Category Archives: Health care reform

With Roe likely in its final days, experts say reporters should sharpen focus on abortion as a health issue

Photo by Erica TricaricoSophie Novack (on the left) and Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D. (on the right)

Pregnancy is a medical condition and abortion is an intervention for it, so journalists writing about the topic should take the same approach they would when writing about cancer, diabetes, and other conditions and treatments: focus on mortality risks, patients’ rights to care and bodily autonomy.

Reporters should also step up their game to explain what the medical community has known for decades: that abortion is a safe health care procedure.

These were among the topics covered by women’s reproductive health experts who participated in a round table discussion moderated by Brenda Goodman of CNN Health, about abortion on Saturday, April 30, at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin. The conversation took place two days before what appeared to be a leak of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade was published by Politico. The opinion would overturn abortion protection under Roe v. Wade.


Check out the full transcript of the round table discussion.

The speakers at the “Women’s reproductive health in a post-Roe world” round table included Crystal S. Berry-Roberts, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist in Austin; Lisa Harris, M.D. Ph.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan; Sonja Miller, interim managing director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance; and Sophie Novack, an independent journalist who has reported on the implications of Texas laws restricting abortions. Continue reading

Rising prescription drug prices: What to know

Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., F.A.C.R. (Photo courtesy of Paola Rodriguez)

In pharmacies across the country, sticker shock is not uncommon. The high price of prescription drugs is one of the biggest problems facing the nation’s health care system, Joyce Frieden explained on Friday, April 29, during the “Covering the controversy over high prescription drug costs” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Each speaker offered a different perspective as to why prescription medications cost so much. Frieden’s expert panelists included Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Ph.D., the former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and current president of the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank on fiscal policy; Madelaine A. Feldman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, a practicing rheumatologist and president of the Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations; and Gerard Anderson, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and management and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“So, what is being done to solve the problem of high prescription drug costs?” asked Frieden, the Washington editor for MedPage Today. “And are there angles to this story that have yet to be fully covered today?”

Distinguishing between brand-name and generic drug prices

Holtz-Eakin began by talking about one of his frustrations with the usual coverage of drug costs. “When we talk about the high cost of prescription drugs, it’s important to be precise about which price we’re talking about,” he said. Too often journalists do not distinguish between the costs of brand-name and generic drugs or between the net price of drugs after rebates and discounts. Also, we often fail to write about the actual cost at the pharmacy counter and what consumers pay out of pocket, he noted. “Being clear about which price you’re trying to keep track of matters a lot,” he said.

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CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure kicks off AHCJ 2022 in Austin

Photo by Paola RodriguezCMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), opened AHCJ’s Health Journalism 2022 conference on Thursday, April 28, with a keynote address highlighting the importance of health care and CMS’s efforts to foster greater equity, access, and value, and how much health care is integrated into the fabric of our society.

Check out the full video of her speech and Q&A.

In her remarks, Brooks-LaSure explained just how much health care is part of the fabric of our society. While many people have been touched by the health system, many are still left out. The Affordable Care Act — in which Brooks-LaSure played a key policy role in developing and implementing — has certainly transformed the health system. However, there’s still too much inequity and multiple challenges to address. Brooks-LaSure has put forth six pillars to guide the agency’s thinking about their work and to ensure CMS measures results to ensure they are pursuing initiatives that address underlying disparities in the health system.

 

Following her brief opening remarks, Brooks-LaSure answered questions from the audience. Reporters took advantage of the opportunity to probe issues including Medicaid expansion, maternal mortality and CMS’s controversial decision to cover the newly approved Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm only for those enrolled in clinical trials. 

 

“I think it’s really important for people to understand that this was unique,” she said, referring to the Aduhelm decision. Normally, coverage decisions are made at a local level, but in this instance, CMS was asked to make a broader decision on this particular drug.

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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. 

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Why the US nursing home system is ‘in desperate need of an overhaul’

A recent comprehensive and detailed report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine called for a revamping of how we care for, finance, and manage nursing homes in the United States, and an overhauling of how employees are hired and trained.

The 600-page report, released on April 6, identified seven major areas requiring transformation to provide high-quality care to all nursing home residents. Strengthening the nursing home workforce, improving emergency preparedness, and increasing the transparency and accountability of nursing homes’ finances, operations and ownership are key goals among the report’s comprehensive recommendations. Efforts will require true collaboration between state and federal authorities, providers, payers and advocates, according to the report’s authors.

The report provides an opportunity for journalists to hold CMS, state officials and owners more accountable for how care is delivered and received for some 1.3 million people in more than 15,000 nursing homes throughout the United States.

“The way in which the United States finances, delivers, and regulates care in nursing home settings is ineffective, inefficient, fragmented and unsustainable,” said Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., director of nursing research and education and professor at City of Hope Medical Center and chair of the Committee on the Quality of Care in Nursing homes, during an online presentation of the committee’s conclusions. (The committee’s work is sponsored in part by the John A. Hartford Foundation, which also sponsors AHCJ’s aging core topic area).

“The committee has delivered a blueprint to build a system of care that honors those who call the nursing home their home and the dedicated staff who care for them,” Ferrell wrote in the report.

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