The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services has decided not to extend the contract of the communications consultant who threatened to bar Modern Healthcare from press calls for refusing to alter a story.
The consultant, Brett O’Donnell, had sent a Jan. 24 email to a Modern Healthcare editor saying that “we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS” if the publication did not change three sentences about the reasons for a CMS official’s resignation. That threat followed an email exchange the day before in which Virgil Dickson, the reporter who wrote the story, declined O’Donnell’s request to alter his account.
On Feb. 1, Dickson was dropped from a CMS press call, and his editor confirmed with CMS that evening that he had in fact been banned. Two days later, CMS sent Covering Health a note asserting, “No reporters have been banned by CMS.” And a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services later called the incident “unfortunate” and not reflective of HHS policy.
Phil Galewitz, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, learned of the decision not to renew O’Donnell’s contract last week, and a CMS official confirmed it in an email to Covering Health late Friday. The email stated: “O’Donnell & Associates was a subcontractor under an agreement that expired earlier this month and their work was completed so CMS is not extending the contract.”
CMS did not answer questions about how long O’Donnell worked for the agency or what his contract cost.