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.

Mississippi journalist’s reporting leads medical center to change billing practices

In April, Anna Wolfe, who covers health care for the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, started reporting on what appeared to be staggeringly high bills for using the emergency room at the Batson Children’s Hospital, in Jackson. The hospital is part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the only academic medical center in the state.

Parents who brought their children to the ER were being charged thousands of dollars in unreasonable emergency room facility fees that do not match the level of care received, Wolfe reports. Since that article was published April 15, Wolfe has continued to cover the complex ways the hospital calculates its charges. In the bills Wolfe reviewed, the hospital adds facility fees for ER visits, fees that are based on the level of care administered. Continue reading

Webcast will address employers’ efforts to reform labor and delivery services

In an important series last year, ProPublica partnered with NPR to report on maternal deaths in the United States. In the ”Lost Mothers, Maternal Care and Preventable Death” series, ProPublica reporter Nina Martin, engagement reporter Adriana Gallardo and NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne, reported that for the past two decades maternal mortality has declined in other affluent countries while the rate of maternal deaths has been rising in the United States. Here’s a link to NPR’s companion site, “Lost Mothers: Maternal Mortality in the United States.

Today, 700 to 900 American women die during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, the highest rate in the developed world, they reported. Continue reading

Indictment of Theranos executives offers lessons for journalists

Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJWall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou spoke about his award-winning investigation of Theranos at Health Journalism 2018.

The story about the fall of Theranos provides an important lesson for journalists about how we should be more diligent when reporting on the spin that companies use to promote themselves.

Last week, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of Theranos, and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who served in various roles for the clinical laboratory testing company in Palo Alto, Calif. In an indictment unsealed Friday, the federal Department of Justice announced in a news release that Holmes and Balwani were alleged to have perpetrated multimillion dollar schemes designed to defraud patients, doctors and investors. Note that the release includes a link to a PDF of the indictment itself. Continue reading

Series on pharmacy benefit managers makes complicated topic easier to understand

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

One of the most complicated topics to cover in health care today is the role of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Employers and health plans hire these middlemen to manage their prescription benefit programs for workers and health plan members.

Not only do PBMs contract with health plans, but some large health plans, notably UnitedHealthcare which owns Optum, have their own PBMs. Late last year, CVS Health, one of the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chains and owns Caremark, a PBM, said it would buy Aetna, one of the country’s largest health insurers. That deal is pending regulatory review, as Bruce Japsen reported for Forbes early this month. Continue reading

When pursuing investigative pieces, Wall Street Journal reporter suggests getting legal advice early

Photo: Len Bruzzese/AHCJWall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou spoke about his award-winning investigation of Theranos at Health Journalism 2018.

One of the highlights of Health Journalism 2018 in Phoenix last month was John Carreyrou’s presentation about his work covering the much-troubled Theranos Inc., a Silicon Valley lab testing company that has been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In 2015, Carreyrou won first place in beat reporting in AHCJ’s Excellence in Health Care Journalism awards for his coverage of Theranos.

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