Author Archives: Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

N.C. journalist goes to Europe for lessons about opioid crisis

NC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf interviews Thilo Beck, head of psychiatry at Arud Centre for Addiction Medicine inside a heroin-assisted treatment facility in Zurich, Switzerland.

Photo: Andy SpechtNC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf interviews Thilo Beck, head of psychiatry at Arud Centre for Addiction Medicine inside a heroin-assisted treatment facility in Zurich, Switzerland.

Last year, Taylor Knopf, a health care journalist at North Carolina Health News, spent more than a week out of a vacation to report on how France and Switzerland have been able to do what the health care system in the United States has so far failed to do: stem the tide of opioid-related deaths.

Knopf earned first place in AHCJ’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism Public Health (small) category for her six-part NCHN series, “Lessons from Abroad.” Continue reading

Pulitzer finalists explain how to use court documents to cover hospitals’ predatory billing practices

Image by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Court documents are among the best sources for journalists covering the aggressive tactics tht hospitals and health systems use when seeking payment from patients who owe them money.

This advice comes from two Kaiser Health News journalists — senior correspondent Jay Hancock and data editor Elizabeth Lucas — who were Pulitzer Prize finalists this year for their reporting on predatory billing practices. Continue reading

Brenner leaves UnitedHealth Group to return to primary care

Jeffrey C. Brenner, M.D.

Image courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationJeffrey C. Brenner, M.D.

One of the nation’s most innovative physicians is leaving UnitedHealth Group to start a primary care practice in New Jersey. Jeffrey Brenner, M.D, is returning to primary care after more than three years as a senior vice president at the nation’s largest health insurer, where he launched programs in some 14 cities to provide housing and other services for UHC’s neediest members.

Many of us have covered the work Brenner has done in pioneering new models of care for patients known as high utilizers, super users or frequent fliers. They are the 5 percent of patients who account for at least 50 percent or more of all health care spending. Included in this cohort was the top 1 percent of Americans whose health care costs accounted for about 22 percent of total health care spending nationwide. Continue reading

Journalist digs through data sources to show how deal changed Montana’s insurance market

scales of justiceCovering health insurance in a less-populated state can be a significant challenge for journalists because most often, there’s not enough enrollment data to support robust reporting on trends that affect consumers.

Katheryn Houghton learned this lesson when working as a daily news reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana. In May, she left the Chronicle and now works as a freelance health care journalist in Missoula. Continue reading

Short-term, limited-duration health plans assailed in Congressional Democrats’ report

Source: “Shortchanged: How the Trump Administration’s Expansion of Junk Short-Term Health Insurance Plans is Putting Americans at Risk,” U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic staff report, June 2020.Short-term limited duration insurance plans spend less than half of consumers’ premiums on medical care, while insurance plans that comply with the rules of the Affordable Care Act spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premium income on medical care, according to a recent congressional staff report.

Short-term, limited-duration insurance plans threaten the health and financial well-being of American families, according to a recent staff report from Congressional Democrats on the Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C). The report is a result of an investigation that staff conducted into nine health insurers, including UnitedHealth Group and Anthem, and five insurance company brokers that sell these plans for insurers.

“These plans are simply a bad deal for consumers, and oftentimes leave patients who purchase them saddled with thousands of dollars in medical debt,” according to “Shortchanged: How the Trump Administration’s Expansion of Junk Short-Term Health Insurance Plans is Putting Americans at Risk.” The committee’s investigation into how these plans operate outlines what the report calls “the deeply concerning industry practices” of STLDI plans and the insurance brokers who sell them. Continue reading

Even in a pandemic, it’s important to keep the price transparency issue in perspective

Source: Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition, Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws, May 2020.The Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws shows 34 states got failing grades and only two states got A grades (Maine and New Hampshire).

A federal judge last month ruled against the American Hospital Association and other hospital groups in their lawsuit against the Trump administration’s plan to require hospitals to publish the prices they charge consumers.

As a victory for consumers, that win on June 23 was short-lived as the AHA appealed the decision the next day. Then on June 30, the AHA asked federal health officials to delay the effective date of the federal hospital price transparency rule until the court case is settled. Continue reading