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.

GAO report confirms the financially toxic nature of air ambulance fees

Photo: euthman via Flickr

Over the past several years, health care journalists have done great work highlighting the problem of surprise medical bills. There’s been so much coverage that even the U.S. House of Representatives has begun  examining the issue, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff reported on March 25.

Among the many surprise patient medical bills that Kliff and others have reported about come from air ambulance companies. Continue reading

As name implies, short-term health plans may not be a good deal for some consumers

For an article on short-term health plans, journalist Nancy Metcalf found an ideal source: Stewart Lamotte, a 64-year-old retired restaurateur from Lawrenceville, Ga.

In a story that Consumer Reports published in December 2017, “Is Short-Term Health Insurance a Good Deal?”, Metcalf explained that when LaMotte shopped for health insurance, he didn’t qualify for a tax credit under the Affordable Care Act. Also, he balked at the $1,000 monthly premium and a deductible of $6,500 that was required for an ACA-compliant health insurance policy. Continue reading

Given that ‘step therapy’ is also called ‘fail first,’ there are many angles to pursue

Photo: ZaldyImg via Flickr

For journalists covering the Trump administration’s plan to expand step therapy to Medicare Advantage, there are important angles to cover now.

Under the rule issued by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, Medicare Advantage plans will now be able to use so-called step therapy when physicians prescribe drugs under Medicare Part B. Continue reading

Primary care physicians find value-based payments fail to cover their costs

It’s hard to imagine any physician starting an online fundraising effort to keep her practice open. But for Michelle Mitchell, M.D., a solo physician who runs Hawaii Family Health, the business model for primary care in her state is unsustainable otherwise.

She wants to raise $250,000 via a GoFundMe page that explains many of the financial problems she and her 15-member staff face running a practice that serves 2,500 patients in Hilo, the capital of the Big Island.   Continue reading

Amazon Berkshire’s health care initiative hires expert in contracting for quality

Dana Gelb Safran

Last spring, Atul Gawande, M.D., became chief executive officer of an unnamed initiative that will cover the health costs of 1.2 million employees and family members of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan. Shortly after being named CEO, Gawande said the initiative would aim to eliminate three kinds of waste in the health care system: administrative costs, high prices, and inappropriate use of health care services, as Zachary Tracer reported for Bloomberg News.

Last week, we got a clue about how Gawande might approach these three challenges when the initiative hired Dana Gelb Safran, Sc.D., from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Continue reading

BCBS of Massachusetts will pay to keep patients out of the hospital

Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced this week that it is taking the radical step of paying to keep patients out of the hospital.

In a partnership with South Shore Health System in Weymouth, Mass., BCBSM will change the financial reward system so that it will tie payments to health system to its success in collaborating with physicians to improve quality, patient outcomes and costs for the patients they physicians and health system. Under BCBSM’s Alternative Quality Contract (AQC), the health insurer will reward the health system and physicians for their success in doing so, the two parties said in an Oct. 30 news release. Continue reading