Tag Archives: hhs

Sullivan shares experiences with racism, the early days of AIDS and serving under George H.W. Bush #ahcj14

Andrew M. Seaman

About Andrew M. Seaman

Andrew M. Seaman is a medical journalist with Reuters Health. He started at Reuters as a Kaiser Family Foundation fellow in the D.C. bureau covering health policy and is a 2011 graduate of Columbia University's Journalism School, where he focused on investigative reporting as a Stabile Fellow.

Image by Len Bruzzese

Photo by Len Bruzzese

Louis Sullivan, M.D., recounted his decades of service to medicine to attendees of Health Journalism 2014 on Thursday at the Grand Hyatt in Denver.

In a conversation with Andrew Holtz, Sullivan touched on his experience as the only African American student in his Boston University School of Medicine class in the 1950s, the founding dean and president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President George H. W. Bush.

“Racism is really such a complex thing,” he said. “There’s no easy way to define it,” Sullivan told Holtz when asked about the doctor’s upbringing in the segregated south.

“I think we’re a much better country now than we were 30 to 40 years ago,” he added. Continue reading

Two new resources offer myriad story ideas

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 recently released 2014 work plan sets up how the Inspector General’s office of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will scrutinize claims CMS pays to hospitals, nursing homes, and home care agencies, as well as for prescription drugs, medical equipment and other care services. Continue reading

HHS releases enrollment numbers for marketplaces

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 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released the much-anticipated numbers for the first month of enrollment in the ACA’s insurance marketplaces.

A quick breakdown from the press release:

  • 975,407 customers have gone through the process but have not yet selected a plan
  • 106,185 Americans selected health plans
  • 396,261 assessed or determined eligible for Medicaid or CHIP

The 28-page issue brief (PDF) from HHS has plenty of other numbers, including those for individual states and draws comparisons between the healthcare.gov rollout and the launch of other programs, including the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Medicare Part D, Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Care, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Getting past gatekeepers to cover research requires strategy

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Eric Allix Rogers via flickr.

So you have a great medical study to cover – interesting topic, compelling results. All you need is an interview with the study’s authors to help bring the research home to readers.

That’s where things get tricky. The researcher you need to connect with before your oh-so-tight deadline has letters in his or her affiliation that don’t bode well for timely interviews: FDA, HHS, USDA, CMS.

Scoring an interview with a scientist who works for a government agency can be frustrating and full of dead ends. It shouldn’t be. AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee is working on improving reporters’ access to a number of government agencies.

But change is slow. And your deadlines won’t wait. What can you do today for a story that’s due tomorrow? Continue reading

HHS investigative unit set to lose hundreds of staff

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.

Despite the Obama administration’s focus on cutting health care costs and fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid systems, the office charged with investigating such things plans to cut 400 staffers by the end of 2015.

Fred Schulte at The Center for Public Integrity reports that the news came to light during a June 24 congressional hearing about prescription drug abuse in Medicare.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General  is responsible for investigating fraud and abuse in the system. Last year the office shut down investigations into 1,200 complaints because of a lack of resources, according to Gary Cantrell, deputy inspector general for the OIG Office of Investigations.

Cantrell blames the cuts on “a mix of budgetary issues which he called ‘expiring funding streams.’” Schulte reports that no one at HHS would discuss the situation.

Schulte has previously reported on electronic health records and linked them to higher health care costs. He points out one potential impact of the cuts:

One major project that’s likely to be scaled back is an ambitious plan to “identify fraud and abuse vulnerabilities” in electronic health records. The federal government is spending about $36 billion in economic stimulus funds to help doctors and hospitals purchase the digital technology in the hopes that it will ultimately reduce waste from duplicative tests and make health care more efficient and less costly.

The OIG’s 2013 Work Plan outlines the office’s focus and new and ongoing projects, including reasonableness of Medicare payments, coding of medical equipment claims, questionable billing patterns, review of claims submitted by “error-prone” providers and more. Meanwhile, ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, The Wall Street Journal and other publications have documented fraudulent and wasteful practices in Medicare.

