Author Archives: Kerry Dooley Young and Joseph Burns

Avatar photo

About Kerry Dooley Young and Joseph Burns

Kerry Dooley Young is an independent journalist and AHCJ's core topic leader on patient safety. Joseph Burns, a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform.

Conflicting state and federal abortion laws put pregnant patients, physicians and hospitals at risk


Physicians treating pregnant women/people needing emergency medical care are wrestling with how to comply with what’s been called the bedrock law of emergency medicine when facing strict, new mandates on abortion.

“Confusion among emergency room doctors remains even after the Biden administration clarified this week that federal law allowing abortions in life-or-death situations supersedes any restrictions a state may have on the procedure,” Tony Pugh wrote for Bloomberg Law on Wednesday. His article explained how conflicting federal and state laws are complicating abortion care.

Early this week, Melanie Evans of The Wall Street Journal took a close look at how physicians and hospitals are addressing the mandates of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986 in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stripped away an almost 50-year-old right to an abortion.

Even before the SCOTUS decision on June 24, many states had enacted laws to either restrict or prohibit abortions or expand and protect access to abortion in anticipation of the ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, as noted in the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracker of these measures.

Continue reading

Hospitals, HHS each scored a win and a loss in recent Supreme Court cases

Photo by Geoff Livingston via Flickr.

Amid issuing some of the most significant rulings this century, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) also decided on two cases where certain hospitals challenged federal decisions that cost them money. 

Hospitals scored one win and one loss in these cases. Both cases involved Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) policies created under Republican presidents that the Biden administration sought to defend. 

In Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Becerra v. Empire Health Foundation, the Supreme Court split 5-4 in a June 24 decision about a calculation used to decide which hospitals qualify for extra pay for serving many people with low incomes. The Supreme Court found in favor of HHS in this case, disappointing hospital groups.

On June 15 in the American Hospital Association (AHA) v. Becerra case, the Court said in a unanimous decision that HHS erred in the administrative procedures in cutting reimbursement on certain drugs. In this case, the Biden administration had defended a Trump administration bid to compel hospitals to share certain savings they get on medicines with Medicare and people enrolled in the program.

Continue reading

3 angles to pursue when covering medical debt 

Last Monday, the White House announced four steps to ease the burden of medical debt on health care consumers. The announcement didn’t get much coverage, and one online publication labeled the White House’s actions a Band-Aid. 

That characterization seems harsh because, taken together, the steps Vice President Kamala Harris announced are as follows: 

  • Hold medical providers and debt collectors accountable for harmful practices.
  • Reduce the role medical debt plays in determining whether Americans can access credit.
  • Help more than 500,000 low-income veterans get their medical debt forgiven. 
  • Inform consumers of their rights.

Source: Medical Debt Burden in the United States, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, February 2022.

It could be that the news fell somewhat flat because the announcement followed the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report last month, “Medical debt burden in the United States.” After that report was published, the nation’s three largest credit-reporting agencies made significant changes in how they report medical debt. We covered those news stories in a blog post last week, “Equifax, Experian, TransUnion to remove some medical debt from credit reports.” 

When reporting on medical debt and the White House announcement, it’s easy to neglect three of the most compelling angles to this story, all of which stem from the abnormal nature of the highly complex U.S. health care system. 

First, the nation’s credit reporting system adds a burden to those who cannot afford to pay their medical bills that high-income consumers do not face. 

Continue reading

Equifax, Experian, TransUnion to remove some medical debt from credit reports 

Photo by wwnorm via

People in the United States will soon get some help addressing costly health care; three major consumer credit rating agencies are planning to change how they report medical debt.

Starting in July, paid medical collection debt will no longer be included on consumer credit reports, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion said in a joint announcement on March 18. The three agencies also said the time before unpaid medical collection debt would appear on a consumer’s report will be increased from six months to one year.

This change is intended to give consumers more time to work with insurance companies, hospitals and medical offices to address billing disputes before they are reported on credit files. And, in the first half of 2023, the three companies will also no longer include medical collection debt under at least $500 on credit reports.

People struggling to pay hospital bills or copays for cancer treatment often worry about damaging their credit ratings. Lower credit scores can make it tougher to find employment or make major purchases such as a home, noted Rohit Chopra, the director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in a March 1 statement. 

Continue reading

New Alzheimer’s drug draws attention from federal, independent groups

Group of Alzeimer's patients on a walk with caregivers

Photo: Global Panorama via FlickrGroup of Alzeimer’s patients on a walk with caregivers

Liz Seegert, AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, contributed to this article.

Federal policy experts and the influential Institute for Clinical Effectiveness (ICER) have announced separate discussions this month of the Biogen drug aducanumab (Aduhelm) to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

On July 15, ICER will ask one of its expert panels, the California Technology Assessment Forum, to consider the evidence available for aducanumab’s benefits and risks and vote on a series of questions about its effectiveness and value. ICER’s reports have clout because insurers use them to help determine how to cover drugs and medical treatments. The independent group earlier released a report critical of the evidence presented to date about aducanumab. Biogen, which told AHCJ it disagrees with ICER’s opinion of its drug, plans to have a representative speak at the meeting. Continue reading