Tag Archives: CJR

Cohn’s reform-minded blog comes to an end

The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn, an AHCJ member, announced Monday that he’s closing up shop at The Treatment, the “crusading” pro-health-care-reform blog he’s run since 2006. Cohn will keep blogging and writing for the magazine, but seems ready to close the reform chapter of his health care reporting and hang a big “mission accomplished” banner across the widely read blog.

Cohn used the occasion of this semi-farewell to reflect on the course journalism has taken during the reform debate, and to contrast it with prior experiences, most pointedly Clinton’s push for health care reform and his own magazine’s notorious role in the debate. In particular, Cohn considers the changes brought on by “new online media” and bloggers like himself and The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein, with whom Cohn says he collaborated as much as he competed.

In addition to The New York Times and CNN, there was the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo. The change didn’t fully register with me until the night the House passed the Senate health care bill, clearing reform for presidential signature. Sitting up in the House media gallery, next to Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown, I looked around at my colleagues—and realized how few of them would have been there last time around.

Was this a change for the better? I’m biased, obviously, but with some important caveats I think the answer is “yes.” We (i.e., the new online media) could generally channel policy expertise more quickly. And we could, in some cases, dispense with conventions of even-handedness—conventions that cynics had long ago learned to exploit for their own purposes.

Writing for CJR.org, AHCJ Immediate Past President Trudy Lieberman praised Cohn’s blog, but took the opportunity to remind journalists that, while a reform bill may have passed, that doesn’t mean there aren’t myriad issues related to its implementation that will need intense coverage and scrutiny in the coming years. She also talked to Cohn and found that he isn’t leaving the game entirely.

Cohn told me that when health reform was the political story of the day, the magazine “could afford to let me write on that subject exclusively and dedicate an entire blog to it. Now that it’s no longer topic A, it makes sense for me to write about some other things.” He said he will be doing just that. While the magazine is officially retiring The Treatment as a blog exclusively devoted to health care, Cohn and The New Republic are talking about creating a new blog that will include health care coverage.

Lieberman: Pollack wrong, reform coverage lacking

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?

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

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

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.