier sided with the government, ruling that this information was exempt from FOIA, but the appeals court on Tuesday disagreed. Continue reading