Tag Archives: CJR

Lieberman: Pollack wrong, reform coverage lacking

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Last week, Harold Pollack (bio), a University of Chicago professor who has been contributing to The New Republic‘s The Treatment blog, recently referred to health care reform reporting as “the most careful, most thorough, and most effective reporting of any major story, ever.”

AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman took issue with that in a post on CJR.org.

Better coverage than the Vietnam War; the civil rights movement; the consumer movement? Really? In the case of the civil rights struggle, the press helped change the discourse; Americans began to view race in a new way, which led to the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act. During the Vietnam War, the media effectively changed the public dialogue from a war we couldn’t lose to one we could not win. In the early days of the consumer movement, media coverage of Ralph Nader led Congress to enact significant consumer protections. Coverage of health reform has hardly risen to that level.

Lieberman writes that health care reform coverage failed because the public was inadequately educated on the finer points of reform efforts. Her evidence? That public opinion was roughly split on reform. Had reporting been better, Lieberman writes, public support levels would have been higher. She then brings up a number of issues she says were undercovered and uses examples to back them up.

For advice from Lieberman and three other journalists on the front lines on what needs to be covered next and how to approach this complex topic, see this special tip sheet.

Are insurers to blame for rising costs?

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Carolyn Lochhead and Victoria Colliver use the recent furor over insurer Anthem’s rate hikes to explore just how much of the blame for rising health care costs should be shouldered by insurers. The reporters find that, in the end, insurers are just another one of the cartels (others include device makers and providers) and operate inside the opaque world of medical pricing and snag hefty cuts for themselves. Lochead and Colliver put it thus:

While the Anthem case has raised a political storm, the underlying surge in costs gets far less scrutiny. But each sector of the health industry points fingers at the other for driving up prices, and all are raking in money.

Insurers blame hospitals and doctors, doctors blame insurers, and hospitals blame doctors and medical devicemakers in what academics call an inscrutable medical-industrial complex that rivals anything the defense industry ever invented. All these groups are combining into what many experts describe as cartels.

The reporters write that, despite their best efforts, they weren’t able to get many folks on the record. When they did find someone who was willing to talk, it was often a source we’ve seen before in other cost stories. It’s a tough theme to get quotes on, as nobody wants to burn bridges with their professional suppliers and everybody’s got some sort of skin in the game. They did, however, manage to find a local source who offered an original and illuminating anecdote:

Christina Bernstein, a medical-device engineer and independent sales representative based in San Francisco, sells disposable surgical tools made mostly out of plastic that she estimates are manufactured for about $40 each. These are marked up and sold to hospitals for as much as $350, she said, for a single use in a surgery on a patient.

“But if you were to get a detailed bill of what the hospital was charging the insurance company for the insured patient, those things get marked up to something like $1,200,” Bernstein said. “It’s ridiculous. There’s no open competition.”

(Hat tip to AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman, who wrote a column on CJR.org praising the Chronicle‘s story.)

Lieberman: Media bought into heart docs’ fight

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Using one-sided sentences published by newspapers nationwide as evidence, AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman takes her media peers to task on CJR.com for blindly advancing the agenda of the American College of Cardiology in their push against Medicare reimbursement cuts.

The ACC aggressively fought what Lieberman describes as “a new Medicare rule, which took effect January 1, that cut projected total revenues for cardiologists by 13 percent on average over four years while increasing the revenue of internists, family doctors, and general practitioners.” Lieberman writes that the rule change will effectively put more money toward much-needed primary care specializations and that it was widely mischaracterized in the press, thanks to ACC’s machinations. Lieberman:

… for the most part (news articles) passed along the cardiologists’ complaints, threats, and warnings without any hint that there was another side to the story. Between the slanted newspaper articles and audio news releases from the ACC, millions of Americans learned that the incomes of heart doctors, which can be upwards of $400,000, could take a hit.

Lieberman: Work got better with blogging

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Heath Meriwether of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s Write Stuff blog interviewed AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman about her transition from print outlets (including the Detroit Free Press and Consumer Reports) to blogging on cjr.org.

Lieberman

Lieberman

Lieberman said that once she made the jump to blogs and embraced the new format, her “work only got better.” She let loose and relied on her experience and reporting skills to “cut through the BS and be totally honest.”

The discussion includes a number of technical writing tips for bloggers, as well as a stern reminder that blog posts must be reported just as exhaustively as any other sort of journalism.

Lieberman picks apart Baucus changes

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In her latest post on CJR.org, AHCJ immediate past president Trudy Lieberman picks apart the Baucus bill, with a special focus on the Montana senator’s latest changes. Lieberman pays special attention to Baucus’ concessions, and takes care to point out exactly who benefits and how.

Her assessment of the bill’s provision insurers to vary rates based on age (within limits) is particularly incisive:

In exchange for issuing policies to sick people, insurers get to jack up premiums for older people, a kind of proxy for medical underwriting. Baucus essentially allows companies to charge older people more for their coverage. Initially, he wanted to charge them five times more than a younger person, but now he suggests letting them charge four times more. A 58-year-old, for example, who has lost employer coverage and is struggling to pay the premiums for an individual policy may not see that as much of a gift.

Is Baucus’ excise on ‘Cadillac’ plans too broad?

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The New York Times‘ Reed Abelson writes that the excise tax on premium health insurance plans that Montana Sen. Max Baucus is counting on to pay for about a quarter of his $774 billion reform proposal will hit urban families and union workers as hard as it will Goldman Sachs executives. Proportionally, in fact, union workers with less disposable income will suffer even more from the tax, which hits any plan that costs more than $8,000 for individuals or $21,000 for families, than high-flying white collar types.

The current national average for family policies is around $13,375, and only 1/10 of them would fall under the tax. But, Abelson reports, the pace of health premium inflation is such that far more policies will be caught in the tax net by the time the excise would go into effect in 2013.

The tax is based on the theory that it will help control health care costs by discouraging insurers from offering fancy plans that cover too many unnecessary tests and procedures. AHCJ immediate past president Trudy Lieberman writes for CJR.org that even this attempt to rein in costs will likely just increase them further as insurers pass the costs onto customers and the weaker coverage and corresponding rise in underinsurance forces folks faced with catastrophic conditions into financial difficulty or bankruptcy.