Tag Archives: Public records

For successful information requests, be familiar with guidelines for HHS public affairs staff

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

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A year ago, AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee brokered an appeals process with the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services media office for reporters facing unreasonable delays or inadequate responses from agency public information officers.

I’m happy to report that we’ve had a number of successes since then in clearing information logjams for individual reporters and policing violations of HHS’s media policy. But a year’s experience with this process has also made us wiser about what we need from AHCJ members to be effective. Continue reading

Sunshine Week: Committee advocates for access to information

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

swlogo-198x300This is Sunshine Week, a yearly celebration of open government. It’s held every year in the week that includes the birthday (March 16) of President James Madison, a champion of the First Amendment.

Sunshine Week has its roots in a 2002 protest by journalists against efforts by Florida’s legislature to weaken the state’s public records law. Today, it is a national endeavor of the American Society of News Editors and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, but many other organizations take the occasion to note the importance of open government and a free press. Sunshine Week’s slogan is “Your Right to Know,” which brings me to the work of the Right to Know Committee of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Through research, letters, op-ed columns and meetings with government officials, the committee advocates for access to the information health care reporters need to do their jobs. But the purpose, says Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer, who has served on the committee since 2007, goes beyond making reporters’ jobs easier.

“In demanding government transparency, we’re upholding a fundamental principle of democracy – the citizens’ right to easily see what their government is doing, in their name, with their tax dollars,” Freyer says.

The work has its share of frustrations, not unlike journalism itself, where the reporting effort does not always yield commensurate public response. Our straight-up wins are rare but we have made progress on several fronts: Continue reading

Judge cites journalists’ work among reasons to unseal pricing data

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Two rulings in one week in a case involving an Idaho hospital’s purchase of a physician group gave health care journalists a couple of significant stories to cover. The first one set a legal precedent, and the second one gave us a rare up-close look into how hospitals can drive up costs when acquiring physician groups.

Interestingly, the judge cited the work of two health care journalists who have covered the issue of rising health care costs in the past year as being among the reasons to unseal documents the parties in the case wanted to keep from the public.

In the first ruling on Jan. 24, B. Lynn Winmill, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Idaho, found that St. Luke’s Health System in Boise violated antitrust law (specifically, the Clayton Act and the Idaho Competition Act) when it acquired the Saltzer Medical Group, a 40-physician practice in nearby Nampa.

“This case represents the first time that a federal court has decided a case against a physician practice acquisition,” the health law practice of Epstein Becker & Green wrote on Friday in an alert to clients. The court ordered St. Luke’s to unwind the merger, although the hospital said it would appeal. Covering Health carried this story last week. Continue reading

Idaho publishers seek access to health care price information in antitrust case

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

reliefNews publishers in Idaho have asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to unseal pricing information that health insurers pay to hospitals and other providers in Idaho in an antitrust case stemming from a hospital system’s purchase of a physician group.

The publishers of the Idaho Statesman in Boise, the Idaho-Press Tribune in Nampa, and the Times-News in Twin Falls were joined by The Associated Press and the Idaho Press Club in the request to unseal the pricing data along with witness testimony and exhibits in the case, according to reports by Joe Carlson in Modern Healthcare and by Audrey Dutton in the Idaho Statesman.

The request was filed in November after U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill failed to require lawyers to make compelling arguments for keeping the evidence sealed and keeping the courtroom closed at certain stages of the trial, Dutton reported.

Court documents (PDF) show that the pricing data was sealed before the trial began in September in Boise. Continue reading

Judge’s decision puts Medicare data in public realm

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.

A decision announced Friday would allow the public and journalists access to Medicare claims data about individual doctors.

An injunction barring release of the data had been in place for 33 years, “when a federal court in Florida sided with the American Medical Association’s contention that doctors’ right to privacy trumped the public’s interest in knowing how tax dollars were spent,” according to John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal.

“Dow Jones & Co., The Wall Street Journal’s parent company, challenged the injunction in 2011 after the Journal published a series of articles showing how the information could be used to expose fraud and abuse in the $549 billion health-care program for the elderly and disabled.”

Wall Street Journal reporters, who negotiated for eight years worth of data if they did not publish identities, wrote a series of stories about Medicare data, showing that the federal government isn’t taking advantage of the data it has to detect fraud. The Wall Street Journal’s articles have offered a window into the forces driving up health spending and shown that analyzing the data can reveal abuse and fraud in the Medicare system.

“The public has a right to know how much physicians are being paid by Medicare and what services they are providing patients,” said AHCJ President Charles Ornstein. “With analysis and context from journalists, the data could help patients make informed decisions and provide necessary oversight of billions of dollars in federal spending.”

Carreyrou reports the American Medical Association “is considering its options on how best to continue to defend the personal privacy interests of all physicians.”

The Crushing Cost of Care,” by the WSJ’s Janet Adamy and Tom McGinty, won first place in the Health Policy (large) category of the 2012 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

Read more about the Medicare data and the fight to open it to the public:

Roundtable gives journalists chance to share tips on open access #ahcj13

Blythe Bernhard

About Blythe Bernhard

Blythe Bernhard reports on health and medicine for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and serves on AHCJ's Right to Know and Contest committees. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism fellow, a program supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Do your sources ask for email interviews or quote approval? Are press relations officers listening in on your interviews? The Right to Know Committee will host a roundtable discussion at Health Journalism 2013 on Thursday, March 14, to share stories and offer advice about these issues and other barriers to open and straightforward newsgathering.

A look at some of the issues, sessions and ideas to keep in mind for those planning to attend Health Journalism 2013, the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Peggy Peck, editor of MedPage Today, and Irene Wielawski, an independent journalist and founder of AHCJ, will join me in moderating the discussion. As members of the Right to Know Committee, we are advocates for public information and open access to government officials and medical experts.

Reporters at MedPage Today do not allow their sources to approve quotes. The website alerts readers when interviews are conducted in the presence of a publicist. Peck will talk about her decisions on these issues and advise other editors looking to implement similar policies in their newsrooms. Continue reading