99 things on the health care reform to-do list, the otter edition

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.

For some Friday fun … Sarah Kliff did a blog post for The Washington Post’s Wonkblog on  “99 things” that have to happen in the 99 days between her post and Oct 1. OK, she cheated a little:

2. Washington state must launch a health insurance exchange

3. Oregon must launch a health insurance exchange

4. California must launch a health insurance exchange

5. Idaho must launch a health insurance exchange

6. Hawaii must launch a health insurance exchange

7. Colorado must launch a health insurance exchange

Image by Peter Kaminski via flickr.

But she’s still got some useful information on what’s on the states’ and the feds’ to-do list which helps you understand the technical complexity of this undertaking.

And don’t forget to check out number 99.  Which, quite frankly, has nothing to do with health care but we can all learn about baby otters.

HHS gives some states flexibility in decisions on health insurance exchanges

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.

A headline in The New York Times recently confused some people – initially including me.

States Will Be Given Extra Time to Set Up Health Insurance Exchanges,” the paper said on Jan. 15.

Initially I thought the Department of Health and Human Services had delayed the start of the exchanges – which would have been really big news (and I couldn’t imagine how I missed it).

But the exchanges aren’t being pushed back (despite the periodic spates of rumors in Washington that they will be…) Enrollment starts in October 2013. The exchanges will have to be up and running on Jan. 1, 2014 – although I don’t think any of us will be surprised if some states’ exchange debuts are bumpier than others. What the states ARE getting is extra time to make a decision about their exchange – or maybe to reconsider their decision. For states that are running their own exchanges, nothing changed. The deadline was in December and, with a very few exceptions (more below), those decisions are made.

The extra flexibility is for the rest of the states – most of which are letting the federal government run the exchange, and some of which will have a “partnership” exchange, with the federal government doing most of it but the state assuming some functions. The deadline for that decision – fully federal or partnership – is Feb. 15. That’s where HHS is giving them wiggle room. Continue reading

HHS adjusts news media guidelines in response to AHCJ member concerns

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 Department of Health and Human Services has revised its media guidelines, in response to some of the issues raised by AHCJ members. The revisions take effect today.

The changes, which all appear on page 5 of the guidelines for HHS staff (PDF), are as follows:

  • In the section prohibiting nonemployee contractors from speaking for the agency, HHS has added the sentence, “Exceptions to this practice may be considered on an individual basis.” This was in response to a member’s complaint that she had been barred from speaking with a contractor who was the only person knowledgeable about the subject of her story.
  • This sentence was added: “Meetings that are open to the public are, by definition, open to the media.” This was in response to AHCJ’s complaints about a series of “listening sessions” held last fall across the country from which the news media was excluded.
  • The paragraph concerning attribution was clarified. It now says:  “As a matter of routine, media interviews should be on the record and attributable to the person speaking to the media representative, unless an alternate attribution arrangement is mutually agreed upon in advance. HHS recognizes the following types of attribution: …” The document then provides definitions for “on the record,” “not for attribution,” “on background” and “off the record.” The previous version, which lacked the definitions and the phrase “As as matter of routine,” had led some to conclude that not-for-attribution interviews were barred.

HHS declined to remove one clause that has troubled some members: The requirement that employees “coordinate with the appropriate public affairs office/personnel” before doing an interview.

The guidelines were first issued in September, after AHCJ requested written ground rules. Journalists were told then that the document was final and in effect, but could be changed in response to questions or complaints. AHCJ members responded with their concerns and AHCJ shared them with the agency, resulting in these changes.

The same applies to the revisions. Dori Salcido, assistant secretary for public affairs, said she welcomed input from AHCJ members about the guidelines. Please send your reactions to the chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, Felice Freyer (felice.freyer@cox.net), so any new concerns can be conveyed to HHS.

