Author Archives: 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

Series focuses on stressed rural hospitals that may need to close


Photo: Naoki Takano via Flickr

Given all the concern about the failure of rural hospitals, it may seem counterintuitive that some hospitals in rural America may need to close. In multipart series for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, investigative news reporter Yamil Berard found last year that some rural hospitals in Georgia had serious deficiencies.

Those deficiencies included significantly low occupancy rates, stiff competition from other hospitals, dwindling populations in their service areas, poor management and faulty decision-making, she reported. Continue reading

COVID relief bill bans some surprise medical bills, but not all

us-capitolLeaders of both political parties in the U.S. House and Senate reached agreement Sunday to pass a $900 billion bill to stimulate the economy. That bill also included language supporting a long-sought plan to end surprise medical bills for some patients.

In addition, the bill will fund distribution of vaccines for the coronavirus and aid individuals and businesses struggling to pay their bills during the pandemic.

Members of the House and Senate passed the measure on Monday night as a deadline loomed to fund federal government operations through September. Continue reading

New resources for covering inequities in insurance, care during pandemic

COVID disparities

Photo: Elvert Barnes via Flickr

Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D., is afraid of needles. Nevertheless, she agreed to receive her coronavirus vaccine on national television last Friday, along with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, M.D.

Rice, who is dean of Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, knows the history of racism in medical research and understands some Black Americans’ reluctance to get the vaccine. As CNN’s Nicquel Terry Ellis reported, Rice trusts the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and would not recommend it if she did not trust it. To emphasize the point, Rice noted that Black scientists and doctors played significant roles in developing the vaccine and reviewing Pfizer’s FDA application for approval. Continue reading

SCOTUS ruling allows states to regulate what PBMs pay pharmacists

Photo by dbking via Flickr

States seeking to regulate pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) won an important victory on Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0, rejecting a challenge to a law the state of Arkansas passed in 2015 to put restrictions on PBMs. The ruling could allow states to regulate PBMs, as Darrel Rowland reported for The Columbus Dispatch.

Rowland is a member of an award-winning team of reporters and editors at the Dispatch who have covered PBMs in Ohio and elsewhere since January 2018, as we reported on this blog.

Continue reading

Experts have advice for the last-minute Medicare Advantage shoppers among your audience

A screenshot from a television ad on Friday for a Medicare Advantage plan from UnitedHealthcare.

A screenshot from a television ad on Friday for a Medicare Advantage plan from UnitedHealthcare.

Watching the TV ads during the evening news, you would think Medicare Advantage plans were the greatest health insurance bargain ever invented. Consumers should not be fooled, however.

It’s true that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made it possible for Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans to offer more benefits to seniors enrolled in Medicare. Some of these plans offer coverage for vision, hearing, and gym memberships) while not charging a monthly premium, and some MA plans will even pay for seniors’ Medicare Part B premium, said John Barkett, a senior director of policy affairs at the health care consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. Continue reading

NIH head: Journalists have important role in explaining the science behind vaccine development

Francis S. Collins

Francis S. Collins

As coronavirus infections rise nationwide, health care journalists have an important role in explaining the science behind the development, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health.

As the Nov. 18 keynote speaker at AHCJ’s Journalism Summit on Infectious Disease, Collins gave a stark warning for journalists and all Americans about the need to recognize the value of the vaccines as they are rolled out in the coming months. Continue reading