Tag Archives: department of health and human services

CMS decides not to extend contract of consultant who threatened Modern Healthcare

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.

The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services has decided not to extend the contract of the communications consultant who threatened to bar Modern Healthcare from press calls for refusing to alter a story.

The consultant, Brett O’Donnell, had sent a Jan. 24 email to a Modern Healthcare editor saying that “we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS” if the publication did not change three sentences about the reasons for a CMS official’s resignation. That threat followed an email exchange the day before in which Virgil Dickson, the reporter who wrote the story, declined O’Donnell’s request to alter his account. Continue reading

CMS makes amends with Modern Healthcare but questions remain

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

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

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, has been AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curated related material at 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

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.