Journalism groups protest HRSA restrictions to Sebelius

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 and six other journalism organizations on Thursday formally protested the Obama administration’s new restrictions on access to the republished Public Use File of the National Practitioner Data Bank.npdb-sebelius-letter-image

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the groups said that the new restrictions “are ill-advised, unenforceable and probably unconstitutional. Restricting how reporters use public data is an attempt at prior restraint.”

The Health Resources and Services Administration removed the Public Use File of the data bank from its website in September after a complaint from a doctor who complained information on him was used inappropriately. The agency republished the data on Wednesday but put in place restrictions on how the data could be used.

Among the restrictions is a provision that bars users from matching data in the Public Use File with other data sources to identify physicians. If journalists or others are found to have violated the provision, they could be required to return the data and be barred from receiving it in the future.

An excerpt from the letter:

This puts journalists in an untenable position. How can reporters who use the file prove that their identification of a troubled doctor was independent of the Public Use File? If reporters identify doctors in their stories and also have had access to the file, would HRSA ask to see their notes, talk to their sources, confirm that their facts came from other records and not the data bank?

In addition to AHCJ, the letter is signed by the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the National Conference of Editorial Writers.

The editorial writers group has recently joined the coalition of media organizations seeking a return of the Public Use File as it was available before September – without restrictions.

Former Practitioner Data Banks official says HRSA ‘erroneously interpreting the law’

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.

A former federal official criticized a decision by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for removing the Public Use File of the National Practitioner Data Bank from the agency’s website – a major development as journalism groups fight to restore access to the important tool.

Robert Oshel, who created the Public Use File in the mid-1990s and managed it until his retirement in 2008, said in a statement released to the Association of Health Care Journalists on Sunday that HRSA is “erroneously interpreting the law” governing the data bank.

The National Practitioner Data Bank is a confidential system that compiles malpractice payouts, hospital discipline and regulatory sanctions against doctors and other health professionals. For years, HRSA has made a public version of it available without identifying information about the health providers.

HRSA officials removed the public file from the data bank website last month because a spokesman said they believe it was used to identify physicians inappropriately.

But in his letter to AHCJ, Oshel said HRSA officials have confused the requirements of the law.

“HRSA’s current management seems to confuse the law’s requirement that a public data file not permit use of its records to identify individual practitioners with a very different requirement, and one not in the law: that the file not allow the records of previously identified practitioners to be identified in the file,” Oshel wrote.

Oshel further wrote that HRSA’s view will “seriously hinder use of the file for important public policy research.”

“For example, it will be impossible to identify state licensing boards which are not taking action to protect the public from physicians with records of repeated malpractice payments and serious sanctions against their hospital clinical privileges based on the quality of their care or their behavior,” he wrote.

As he notes in his letter, Oshel served as associate director for research and disputes for HRSA’s Division of Practitioner Data Banks, which operates the National Practitioner Data Bank, from 1997 *(updated) until his retirement in 2008. Among other duties, he personally designed the Data Bank’s Public Use File in about 1995 and oversaw its development and quarterly updating.

AHCJ President Charles Ornstein said Oshel’s letter reaffirmed what AHCJ and five other journalism groups are fighting for. He said the Public Use File has been a vital tool for journalists writing about insufficient oversight of physicians in their states. Without such articles, some unsafe doctors would very likely continue to be practicing with clean licenses and patient protection legislation in several states likely would not have been enacted.

“It is abundantly clear that HRSA made a mistake in taking the Public Use File offline, putting physicians’ interests ahead of patient safety,” Ornstein said. “With Robert Oshel’s detailed statement, we call on HRSA and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to make the right decision and restore access to the public version immediately.”

In his letter, Oshel also criticized the process that HRSA introduced as an interim way for reporters and researchers to request data from the data bank. To get information, individuals must disclose the focus of their work and HRSA officials must approve – or reject the request. If the request is granted, HRSA officials will be the arbiters of what data fields an individual needs to complete the research.

“I believe HRSA’s current policy is contrary to the law,” he wrote.

* There was a typo in the date in an earlier version of this post.

Earlier coverage