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

Brenner leaves UnitedHealth Group to return to primary care

Jeffrey C. Brenner, M.D.

Image courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationJeffrey C. Brenner, M.D.

One of the nation’s most innovative physicians is leaving UnitedHealth Group to start a primary care practice in New Jersey. Jeffrey Brenner, M.D, is returning to primary care after more than three years as a senior vice president at the nation’s largest health insurer, where he launched programs in some 14 cities to provide housing and other services for UHC’s neediest members.

Many of us have covered the work Brenner has done in pioneering new models of care for patients known as high utilizers, super users or frequent fliers. They are the 5 percent of patients who account for at least 50 percent or more of all health care spending. Included in this cohort was the top 1 percent of Americans whose health care costs accounted for about 22 percent of total health care spending nationwide. Continue reading

Journalist digs through data sources to show how deal changed Montana’s insurance market

scales of justiceCovering health insurance in a less-populated state can be a significant challenge for journalists because most often, there’s not enough enrollment data to support robust reporting on trends that affect consumers.

Katheryn Houghton learned this lesson when working as a daily news reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana. In May, she left the Chronicle and now works as a freelance health care journalist in Missoula. Continue reading

Short-term, limited-duration health plans assailed in Congressional Democrats’ report

Source: “Shortchanged: How the Trump Administration’s Expansion of Junk Short-Term Health Insurance Plans is Putting Americans at Risk,” U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Democratic staff report, June 2020.Short-term limited duration insurance plans spend less than half of consumers’ premiums on medical care, while insurance plans that comply with the rules of the Affordable Care Act spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premium income on medical care, according to a recent congressional staff report.

Short-term, limited-duration insurance plans threaten the health and financial well-being of American families, according to a recent staff report from Congressional Democrats on the Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C). The report is a result of an investigation that staff conducted into nine health insurers, including UnitedHealth Group and Anthem, and five insurance company brokers that sell these plans for insurers.

“These plans are simply a bad deal for consumers, and oftentimes leave patients who purchase them saddled with thousands of dollars in medical debt,” according to “Shortchanged: How the Trump Administration’s Expansion of Junk Short-Term Health Insurance Plans is Putting Americans at Risk.” The committee’s investigation into how these plans operate outlines what the report calls “the deeply concerning industry practices” of STLDI plans and the insurance brokers who sell them. Continue reading

Even in a pandemic, it’s important to keep the price transparency issue in perspective

Source: Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition, Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws, May 2020.The Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws shows 34 states got failing grades and only two states got A grades (Maine and New Hampshire).

A federal judge last month ruled against the American Hospital Association and other hospital groups in their lawsuit against the Trump administration’s plan to require hospitals to publish the prices they charge consumers.

As a victory for consumers, that win on June 23 was short-lived as the AHA appealed the decision the next day. Then on June 30, the AHA asked federal health officials to delay the effective date of the federal hospital price transparency rule until the court case is settled. Continue reading

Time to track how the pandemic is hurting health care provider finances

Source: How health costs might change with COVID-19, Peterson KFF Health System Tracker, April 15, 2020.Elective procedures and routine (non-emergency) care represent 52% of what large employers pay for hospital care, according to the Peterson KFF Health System Tracker.

While the death of more than 120,000 Americans related to the novel coronavirus is the most important story, the economic impact of the pandemic on hospitals and physicians is another significant story to cover.

Not only are providers paying higher prices for equipment and supplies, but they also lost income when stay-at-home orders put a hold on elective surgeries and nonessential physician visits.

Mark Taylor recently wrote about the devastating financial effects the virus has had on hospitals in an article for MarketWatch, noting that, “The coronavirus is devastating U.S. hospitals, which will lose $200 billion in revenue by the end of June.” Continue reading

Webcast to highlight how coronavirus has hit Native American tribes

Photo: Pia Christensen/AHCJDonald Warne, M.D., M.P.H.

The novel coronavirus has affected underserved communities and people of color at disproportionately high rates, including taking an extraordinary toll among Native Americans as measured in rates of infections and deaths.

To assist health care journalists covering the pandemic’s effect on Native Americans, the Association of Health Care Journalists will host a webinar with Donald Warne, M.D., MPH, at 1:30 pm ET on Wednesday, June 10. Continue reading