Tag Archives: department of health and human services

CMS makes amends with Modern Healthcare but questions remain

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is AHCJ's vice president and chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a health care reporter for The Boston Globe.

Aurora Aguilar

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has promised Modern Healthcare that all of its reporters will have access to the agency’s telephone press conferences in the future, according to editor-in-chief Aurora Aguilar.

Aguilar said she received that assurance in a phone call from CMS on Monday, the day after Covering Health reported that a communications contractor with CMS had threatened to bar Virgil Dickson, Modern Healthcare’s Washington bureau chief, from press calls if he didn’t delete three sentences from a published story. Continue reading

CMS threatens to bar Modern Healthcare from press calls after reporter refuses to alter story

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is AHCJ's vice president and chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a health care reporter for The Boston Globe.

Virgil Dickson

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services threatened to ban a reporter from participating in the federal agency’s telephone news conferences after he refused to delete three sentences from a published story that apparently had rankled CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The reporter — Virgil Dickson, Washington bureau chief for Modern Healthcare — believed the agency was making good on its threat on Thursday when, he said, his phone went mute during a CMS press call and a woman’s voice told him he was not allowed to participate. An editor later confirmed with CMS officials that he had been banned from press calls, Dickson said. Continue reading

HHS steps up its health insurance enrollment messaging

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org. Follow her on Facebook.

AHCJ members know that enrollment in the health exchanges (now known as “marketplaces“) starts Oct. 1 (and runs through March 2014). A lot of the American public hasn’t gotten the message.

Hoping to finally start getting through, HHS revamped its Healthcare.gov  website this week to make it more consumer/enrollment  focused. Watch  for more changes over the summer and fall to make it more of a hands-on enrollment tool. People will be able to create accounts, and apply and shop online for exchange plans. Social media and web chats are part of it, and it’s what our techie friends call a “responsive” site which is a fancy way of saying it works on all sorts of  screens and devices. (Here’s the full HHS statement)

There’s also a Spanish version, CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

The call center is up too – and it would be interesting to find out whether people in your community are starting to use it, what they are asking, how long they are on hold and whether the answers on target. (800-318-2596; for hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology: 855-889-4325).

Jenny Gold of Kaiser Health News took a nice look at the Spanish language/Latino outreach (a story that can be retold in just about every community in this country – this is a huge target audience for the health law.) The NPR audio version is here; the KHN text version is here.

AHCJ protests FDA surveillance of communication between reporters, scientists

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Following a New York Times report over the weekend that revealed the federal government secretly tracked communication sent by FDA scientists to “members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama,” the Association of Health Care Journalists has expressed alarm at the “Orwellian practices” in a letter sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

From the letter:

” … the pushback on journalists seeking information from HHS and its agencies, coupled with covert monitoring of scientists’ communications with journalists and elected representatives, reflects a culture of cynicism within your department toward the principles of open government, free speech, and the public’s right to know. The actions detailed in the Times story imperil all reporters’ relationships with HHS and its agencies.”

The letter goes on to request that the agency notify all reporters whose communications were intercepted and conduct an audit of all HHS divisions to find out how widespread the monitoring is.

The Times reports that the surveillance grew out of a “narrow investigation into the possible leaking of confidential agency information by five scientists” and “identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and ‘defamatory’ information about the agency.”

The report was especially shocking to AHCJ because the association has been working for years to make it easier for reporters to interview federal employees and get information from HHS agencies. The HHS media office has been receptive to the organization’s concerns and pledged to improve responsiveness. Indeed, many members have reported improvements in access. But the Times story points a deeper culture running contrary to these efforts.

The FDA used software that tracked keystrokes and captured screenshots on the scientists’ computers. The documents were eventually posted on a public website, apparently by mistake, the Times says.

Tools, questions to see if nursing home oversight is really working in your area

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

Any story that mentions maggots coming out of a patient’s ear is going to grab my attention.

After recovering from the “yuk” factor, I was appalled after reading Christina Jewett’s account last week of a new federal report on California’s nursing homes.

