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

Prior approval: Journalists and researchers show health insurers’ performance is abysmal 

Screenshot of March 25 ProPublica article, “How Cigna Saves Millions by Having Its Doctors Reject Claims Without Reading Them”, captured on Sept. 26, 2023.

Mary Chris Jaklevic, AHCJ’s health beat leader for patient safety, contributed to this article.

In the past year, journalists and health researchers have uncovered troubling facts about how health insurers fail members by delaying or denying care through prior authorization. Also called prior approval, this process is a cost-cutting tool that health insurers use to require patients or doctors to get an okay before agreeing to pay for tests, procedures and prescription drugs, as Lauren Sausser reported for KFF Health News in August. 

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Proposed rules would protect consumers
from junk insurance plans, surprise bills and medical debt

how junk insurance compares to traditional

Infographic created by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in January 2022. Accessed July 14, 2023. Reprinted with permission

Junk insurance plans that don’t meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act are one of the biggest holes in the patchwork that is the U.S. health insurance system. These plans are typically short-term policies that often discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and aren’t required to provide coverage for basic services like maternity care, prescription medications and more, according to Aimed Alliance.

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Tip sheet: Nonprofit hospitals are gaming the system
at patients’ expense

graph from KFF

KFF research shows the estimated value of tax exemptions for nonprofit hospitals in 2020 was $28 billion, exceeding estimated charity care costs of about $16 billion among those hospitals. Source: Chart by KFF, accessed June 8, 2023. Reprinted with permission

So far this year, hardly a week goes by without an article or report on egregious actions by nonprofit hospitals. While the actions aren’t new, several factors have combined in 2023 to raise the level of scrutiny. 

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How to cover the case that could kill patients’ access
to no-cost preventive services


Even before the Affordable Care Act became fully effective in 2014, more than 94% of Americans buying contraceptives were paying some amount out-of-pocket. That dropped to 10% by 2018, according to a May 2023 KFF report. Accessed July 5, 2023. Image courtesy KFF, reprinted with permission

A key provision of the Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy in the case of Braidwood Management Inc. v. Becerra in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. 

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Investigative journalist wins Pulitzer
for Mississippi series on Medicaid fraud

Reporter Anna Wolfe

Investigative journalist Anna Wolfe. Photo courtesy of Anna Wolfe

Investigative journalist Anna Wolfe has a secret. 

During a multi-year investigation into a sprawling scandal over misspent welfare funds in Mississippi, Wolfe received dozens of text messages that helped to blow the lid off the case. Since getting those messages last year, the award-winning reporter has protected her source’s anonymity. But in an interview with AHCJ, she promised to reveal the name someday — when the time is right. 

On May 8, Wolfe won a Pulitzer Prize in the local news category for Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization founded in 2016, for her coverage of what’s called the biggest public corruption scandal in the state’s history.

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