Health care reporting

Journalists can learn how to use Medicare surveys of their local hospitals to develop stories about the quality of the care they provide. (Depositphotos)

How to tap into patient reviews of local hospitals

If you haven’t examined how your local hospitals performed in the latest Medicare surveys, you’re missing out on some important stories with high likely readership.

Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News joined us for a chat on how journalists can use the surveys.

The surveys, one of the first parts of the Affordable Care Act, probe patient attitudes on such questions as how carefully doctors and nurses listened to them, how often they were treated with courtesy and respect, how well their pain was controlled and, among other things, where they’d rate the hospital on a scale from “worst hospital possible” to “best hospital possible.”

The results of the surveys are used to provide more than 2,500 hospitals nationwide with federal government bonuses or penalties, depending on the survey results. Read more

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The performance of isn't what will count in the end, says Politico's Joanne Kenen. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Health care coverage is more than numbers

We’ve heard a lot about the website and its performance metrics recently.

But the Affordable Care Act metric that really matters isn’t error rates or response time. It’s enrollment.

Furthermore, what matters isn’t just how many people enroll – although that’s part of it. It’s also who enrolls – in particular, their age and health status. A mix that includes younger and healthier people is needed for a viable insurance risk pool. And whether that mix has been achieved may not be clear until later in the six-month open-enrollment season. Read more

Affordable Care Act Word Cloud Concept

How to fact-check the health care law

Before the health care law — aka Obamacare — the American health care system was a fragmented, confusing patchwork.

After the health care law, the American health care system remains a fragmented, confusing patchwork.

And there’s no sign that’s going to change anytime soon.

I’ve been fact-checking health care for PolitiFact since 2007, and I have to remind myself all the time: We don’t have one health care system, but several.

The biggest chunk of Americans get health coverage at work, through some sort of employer-provided plan. Next up is Medicare for people over age 65, along with Medicaid for the poor and other forms of government-provided health care insurance. A few people — about 6 percent of us — go out and buy health care insurance on our own, in what’s known as the individual market. Read more


How to avoid mistakes in covering the Affordable Care Act

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on about Obamacare, it’s that the law is complicated. Really complicated — especially for a reporter trying to write about it on a deadline.

I’ve spent the past four years writing about the Affordable Care Act for two different newspapers. To this day, I still run into provisions that are new to me and face the challenge of trying to understand them fast enough to turn around a blog post later that day.

Unfortunately, covering the health law is unlikely to get easier anytime soon. As the new marketplaces roll out, and readers begin researching their options, they will no doubt have lots of questions about how it all works. Here are five of the common mistakes that I’ve made before, have seen others stumble on and hope you can avoid. Read more


How to weave the stories of ‘real folks’ into coverage of health-care law

On a hot, humid summer day it’s easy to find somebody who is uninsured — all you have to do is look for the folks on their front porches. If they can’t afford air conditioning, they can’t afford health insurance.

What’s harder is determining whether or not the people you talk to will actually get coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Here in Tennessee — as in almost all of the Southern states — just being poor and uninsured doesn’t automatically qualify you for coverage.

That’s how I wound up walking around sweating and trying to keep a piece of paper dry. The paper spelled out yearly incomes according to percentages of the federal poverty level as adjusted by family sizes. Anyone who made less than that level — about $23,500 for a family of four — was going to be a loser under the federal health law in Tennessee, where at this point Medicaid isn’t being expanded. Read more

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How reporters can localize coverage of the Affordable Care Act

Health reporting is steeped in science and certainty. Healthcare reform is a different beast, dominated by politics and unpredictability.

Congressional battles, U.S. Supreme Court decisions and state legislative votes meant to clarify the Affordable Care Act instead produced universal frustration. Reporters are tasked with sorting through the confusion and localizing one of the most significant federal laws in decades.

I’ve written numerous “what-if” reform scenario stories the past few years. Early on, my editor and I created a mantra to focus only on our Florida and Tampa-area audience — and their ability to take care of their health and their pocketbooks. Political reporters have chopped through ideological thickets. For the most part, I’ve been able to stay focused on health.

Now, as the ACA lumbers toward its biggest milestone — the Jan. Read more

Men holding the word myths. Concept 3D illustration.

5 myths about the Affordable Health Care Act

Let’s face it: As a reporter, there’s pretty much nothing you can write or broadcast about the Affordable Care Act that someone won’t complain about. From its inception in 2009, the bill, and later, the law, has prompted more disagreement than any law in recent memory.

As a result, less than a month before the major part of the law is set to get underway, the public remains confused. The latest monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 44 percent of those polled are unsure if the Affordable Care Act is even still in force or whether maybe it’s been repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court.

Part of the reason for that confusion is that the law is both large and complicated. Read more


AP stylebook adds entry on mental illness

AP Stylebook | NAB
The Associated Press has introduced guidance on how to use information about mental illness in coverage. “Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced,” the new Stylebook entry begins.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 children and 7 adults dead, there was much speculation about the mental health of shooter Adam Lanza.

By email, AP spokesperson Paul Colford acknowledged that shooting was a factor.

“Newtown was certainly among the reasons we considered this carefully, as well as the run of other mass shootings where the state of the shooter was an issue. Editors heard from and sounded out mental health experts and welcomed their input,” he said. Read more


SCOTUSblog details in 7,000 words how CNN, Fox got Health Care ruling wrong

In an exhaustive account, SCOTUSblog publisher and co-founder Tom Goldstein describes, minute by minute, how CNN and Fox News initially misreported the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law:

Here’s what happened at 10:07:20, Goldstein reports:

The CNN and Fox producers are scanning the syllabus. Eight lines from the bottom of page 2, they see the following language: “Chief Justice Roberts concluded in Part III-A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.” They immediately and correctly recognize that sentence as fantastically important. The individual mandate is the heart of the statute, and it is clear that the Court has rejected the Administration’s principal theory – indeed the only theory that was discussed at great length in the oral arguments and debated by commentators.

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Justice Ginsburg cites Washington Post reporter in health care decision

I am not gonna pretend that I’ve read today’s healthcare decision yet, but this has to be a pretty cool feeling for Sarah Kliff; Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited one of the Washington Post reporter’s articles in her opinion:

43-44. The extra time and resources providers spend serving the uninsured lessens the providers’ ability to care for those who do have insurance. See Kliff, High Uninsured Rates Can Kill You–Even if You Have Coverage, Washington Post (May 7, 2012) (describing a study of California’s health-care market which found that, when hospitals divert time and resources to provide uncompensated care, the quality of care the hospitals deliver to those with insurance drops significantly), available at high-uninsured-rates-can-kill-you-even-if-you-have-coverage/2012/ 05/07/gIQALNHN8T_print.html.

Kliff found one word to describe how she felt when she found out:

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