Tag Archives: washington post

Investigative reports lead to Senate investigation into painkiller promotion

Andrew Van Dam

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.

Following up on reporting efforts from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today and ProPublica, a Senate committee has launched investigation into the pharmaceutical industry’s conflict-of-interest-laden promotion of pain management drugs, one of which may or may not be related to one pharma-tied patient organization’s Tuesday announcement that is was closing up shop “due to irreparable economic circumstances.”

screen-shot-2012-05-09-at-73727-pmThus far, the investigation has consisted of strongly worded rebukes and requests for further disclosure to the abovementioned American Pain Foundation, among others, in the form of letters from Sens. Max Baucus and Charles Grassley. PDFs of the relevant letters can be found in this press release from Baucus’ Senate finance committee.

In the letters, the senators directly cite the investigative efforts of AHCJ members Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and John Fauber.

Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Max Baucus

Ornstein, AHCJ’s board president, and Tracy Weber, his fellow ProPublica senior reporter, published their investigation into the American Pain Foundation in ProPublica and The Washington Post in December. As they write in their post on the foundation’s demise, “The group received 90 percent of its $5 million in funding in 2010 from the drug and medical-device industry, ProPublica found, and its guides for patients, journalists and policymakers had played down the risks associated with opioid painkillers while exaggerating the benefits.”

Fauber’s reporting, the result of a partnership between the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, focused on the tangled web of money, organizations and influence through which the pharmaceutical industry helped propel the runaway growth of painkiller prescriptions over the past decade and a half.

Sen. Charles Grassley

Sen. Charles Grassley

In his report on the senate investigation he helped inspire, Fauber writes that the finance committee is “seeking financial and marketing records from three companies that make opioid drugs, including Oxycontin and Vicodin, and seven national organizations.” The legislators are seeking records of financial transactions between pharmaceutical manufacturers and patient groups from as far back as 1997, as well as details on any federal funding provided to the groups.

Health stories win at ONA for investigations, multimedia

Andrew Van Dam

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.

The Online News Association has honored two of this year’s bumper crop of excellent health pieces with top honors in their respective categories at the 2011 Online Journalism Awards, with nods going to pioneering work by both ProPublica and The Washington Post.

For ProPublica, AHCJ member Robin Field’s examination of the nation’s Medicare-funded dialysis system and what this oft-overlooked federal budget item tells us about the implementation of “socialized medicine” in America earned the Gannett Foundation Award for Innovative Investigative Journalism in the Small Site category. Since its publication, Fields’ award-winning piece has continued to evolve, adding data and updates as they become available.

Also nominated in the category were ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs and Investigative West’s Livesaving Drugs, Deadly Consequences.

The other prominent health winner was The Washington Post‘s video-heavy “Traumatic Brain Injury: Coming home a different person,” which beat out another multimedia piece, the Los Angeles TimesDylan’s Brain, in the large site category of the Multimedia Feature Presentation award.

Earlier: Health journalists poised for strong showing at 2011 ONA Awards

Food safety law boosts tracking technology sector

Andrew Van Dam

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.

In The Washington Post, reporter Lyndsey Layton digs into the industry spawned by a requirement in last year’s food safety law that producers and processors be able to track food at every step of its journey from farm to supermarket. It applies to everything but meat, poultry and egg products.

Under the law, each business will need to know where the food came from and where it’s going, creating a chain of provenance that the FDA can use to more rapidly trace outbreaks of food-borne illness.

As the September deadline for the launch of the FDA’s first pilot projects looms, Layton writes, no single tracking technology yet predominates. After the pilots, the FDA will report to congress and issue specific rules by 2013.

According to Layton, some food industry segments (not farms or restaurants) have been required to track this data since 2005, “but according to a 2009 investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general, most food facilities surveyed did not meet those requirements and 25 percent didn’t even know about the law.”

