From left to right: Sarah Jane Tribble, senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News and featured luncheon speaker Stephanie Boynton, F.A.C.H.E., vice president and chief executive officer of critical access hospitals for Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital and Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital.
When reporting on the state of rural medical facilities, there’s more to the story than the demand for health care services. Other factors influence the survival, closure, or changes to services offered by providers in more sparsely populated areas. The economic prosperity of those regions, for instance, appears to be tightly intertwined with the type and quality of care accessible to the people who live there — who tend to be in worse health than their urban peers.
That was among the potential story threads that emerged during a presentation at AHCJ’s Rural Health Journalism Workshop 2022 in Chattanooga earlier this month. Stephanie Boynton, F.A.C.H.E., featured luncheon speaker and vice president and CEO of critical access hospitals for Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital and Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital, talked about the impact of Erlanger Health System’s acquisition of facilities in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
In a collaboration between The Philadelphia Inquirer and Kaiser Health News, Harris Meyer looks at the case of colchicine, a drug used to treat gout that has been on the market so long that it predates the FDA approval process, and thus had never been approved.
Like thousands of drugs it existed in a sort of grandfathered generic state. That ended in 2009 when URL Pharma earned FDA approval for a branded version of the drug, which it sells for 50 times more per pill than the generic.
The drug company convinced the FDA that its version was safer than the generic, a claim disputed by many physicians. Now, Meyer reports, it’s likely that the generic colchicine will be forced from the market over the coming months, driving customers of the centuries-old drug (a natural version was first mentioned by the ancient Greeks) into the arms of URL Pharma. According to Meyer, the case is just one of several that have resulted from post-2006 FDA efforts to gain control and approval over all those grandfathered-in unregulated drugs.
Kaiser Health News’ Jordan Rau reports that, even if current health care proposals (Rau focuses on the House bill) were to pass, the resulting coverage would still fall short of universal and affordable, with many families slipping through the cracks and facing medical expenditures every bit as onerous as those they face today. Rau carefully picks through the coverage and points out the biggest holes, explaining how they arose and identifying the relevant trade-offs and contributing factors.
Under the House proposal, people receiving government subsidies could still end up spending 20 percent or more of their annual incomes on premiums, deductibles and co-insurance, according to estimates prepared by the House Committee on Ways and Means and obtained by Kaiser Health News. That financial load could grow substantially if the proposal’s financing — $1 trillion over a decade — is pared back as congressional leaders come under pressure to reduce the legislation’s costs.
Maralee Schwartz, a Shorenstein Center Fellow at Harvard University, has written a report titled “Getting It for Free: When Foundations Provide the News on Health.” (35-page PDF)
She points out that using stories produced by nonprofit foundations “raises questions that go to the heart of the journalistic enterprise and its role in American democracy: Does the very availability of content about a pet issue of a particular foundation mean that coverage will be skewed? Does nonprofit journalism mean lower standards? How does a newspaper safeguard integrity and independence?”
The report also looks at the economic challenges that editors are facing, including the results of a survey AHCJ and the Kaiser Family Foundation did in March.
Schwartz, formerly a political reporter and editor at The Washington Post, takes a close look at Kaiser Health News. Schwartz also writes about efforts in various states to create nonprofit organizations to do health reporting, including the Center for California Health Care Journalism, which first partnered with the Merced Sun Star for a project. Other similar projects include the Kansas Health Institute News Service and Health News Florida.
The report includes interviews with reporters and editors at the nonprofit organizations and at newspapers that have used their work, including AHCJ board member Karl Stark.
Schwartz concludes that “Most of the experts interviewed expressed hope that this trend can be supported. They also agreed that objections about the dilution of independence and journalistic standards can be addressed by developing odes of conduct, for lack of a better phrase, so that both editors and readers can have confidence in the work produced by Kaiser or ProPublica, or a variety of other nonprofits.”
Phil Galewitz, a health writer at The Palm Beach Post, will join Kaiser Health News as a correspondent on June 15.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with a team of highly talented and experienced health journalists,” Galewitz says.
Galewitz, a member of AHCJ’s board of directors, is editor of the organization’s newsletter, HealthBeat.
He joins fellow AHCJ board member Julie Appleby, who covers the health care industry, state and national efforts to change the U.S. health system, ways that consumers and employers try to deal with rising costs and other topics.
In 2004-05, Galewitz was a Kaiser Media Fellow and spent the year researching and writing about community solutions to the uninsured. He has been a national health writer with The Associated Press and worked a health writer for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. He has contributed to several national magazines, including Self, Redbook and Glamour. Galewitz has won a number of awards for his work.
Kaiser Health News is a new, independent news service that will provide coverage of health policy issues. It is funded by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.