Experts offer story ideas for covering health reform

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.

More than 30 attendees heard local experts sketch the particular challenges and issues presented by the Affordable Care Act in California in the latest “Implementing health reform in the states” panel, hosted by AHCJ’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter on Wednesday night at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Health Reform

The panel, one of a series sponsored by AHCJ, the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, began with an explanation of exchanges and what’s happening with their implementation (or lack thereof) around the country by Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

He posed some story ideas, such as: How vigorously will the states promote enrollment through the exchanges? What sort of variations to the ACA might emerge once states have the ability to ask for waivers in 2017?

Kim Belshe, a board member of the California exchange, and Marian Mulkey of the California HealthCare Foundation discussed the California scene, with lots of detail, touching on the state’s large undocumented immigrant population, the challenge of getting people enrolled (since the law of the land is now “performance” –  which means maximum participation), new opportunities for medical professions, such as nurses, to fill gaps in care delivery, and how to ensure coordinated care during the transition period to exchanges so no patient is harmed. This is the accountability part of the ACA, and needs thought and new procedures, Belshe stressed.

Belshe noted that Medicaid (Medi-Cal) is the foundation of reform, a subject which reporters sometimes overlook. Both she and Mulkey noted that California is a national pacesetter when it comes to reform implementation – a story idea in itself.

The session was moderated by Ed Howard, executive vice president of the Alliance for Health Reform.

On Tuesday night, a similar briefing was held at the University of Southern California, featuring Walter Zelman, Ph.D., a professor and director of health science at California State University-Los Angeles; Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the Healthy California program at The California Endowment; Anthony Wright, executive director for Health Access, a California health care consumer advocacy coalition; and Deborah Crowe, the health care and biotechnology industry reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Howard, of the Alliance for Health Reform, moderated the session.

Zelman posed a number of questions about reform, mostly about exchanges. To a reporter from Orange County, he suggested a story about the origin of the individual mandate – an idea championed by Republicans early on, he noted, and opposed by Obama and many Democrats. To a question about accountable care organizations and bundling, he suggested stories about how fee-for-service medicine is anything but dead.

Wright offered a look at what’s happening in Sacramento, including a hearing held just a few hours before the briefing.

Zingale mentioned the importance of prevention, and how the ACA encourages prevention. He too pointed out how nonprofits in the state can team up with reporters to educate people about the ACA. He said that the more people know about the law, the better they like it.

From a reporter’s perspective, Crowe offered several practical story ideas that reporters can start writing about today.

John Gonzales  of the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting wrote about the panel and Michelle Levander of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships program offers some of the story ideas mentioned by the panelists.

Special thanks to Colleen Paretty, chair of the Bay Area chapter, and Bill Erwin, of the Alliance for Health Reform, for contributing details about the panel discussions for this post.

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