Layton’s story includes a profile of HarvestMark, a company whose barcode sticker is already catching on in some places (Kroger foods has adopted it for store-brand produce, for example). HarvestMark not only allows end consumers to scan their food with a smartphone and figure out where it came from, it also allows them to deliver their feedback to the farmer who produced it.

CDC used flawed data on lead in drinking water

Andrew Van Dam

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.

The Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig reports that an investigation by the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight has confirmed what The Washington Post first reported last year, namely:

leadPhoto by blandm via Flickr

The nation’s premier public health agency knowingly used flawed data to claim that high lead levels in the District’s drinking water did not pose a health risk to the public… And, investigators determined, the agency has not publicized more thorough internal research showing that the problem harmed children across the city and continues to endanger thousands of D.C. residents.” Those who need a refresher on the issue can refer to the Post‘s timeline and story archive.

The larger issue here is that the committee and the Government Accountability Office are looking into how the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry evaluates public health issues.

Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) had some harsh words for the department:

“We need more honesty and transparency and less attitude from these offices. When you work at a public health science agency and the words most frequently used are ‘haphazard,’ ‘hit-or-miss’ and ‘ad hoc,’ maybe you should pause and reflect.”

Myth surrounds reform’s ‘Safeway Amendment’

Throughout the health care reform process, politicians have held up Safeway’s health incentive program as a model for future government health plans. The supermarket chain’s program requires employees who fail basic health screenings for blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol to pay higher health insurance premiums. safewaylogo

Safeway maintains that this policy encourages its employees to make healthy lifestyle changes to in turn lower their health care costs. The Washington Post‘s David Hilzenrath looked into the grocer’s impact on proposed health reform plans. Hilzenrath reports on how misconceptions about Safeway’s wellness program could impact public health policy in the U.S. Senate’s proposed Safeway Amendment.

Under a regulation advanced during George W. Bush’s administration, incentives conditioned on meeting wellness targets are limited to 20 percent of the premium – including employer and employee contributions to the premium. The Safeway Amendment would allow employers to increase the stakes to 30 percent, and it would give federal officials license to raise the limit to 50 percent. It would also allow insurers to use the same approach – initially in 10 states and potentially in others.

Employers and insurers would be required to make exceptions for people with extenuating medical circumstances.

Supporters of the amendment maintain that it will encourage private-sector employees to monitor and improve their health. Dissenting organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, suggest that the legislation will unhinge a central tenet of health reform: That an individual’s health status will no longer impact premiums.

Safeway credits its internal health plan for keeping the company’s health care costs nearly steady between 2005 and 2009. An external survey of 1,700 employers revealed that companies’ health care costs increased by 30 percent in the same time period, on average.

Hilzenrath reports that “a review of Safeway documents and interviews with company officials show that the company did not keep health-care costs flat for four years. Those costs did drop in 2006 – by 12.5 percent. That was when the company overhauled its benefits, according to Safeway Senior Vice President Ken Shachmut.”

The latest trend in medicine? Outdoor exercise

Andrew Van Dam

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.

Writing for The Washington Post, physician and University of California, San Francisco, medical professor Daphne Miller makes a strong case for what she calls a growing trend: Doctors prescribing outdoor exercise for their patients. After seeing how the lure of the outdoors can motivate those who can’t stand the sight of another treadmill or stationary trainer, Miller has started handing out detailed “park prescriptions” that direct her patients to specific parks and trails. It’s a practice she says colleagues across the country are adopting.

trail
Tolay Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County, Calif. Photo by ultralightly via Flickr.

Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown “Medical Mile” with the support of local funders and the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. “If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise,” she told me. “Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability.” And it will also be good for your heart — a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.

Folks on the park side of the equation are no less thrilled about the rediscovered mental and physical health benefits of the outdoors; National Park Service officials are hoping to prepare a “park prescription” tool kit for doctors and local parks and health organizations are starting to cooperate across the country.

The NPS’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program has projects in nearly every state and provides a state-by-state breakdown of the projects that might help reporters localize this story.