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Reporting on the ACA in rural Kentucky

Laura Unger
Laura Ungar

Kentucky received national attention when it became the only Southern state to fully embrace the Affordable Care Act by creating its own health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands more residents.

But, in impoverished rural areas that stood to gain the most from the greater access to care that the ACA promised, many residents remained fiercely opposed to the law and the president who pushed it.

Against this backdrop, a team from USA Today and The Courier-Journal in Louisville decided to launch an in-depth examination of how the law is beginning to play out in Appalachian Kentucky. Courier-Journal medical writer Laura Ungar shares how they did it. 

Health Performance fellowshipsFellowships to enhance your career

For the AHCJ-NLM Health Journalism Fellowships, AHCJ will select four journalists to spend a week at the National Institutes of Health, enhancing their medical and scientific reporting. The application deadline is July 28.

Regional fellowshipsThe AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellowship provides established journalists with tools to improve the depth and amount of coverage focused on localizing critical health issues. The 2014-15 fellowship class will come from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. The deadline to apply is July 10.

Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance

The AHCJ Reporting Fellowships on Health Care Performance is a yearlong program allowing journalists to pursue a significant reporting project related to the U.S. health care system. The application deadline is Oct. 1.

For insights into how a fellowship can help you reach your creative and career goals, be sure to see this webcast. Panelists discuss how to make yourself stand out as an applicant. They also talk about how, if you're a freelancer, to line up the clients, the story ideas and the plans for doing a fellowship, all while maintaining your other freelance work.It can be local or national in scope, or a little of both 

Using data to expose the risks of home births


Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin, describes how he took advantage of new data collected by the state of Oregon to shape an article that revealed high mortality rates for home births in his state.

While beauticians and tattoo artists are regulated in the state, midwife certification is voluntary in Oregon, and even then, the hurdles for certification are rather minimal. But with midwives largely operating outside of the established health care system, there was little more than anecdotal evidence about the safety of home births to go on. That changed last year.

"If home birth were a drug," he wrote, "it would be taken off the market."

AHCJ invites members to run for board

Each year, members in AHCJ’s professional category elect members for the association board of directors. Board members take on committee duties and contribute to association activities, including fundraising, advocacy, helping plan sessions at training events, membership outreach and writing/editing contributions.

Find out more about board members' responsibilities and how to become involved in shaping AHCJ's future. The deadline to declare is noon (Central time) on July 11.

Explaining the connections between poverty, health

Olga Khazan
Olga Khazan

It didn’t sit right with Olga Khazan, an associate editor at The Atlantic, seeing so many people focus on individual behavior as the root cause of public health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. She had come across too many studies revealing how health is shaped by external factors such as educational opportunity, the physical environment and social quality of neighborhoods, and the corrosive effects of prolonged exposure to stressful living conditions.

In “How Being Poor Makes You Sick,” Khazan came up with an appealing lede to draw readers into a deeply reported story about the complicated, nuanced realities of the social determinants of health. And she found an efficient, compact way to frame the story to make it highly readable.

Becca Aaronson

Tips from Texas for covering Medicaid fraud, overtreatment

For the past two years, as a health writer for the Texas Tribune, Becca Aaronson has been covering the state’s Medicaid orthodontic scandal. Aaronson’s most recent stories offered readers an update on the state investigation into allegations of widespread fraud and unnecessary treatment.

In a recent conversation with Mary Otto, AHCJ's oral health topic leader, Aaronson shared what got her interested in the story, how she pursued it over an extended period of time, how she got the documents she needed and her advice on using Medicaid claims data to report on potential fraud or overtreatment. Read more here.

Rural Health Journalism Workshop 2014

Rural Health Journalism Workshop

Dozens of journalists gathered in Portland Ore.,   for AHCJ’s seventh Rural Health Journalism Workshop. See tweets from the workshop at #ruralhealth14. Panels included:
• Explore the rural health landscape
• Triumphs, regulation challenges of telemedicine
• The aging of rural physicians and the next generation of care
• Rural health leadership in a changing countryside
• How the ACA impacts rural health care
• The cost of poor oral health

Attendees got a better understanding of what’s happening – or will be happening – in rural regions, and are returning to work with dozens of story ideas. 

Reporting on side effects and drug studies


Recently, Dr. Ben Goldacre, a prominent critic of drug studies, embarked on a research project of his own. He wanted to find out how often side effects reported by users of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins were genuinely caused by the medications.

His results were surprising and he wrote a nuanced explanation of the study findings that makes some key points about the way side effects are reported in medical journals. Brenda Goodman shares what health reporters need to keep in mind when covering the downsides of new drugs.

Larry Dreiling
Larry Dreiling

Kansas reporter shares rural perspective
on access to dental care

Larry Dreiling, senior field editor at High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal, sees access to health services as essential to sustaining rural life.

His neighbors in rural America may live many miles from a needed specialist or emergency room. Or, as he points out, they may need to drive two hours to get to a dentist.

Dreiling took some time recently to talk about his coverage and to offer advice to other reporters about telling health care stories in rural America.

Getting dental care to elders in nursing homes


Recorded May 15
Studies show that seniors in nursing homes often go without dental care. The lack of care can take a devastating toll on health and quality of life and impacts seniors who have their natural teeth as well as those who don't.

Our panel of experts looked at the need for oral health services in nursing homes, some steps that are being taken to get this care to patients and shared stories and resources for reporters.

Medicare payments data by state

The government release of information about Medicare payments to health professionals, a total of $77 billion in the single year of 2012, means unprecedented access to details of how public funds are spent. For 35 years, the data have been off limits to the public. The release has already generated stories by health journalists, with possibilities for more stories in the weeks and months ahead. To help with these stories, AHCJ has broken down the data by state in spreadsheet format for members to download.

Webcast: Finding fresh stories in newly released Medicare data

Health Journalism 2014

Health Journalism 2014

Dozens of sessions featured world-class health experts and leading health journalists exploring the latest in health news and how to cover it. More than 650 attendees gathered for the world’s most important gathering and training event in health care journalism.

Thank you for attending the conference!

If you write about the conference or use sources and resources you learned about there, please send links to your stories to pia@healthjournalism.org. And see what your colleagues have written about it.

AHCJ social networkingStay in touch with AHCJ through social networking sites and tools

Freelance writingFind freelance health journalists in our directory

Transition assistance program for health journalists‘Downsized’ members can take advantage of transition-assistance program

Nursing Home Compare dataAHCJ makes Nursing Home Compare data easier to analyze

SurgeonFind stories with ready-to-use Hospital Compare data

Reporting Guides

Slim guides• Covering Medical Research
• Covering the Health of Local Nursing Homes
• Navigating the CDC: A Journalist’s Guide to the CDC Web Site
• Covering Obesity: A Guide for Reporters
• Covering Hospitals: Using Tools on the Web


Association of Health Care Journalists Covering Health: An AHCJ blog

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Scorecard measures effects of state policies on long-term care services, supports
AARP, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation have released their second long term care scorecard, a state-by-state breakdown of performance of ...

Helping newly insured consumers understand the system
Health reporters: Do you understand everything about your health insurance? I didn’t think so. Now imagine the struggles of newly insured people ...

Complaints about dental benefits provider mounting
The rumblings in Tennessee started earlier this year, after a new company took over the contract to provide dental services to the state’s children ...

Bringing local, national perspectives to report on ACA in rural Kentucky
Kentucky, a southern state implementing the ACA, has gotten a fair amount of media attention and we’ve highlighted some of the coverage. But, in ...


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Reporting Guides


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