Costs critical to stories about health care (#ahcj09)

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 AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Guest post by Jason Roberson of  The Dallas Morning News

For the most part, health care journalists are shortchanging readers by not focusing more on costs, according to Friday’s AHCJ conference panel, “Explaining costs in health stories.”

Health care costs represent 16 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, but only 28 percent of health-related stories cover costs, according to Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. His assessment comes from a three-year study of more than 750 health care stories.

In one of Schwitzer’s examples from the Associated Press, the writer failed to mention that the price of a new breast cancer drug would cost several thousands of dollars a month, putting it out of reach for most patients.

“Do you care about people like this when you write these stories?” Schwitzer asked.

Other panelists expounded on alarming health care cost increases and the need for clarity.

“Ten years from now we’ll be spending $4 trillion in health care,” said Glenn Melnick, professor at the University of Southern California. “Those are almost [Troubled Assets Relief Program] numbers.”

Health insurance premiums are not experiencing the same double-digit increases seen earlier in the decade, said Melnick, citing a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report. But in such stories, journalists error in not explaining other insurance cost trends, like so-called benefit buy downs, where increased cost sharing or reduced benefits within the policy lowers nominal premium but not the real total cost, Melnick said.

In kicking off the panel discussion, moderator Julie Appleby, AHCJ board member and Kaiser Health News senior correspondent, offered two simple questions to help steer health care reporting in the right direction.

Said Appleby: “How much is it going to cost? And who is going to pay for it?”

2 thoughts on “Costs critical to stories about health care (#ahcj09)

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