Right to Know Committee resumes talks with HHS media office, affirms appeals process

Right To KnowIf you’re having problems getting information from a federal health agency, don’t give up: You might have recourse within the government.

The new assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, Sarah Lovenheim, has recently reaffirmed an appeals process that AHCJ negotiated several years ago.

It works like this: If you can’t get what you need at the agency level, appeal to the HHS deputy secretary who oversees media affairs for that agency. (Details on how to do this are below.)

In a conversation with Sabriya Rice, vice chair of the Right to Know Committee, and me, Lovenheim agreed that reporters should get in touch with the deputy secretaries if they need help.

This isn’t a guarantee of success, but merely another avenue for frustrated reporters, and a way for us to hold media officials accountable for their promises of transparency. We urge you to take advantage of this process and let us know how it works.

Additionally, Lovenheim agreed to resume quarterly check-ins between Right to Know Committee leaders and the media staff at HHS. The first has yet to be scheduled, but we are pleased that Lovenheim was open to this idea, and we’re eager to hold these phone conversations, which have been helpful in the past.

Appointed in March, Lovenheim oversaw communications for HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra when he was California attorney general. Previously she was communications director for the House Democratic Caucus when Becerra was its chair.

“We’re thrilled to have reopened channels of communication with media affairs at HHS,” Rice said. “And we’re looking forward to having substantial conversations about any news-gathering obstacles our members face.

“But to make this successful, we need to hear from [members],” Rice added. “It’s essential for AHCJ members to get in touch with us if they run into access problems.”

You can reach us by email (felice.freyer@globe.com or sabriya.rice@uga.edu) or through our transparency portal, which allows for anonymity.

Here’s how the appeals process works:

We recommend you first try to get answers from the agency handling the issue you’re covering, such as CDC, CMS, FDA or NIH. Each agency takes a different approach to media inquiries. The FDA lists its media contacts according to the topics they specialize in, and provides names, numbers and emails. The CDC and CMS, in contrast, ask you to send a form to a generic email address.

If you don’t get an answer in time to meet your deadline, if the answer is inadequate despite multiple requests, or even if you’re not sure where to turn, contact the deputy secretary in the HHS media office who oversees the topic or agency you’re working with:

Here is the current list of deputy secretaries:

  • Health Care
    Hannah Y. Kim, hannah.kim@hhs.gov
    Agencies: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Office of Health Reform, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) 
  • Public Health
    Bill Hall bill.hall@hhs.gov
    Agencies: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response 
  • Human Services
    Jorge Silva jorge.silva@hhs.gov
    Agencies: Administration for Children and Families, Administration for Community Living, Departmental Appeals Board, Indian Health Service, Office for Civil Rights, Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration 
  • COVID-19
    Ian Sams ian.sams@hhs.gov

Because there can be turnover, you should check the “HHS Public Affairs Contacts” page for the most up-to-date names: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/contacts/index.html

Lovenheim said she would ask her deputies to post their email addresses, but so far that hasn’t happened. However, HHS seems to follow a consistent format for email addresses: firstname.lastname@hhs.gov

If you’re still having difficulty, please let us know by taking advantage of the Right to Know Committee’s transparency portal: https://healthjournalism.org/trouble-getting-information/

“We’re here to help,” Rice said. “But we can only be effective if we’re aware of the true challenges our members face.”

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