Tag Archives: kqed

Rising medical debt spawns problems, fosters solutions

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Kelley Weiss, of the California HealthCare Foundation’s Center for Health Reporting,  dug deep into the rising mountain of medical debt accumulating around American patients. Her package includes four pieces (one an extended forum, embedded below) on KQED as well as numerous companion stories online. Her stories consider both the causes of and solutions to medical debt, an issue which plagues hospitals as much as it does patients.

In her first piece, Weiss lays out the simple formula driving all that indebtedness: It’s “because health care costs continue to rise at the same time people are losing their jobs and health coverage.” She uses the story of an unfortunate, unemployed motorcyclist to show how the American billing, credit and insurance systems can quickly add debt to injury.

In the second piece, she looks at the debt from the other side, exploring the massive and largely ineffective lengths hospitals go to in order to collect what they’re owed. Since the recession began, even the most successful collections agencies have only been able to collect about 12 percent, one hospital official said. Confronted with this fact, Weiss asked the obvious question.

So why even bother, if you get such a low return? Maybe they could give those financially squeezed patients with no other options a break. Well, to a certain extent they can, and charity care is on the upswing.

But it turns out there are statutes in place that require hospitals to make collection efforts. Medicare is one of the biggest payers to hospitals and it says that hospitals must try to collect money from every patient. And if they don’t? Medicare won’t pay off its bills. Todd Nelson with the Healthcare Financial Management Association said that leaves hospitals in a tough spot.

As wallets remain tight and debt collection becomes increasingly difficult, both hospitals and patients are starting to take steps to become more up front about exactly how much their care is going to cost, Weiss writes in her third installment. Finally, when all else fails, Weiss finds in her fourth installment, patients can turn to California’s Hospital Fair Pricing Act, which “says hospitals must give patients who are at 350 percent of the Federal Poverty Level a discount on their bills if they’re uninsured or underinsured.”

KQED profiles those who live with disease, injury

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

This month’s edition of Health Dialogues, part of KQED’s California Report, focuses on living with disease. In the report, KQED reporters talk to folks living with chronic disease, the effects of traumatic injury and other conditions that can have lasting effects on a person’s quality of life.

wheelchair
“Healed?” By swingnut via Flickr.

To provide insight into the life and routine of someone coping with chronic disease, reporters profile a music programmer ‘coping’ with diabetes, an activist who stumbled upon a forgotten childhood diagnosis of hepatitis B and a cellist with multiple sclerosis. They also talk to a couple dealing with cancer and two sisters on opposite ends of an organ donation chain.

In addition to cancer and disease, KQED reporters also explore how the lasting effects of traumatic injury can shape your life. Pieces include a KPBS reporter talking about his own traumatic brain injury and the story of a surfing-based physical therapy program for veterans.

KQED takes stock of food safety measures

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

California public radio station KQED explored food inspection and safety at all levels of the process, from producer to consumer, in a package rich with audio and multimedia.

Specific topics addressed in the package include:

  • Federal plans to reform the food safety system
  • The safety of leafy greens, and the impact of possible federal regulations upon that sector of the agriculture industry
  • A snapshot of the work of a health inspector in the California Bay Area
  • A primer on consumer health safety and a separate segment addressing the rarely discussed dangers of growing your own food
  • Food-safety issues related to both recreational and commercial fishing

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Blog seeks input on health reform from Californians

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

KQED, San Francisco’s public radio and television organization, is soliciting ideas from health care professionals, reform advocates and the public on how to reform health care, from a California perspective.

Healthy Ideas: Californians Weigh In on Health Care Reform” will feature posts from doctors, medical professionals, academics, lawyers, executives and other prominent stakeholders. The site’s creators hope the public will take advantage of the format to interact with these prominent figures and help foster a deeper public discussion of national health care reform. From now through June, each of the blog’s 13 contributors will create at least one post a week.

In July, a summary of the ideas and issues raised by contributors and readers will be presented to Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

KQED points out that California’s needs are unlike any other state:

  • The California Healthcare Foundation reported in December 2008 that Calif. has about 6.6 million uninsured, more than any other state.
  • Its economy contains a large proportion of service industries, which are less likely to offer health insurance.
  • California also has a large immigrant population in a state known to have a high cost of living.

In a recent post, Dana Goldman, Ph.D., of RAND Corp., discusses “upstream rationing” and “downstream rationing,” arguing that “the policy goal should be to get the right drugs and treatments to the patients who need it. But it also sometimes means withholding treatment in cases where it might do only very little good.”

In another post, Anthony Iton, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., the Alameda County (Calif.) Public Health Department director and health officer, writes about health inequity. He says that “deliberate new policy is needed to ‘unmake’ inequitable neighborhood conditions and to decouple health from race and place.” Some AHCJ members might remember that Iton spoke about health disparities and stories that are not being covered in multicultural communities at an AHCJ workshop, “Multicultural health in the Bay Area: The untold story.”