Tag Archives: health reform

Shared wisdom: Finding sources while avoiding politics

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.

Jason Hidalgo

Jason Hidalgo

It’s advice we see repeated over and over: Get the faces and stories of real people into your articles about health reform.

That’s easier said than done, given the intense opinions and politics surrounding the Affordable Care Act and some reporters have found that using social media to reach out and find sources only results in angry responses from people who want to share their opinions – but not necessarily their experiences with health care and insurance.

Jason Hidalgo, a business reporter at the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, wrote a series of articles showing how a variety of people are affected by a lack of insurance. In the Shared Wisdom section of AHCJ’s health reform core topic area, he explains how he was able to use social media to find sources without engaging in the political discourse.

See his advice to fellow reporters on finding sources.

Health reform D-Day? Or not for a few more months?

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.

At the AHCJ event we had in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, I talked about why there’s nothing magical about Oct. 1 – and why it’s also such a pivotal day.

From a strictly policy viewpoint, today is just the start of a six-month open enrollment period that ends March 31. We won’t really know for some time how many people the exchanges are enrolling or what the emerging risk pool looks like (men versus women, older versus younger, sicker versus healthier). We will probably hear about people having problems getting on the exchange websites or call centers – we won’t necessarily hear as much about people who don’t encounter problems. We’ll find out about glitches – computer problems, call center snags. Some may be serious – but if they are fixed relatively quickly, they aren’t fatal. The Medicare drug benefit had all sorts of snags when it opened, but within a few weeks it was working quite well.

But that’s the staid policy viewpoint and all of us know that – as the government shuts down, as the “Obamacare wars” are well into year 4 – this is not just a policy story. Even the wonkiest, most policy-minded reporters among us know this is a political story, a political dynamic, too. So we aren’t going to be deluged with press releases that say “Health insurance exchanges open – let’s give it six months to make a judgment.” We’re going to be hit with a tidal wave of advocates and enemies trying to seize the message and declare victory or defeat. It will be a battle of the “I told you sos.”

And since the enrollment period – with all its problems and challenges – will go on for three months until the actual health coverage begins on Jan. 1, that’s three more months to focus on problems without being able to point to benefits. That lag will be politically challenging for supporters of the law.

It won’t just be politicians and advocates making snap judgments – some of us may also face pressure from editors to come up with a grand and definitive and immediate answer – it’s working, or it flopped. By, like, noon.

Try hard to keep your eye not just on what happens in the coming hours – but the far more important question of what’s going to happen in the coming weeks, months and years.

AHCJ hosting briefing on federal exchanges for regional, local reporters

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.

If you work in one of the states that is not developing its own health insurance exchange, here is your chance to get the scoop on the federal exchange.

This phone-web conference, at 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, will give you direct access to question and quote officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who are involved in developing this critical aspect of Obamacare. Up to 100 AHCJ members can access the conference via their computers – attendance will be first come, first served.

Questions will be submitted during the conference and an AHCJ moderator will pose them to the CMS officials for on-the-record responses.

You’ll have the chance to hear from:

  • Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight
  • Julie Bataille, director, CMS Office of Communications

The session will be moderated by Tony Leys, a health care reporter at The Des Moines Register.

Visit this page shortly before 1:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 for the link to log in.

Political climate influences story line about delay in out-of-pocket limits under ACA

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.

The New York Times had a big story about another Obamacare delay – the out-of-pocket limits will be put off for a year. It set off another round of GOP statements about train wrecks, giving business unfair breaks, and so forth. (Here’s just one sample; Google and you can find plenty more.)

Actually, the decision was made in February and made public by the Department of Labor. It may have gone somewhat unnoticed because most of us health reporters pay more attention to the Department of Health and Human Services. The decision basically means some individuals could face high drug costs (or very high drug costs) for another year. Think about drugs to treat multiple sclerosis, certain chemo drugs, etc.

The decision got press coverage in April, when the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and other groups wrote a letter criticizing the decision. The letter was covered by a number of news outlets, including my colleagues at Politico who did a short item with links to the advocacy letter and the Labor FAQ. Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News did a good story, too. I found quite a few references in the trade press as well.

The difference (other than the reach of the NYT’s front page on an otherwise slowish news day) is the political context. Call it BEMD and AEMD – before and after the employer mandate delay. Those stories came out in April when the House of Representatives was not doing multiple repeal votes and when governors were talking about expanding Medicaid. The health wars hadn’t gone away, but they had subsided.

But then the employer mandate was delayed in July – a move by the White House that reignited a lot of the politics we’re seeing this summer and will continue to see into the fall. And it’s why a one-day story – one among many glitches and not one that threatened to topple the whole law – was a one-day story in April, but a political thunderstorm in August.

The delay does not affect all health plans. Sarah Lueck, a former Wall Street Journal reporter now at the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, explains which plans are affected and which are not. (Grandfathered plans are and remain exempt). Health plans in the exchanges are not affected and some employer-sponsored plans are not affected. Those that are affected are mostly those that have two benefit administrators. For example, your health plan has two components: one insurer does the doctors’ visits, labs, etc., and the other does the prescription drugs. In those cases, there can be higher out-of-pocket limits for one year or, in some cases, no limits on the drug portion. (I’m oversimplifying – here is Lueck’s post but it’s a bit technical.

By the way – out-of-pocket expense isn’t the same as a deductible. If someone has, say, a separate $6,000 out-of-pocket limit on drugs, it doesn’t mean they don’t get any coverage until they hit $6,000. It means they don’t get coverage until their co-pays, cost-sharing, etc., hit $6,000. For someone who has a few routine prescriptions or a common generic, the cap delay won’t be noticeable. For people with serious illness and costly drugs it is a one-year delay in a protection that the Affordable Care Act’s backers had initially promised and it could make a huge difference to them. That’s why the advocates were upset.

But, in the hyperpartisan climate we’re in 50 days before enrollment in the exchanges begins, it’s suddenly become, for the GOP, another reason to scrap or put off health reform completely.

Health reform core topic pages feature new data, links, concepts

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.

The latest additions to AHCJ’s core curriculum pages on health reform include information about bundled payments, acute and chronic conditions, SHOP exchanges and some resources on overtreatment and screening guidelines.

The health reform data page now includes links to the latest readmission rates released by the Agency for Health Care  Research and Quality. Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News has written for AHCJ members about how to use readmission data in your reporting, including why it has become so important:

The Affordable Care Act honed in on hospital readmissions because many health policy experts believe they’re symptomatic of the broad dysfunction of the health care system where providers don’t work with each other as patients pass from one setting, like a hospital, to another, like a primary doctor’s oversight or a nursing home.

New readmissions penalties that begin in October are intended to prod hospitals to start making sure patients get the care they need after they walk out the door.