The report was issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and it paints a sorry picture of nursing home oversight in the nation’s most populated state. It examined three homes that often send patients with severe infections or bed sores to nearby hospitals – an indicator of potentially poor quality care.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Nursing home regulators underestimate the severity of problems they spot in facilities. This happens with 13 percent of findings and may influence homes’ ratings on Nursing Home Compare.
  • Regulators routinely accept plans by nursing homes to correct problems even though these plans don’t meet federal standards. This happens 77 percent of the time.
  • Follow-up inspections are required in all cases in which homes are asked to draft a corrective action plan. But in practice, California inspectors only conduct such inspections when problems are deemed serious or involve a financial penalty.

Want to hear more about those maggots? Jewett notes that example comes from an earlier HHS Inspector General report that examined how California is handling nursing home complaints. She writes:

“That report highlighted the case of a woman who showed signs of neglect based on ‘multiple pressure sores and maggots coming from the resident’s ear.’ State inspectors determined that the nursing home’s ‘wound care nursing documented in the medical record that the resident’s right ear was treated on April 24, 2008, when no treatment was actually provided.'”

The report also found that when complaints were investigated, inspectors tracked violations of state nursing home standards but frequently failed to site federal deficiencies.

How unbearably sad that vulnerable older people have to endure these kinds of conditions in facilities that routinely fail to provide adequate care to residents.

What will you find?

If you’re interested in following up on similar issues, start by checking with the agency in your area responsible for nursing home oversight. How many staff members do they have and how many homes are they responsible for monitoring? Have budget cuts reduced the number of staff, putting pressure on their ability to conduct meaningful oversight?

What kind of process is used to monitor nursing homes in your state? How often do inspectors visit homes? Are inspections announced or unannounced? Are actual inspections conforming to this schedule?

How many complaints have been filed against nursing homes in your state? What happens when inspectors go in and state or federal violations are noted? If homes have to prepare a corrective action plan, are follow-up inspections made to certify that the changes listed were actually made? If not, what assurance is there that such plans make any difference?

Talk to your state’s long-term care ombudsman about the adequacy of its nursing home inspection process. Ask the ombudsmen which, if any, consumer groups are monitoring nursing home conditions.

Check out the ratings on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare (or use AHCJ’s version in a more manageable format in Excel spreadsheets), and pay special attention to homes that have received one-star ratings (the lowest) several years in a row. USA Today looked at this issue in a recent story which you can read here. Finally, look at AHCJ’s extensive guide to covering the health of local nursing homes for more tips on information sources and what kinds of issues to look for.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

AHCJ stresses priorities in reviewing government media policies

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The newly drafted media policy of the Department of Health and Human Services has generated some discussion concerning one aspect of the guidelines – the requirement that federal employees notify media officials before talking with reporters.hhs-media-guidelines

The Association of Health Care Journalists has not yet taken an overall position on the HHS media policy, which includes many provisions. The organization had encouraged the department to develop such a policy so that reporters and public information officers would have a common understanding about how requests for information would be handled.

AHCJ fundamentally believes that anyone who wants to talk to a reporter should be free to do so. We object to anything that obstructs such interactions. We also have confidence that motivated sources and diligent reporters will continue to find each other regardless of any policy.

AHCJ acknowledges that the requirement for media-office clearance of interviews is an unwelcome, although longstanding, practice. But our priorities at this time are making sure reporters can speak with subject-matter experts by deadline, timely responses from media officers to reporters’ questions, and access to public data.

The vast majority of AHCJ members work outside the Beltway. When they call Washington, they want to be quickly connected with a source who can answer their questions – and they rely on public affairs officers to make that connection.

AHCJ has been pushing for more responsiveness and fairness from those officers. We insist that AHCJ members get an answer – from a quotable source – before their deadline, regardless of the size or prestige of the outlet they work for. Our members also want access to publicly available datasets about the quality of care delivered by local health care institutions and problems identified by inspectors.

AHCJ will continue to focus on working for the changes that make the most difference for most of our members.