Author Archives: Joseph Burns

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About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), an independent journalist who resides in Brewster, Massachusetts, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform. He welcomes questions and suggestions and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Why it’s important to cover hospitals suing patients over medical debt 

A survey from KFF shows one in seven adults in the United States who have health care debt say a medical provider has denied them care due to their debt. Source: KFF Health Care Debt Survey (Feb. 25-Mar. 20, 2022). https://www.kff.org/report-section/kff-health-care-debt-survey-main-findings/ accessed dec. 23, 2022.

Recent news shows the need for health care journalists to investigate the aggressive measures hospitals use when patients can’t pay their medical bills.

On Dec. 21, Noam N. Levey, an award-winning senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News (KHN), reported that when patients can’t pay their bills, hundreds of the nation’s hospitals file lawsuits against those patients, sell patients’ bad-debt accounts to debt buyers and report patients to credit rating agencies. 

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Reporters shed light on unsubstantiated drug price increases 

The table shows the 10 prescription medications that had price increases in 2021 that were unsupported by new clinical evidence. Reprinted with permission. Source: Rind DM, Agboola F, Campbell J, Nikitin D, et al. Unsupported Price Increase Report: Unsupported Price Increases Occurring in 2021. December 6, 2022. ICER.

Last year, the makers of seven widely used prescription drugs raised prices substantially without any new clinical evidence to justify the increases, Ed Silverman reported at STAT News last week. 

Silverman based his reporting on an analysis from the independent nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) that analyzes evidence on the effectiveness and value of drugs and other medical services. ICER released that report, “Unsupported Price Increases (UPI) of prescription drugs in the United States,” on Tuesday, Dec. 6.  

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Journalists expose significant problems with Medicare Advantage plans

Majority report from US Senate Finance Committee finds seniors subject to marketing scams from health insurers.

Seniors signing up for Medicare Advantage (MA) during open enrollment (which ends Dec. 7) have more reasons to worry now that reporters at Kaiser Health News, MedPage Today and elsewhere have continued to uncover significant problems with these private managed care plans. 

During open enrollment, reporters have a responsibility to explain the problems seniors may face with MA plans and to warn them about deceptive marketing practices.

And health care journalists should ask officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) why it sets higher rates for health insurance brokers selling MA plans than the rates it sets for brokers to register seniors in Medicare Supplement (also called Medigap) plans that might be more appropriate for their needs.  Continue reading

Election coverage lessons on Medicaid expansion, abortion, medical debt and dental insurance

South Dakota voters approve amendment to state constitution to expand access to Medicaid (Source: Status of State Medicaid Expansion Decisions: Interactive Map, Kaiser Family Foundation, accessed Nov. 9, 2022.)

Even while votes are still being counted, there are important lessons to be learned from the midterm elections on Tuesday. 

One of the big lessons is that when voters are asked whether to expand Medicaid, they mostly vote in favor, as happened when South Dakota approved an amendment to the state constitution this week, requiring the state to expand access to Medicaid benefits to low-income residents. 

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How seniors can avoid Medicare Advantage marketing scams, care denials and medical underwriting 

Caption: The Medicare & You 2023 handbook explains the rules for traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans.

Just after Medicare open enrollment began on Oct. 15, federal health officials cracked down on misleading and incorrect ads from health insurers promoting the low premiums and additional benefits available in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans.

On Friday, Cheryl Clark reported for MedPage Today that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it reviewed thousands of complaints about confusing, misleading, or inaccurate ads for MA plans and it used secret shoppers to document deceptive telephone pitches from agents and brokers selling MA plans to consumers. In a letter to all insurers offering MA and prescription drug plans, CMS said some insurance agents were unduly pressuring beneficiaries and failing to provide accurate or complete information to help seniors make informed enrollment decisions. 

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