Reporters use fellowships to take in-depth look at health care issues

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Last year, AHCJ awarded five Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance and the fellows produced a rich variety of projects on the health care landscape, investigating little-known stories such as state Medicaid models and the cancer care migration.

We’re highlighting each fellow and their accomplishments.

Karen Brown
Brown (@kbrownreports), a New England Public Radio reporter and producer, also has done health reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe.

She used her fellowship to report on the shortage of primary care doctors and the changing educational landscape for aspiring primary health care physicians. In a short documentary for NEPR called “The Path To Primary Care: Who Will Be The Next Generation Of Frontline Doctors?,” Brown followed a group of primary care residents at Baystate Medical Center and chronicled their ups and downs, as well as how the Affordable Care Act incentivized new doctors to practice primary care. She shares her strategy in a new “How I Did It.”

“The hope is that giving new doctors a taste of front-line medicine will whet their appetites for the primary care profession – and that the profession itself will become more appealing,” Brown wrote. “But as these residents know, there are no guarantees.”

Michaela Gibson Morris
Morris (@Michgibmo) has covered health care for The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal since 2000, and has been on staff at the Daily Journal since 1996. When she became a Health Care Performance Fellow, she decided to use her considerable experience in health care journalism to investigate the shortage of primary care physicians facing rural areas.

Morris and the Daily Journal staff produced a three-day series in the Daily Journal examining the physician shortage and its implications. She pursued the rural angle, reporting on access to care in isolated communities of Mississippi and Oregon. In June, she attended AHCJ’s Rural Health Journalism Workshop in Portland, Ore., which she used as a springboard to dive more deeply into the series and find one of her sources in remote Maupin, Ore.

“The most important lesson other rural communities can take away from Maupin and other success stories is that they are an essential ingredient in solving the health care access issue,” she wrote.

David Pittman
Pittman (@David_Pittman) has been a reporter for PoliticoPro since May 2014. Before that, he covered health policy issues for MedPage Today as well as science and policy for Chemical and Engineering News and trade newsletter FDAnews .

Pittman decided to focus his fellowship on comparing Medicaid models between states and evaluate how health innovations affect the quality of care delivered. In a piece for MedPage Today, he investigated Medicaid ACOs at the state level and their effectiveness: Did incentives provided for hitting performance benchmarks actually improve health care costs in states with ACOs?

According to Pittman, it’s too early to judge, but “there are signs that what Colorado is doing is helping solve the problems that state health officials were facing 5 years ago,” he wrote. The savings in Colorado were scant, he reported, but he also noted that Colorado health officials are pleased with the decreases in hospital readmissions and high-cost imaging services.

Sarah Gantz
As a staff writer for the Baltimore Business Journal, Gantz (@BaltBizSarah) covers health care, higher education, biotech and technology. When she became an AHCJ fellow, she decided to focus her fellowship on Maryland’s all-payer health care system, and how it impacts the hospitals Baltimore.

In “State of emergency: Why Maryland hospitals need to rethink the ER,” Gantz covered a new hospital intervention program that is designed to combat regular ER use and help ER regulars overcome barriers to seeking other kinds of care. Health care costs for these “high utilizer” patients amounted to $218.7 million in 2013.

“The stakes are especially high in Maryland,” Gantz wrote. In five years, the federal government will radically alter the way hospitals make money, which means Maryland hospitals have to come up with ER cost-cutting strategies in just a few short years.

Gantz wrote about her reporting for AHCJ: Putting a human face on Maryland’s unique all-payer system.

Lola Butcher
Butcher, an independent journalist from Springfield, Mo., decided to use her fellowship to investigate the changing face of cancer care. Specifically, she wanted to investigate the shift of cancer care from local clinics to hospital outpatient departments.

In a four-part series on that migration for Oncology Times, Butcher (@LolaButcher) focused on costs, 340B drug discounts, emerging payment systems, and stakeholder viewpoints. In “Unintended Consequences: How Government Policies Have Increased the Cost of Cancer Care— 340B Drug Discounts Have Fueled the Migration of Cancer Care,” Butcher defines the 340B pricing scheme and examines its effects on various facets of oncology care.

340B drug pricing: Cutting through the controversy,” a related AHCJ tip sheet by Butcher, focuses on how to cover 340B and provides some story ideas.

Links to all the work the fellows did can be found here.

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