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N.C. hospitals make big money while suing vulnerable patients for rising costs of care

In 2009, as the debate about health care reform picked up steam in Washington, D.C., an editor at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., posed a question: Should the newspaper take a deep look at the cost of health care?

A series of interviews and some database work led to a memo directing the coverage to concentrate on hospitals and a key decision: Ask colleagues at The Charlotte Observer to join. North Carolina's two biggest hospital systems were based in Charlotte. The biggest, Carolinas HealthCare System, was suing thousands of its patients each year for payment. If the two papers worked together, they could pull off a series that could run statewide, with more reach and impact.

Here, investigative reporter Joe Neff from The News & Observer, investigative reporter Ames Alexander and medical writer Karen Garloch from The Charlotte Observer share how they reported the five-day series, the most useful sources and their reporting strategies.

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