2015 Topical Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

State of Health


About the Project

Since its launch in December of 2011, KQED’s State of Health has reported on key health policy issues and evolving trends from a California perspective. In the period of this awards competition, State of Health expanded its efforts through an ambitious crowdsourcing project and a data project that included a consumer tool. At the same time, this blog continued to report on major health stories both online and on our public broadcast air, crafting the stories to each platform’s strength and each audience’s needs.

Comparing Health Costs

With our PriceCheck project, we are shining a bright light on the notoriously opaque world of health care costs. It’s virtually impossible to find out prices in advance, and prices between insurers and doctors are sealed tight by gag clauses. With a prototype grant from the Knight Foundation, we built a form and commenced a database of prices. We ask patients to share what they were charged, what their insurer paid and their own co-pay, if any. In the last year we have reported on the local cost of mammograms, IUDs and colonoscopies.

Price matters because until recently consumers didn’t have much incentive to shop on price in health care. They might have paid small co-pay; insurance picked up the rest. But today, many people have high-deductible health plans. So it might matter to the consumer if the price of her or his insurer negotiated at Facility A is hundreds of dollars more than at Facility B.

In our comments section people told of their frustration:

“High deductible so paid the whole thing and then found out that I could have had it done for ‘HALF’ the price only blocks away. My first foray into individual insurance and it s***ed. Need to shop around assuming can even get a price quote.”

The project garnered interest ranging from consumers to health policy experts. Editor Lisa Aliferis was asked to write a “Viewpoint” about the project in the prestigious JAMA Internal Medicine January 2015 issue, which Aliferis included in a report of initial findings. To our surprise one of California’s largest health insurers cited PriceCheck data to press its argument that a medical center’s charges were excessive.

Vaccines and California’s Personal Belief Exemption

In another data project, we looked at vaccines. We accessed seven years of vaccination rates from public and private kindergartens across California and created an easy-to-use tool where people could look up vaccine rates at any school.

After we reported that the vaccine opt-out rate had doubled over those 7 years and invited people to look up the rate at their school, we heard from a father whose child’s school had an opt-out rate of 32 percent. He tweeted us: “Should I freak out?” That led to a story.

Vaccines became a major news story after the outbreak of measles in early 2015 tied to Disneyland. State of Health was first to report the story of the father of a 6-year-old boy recovering from leukemia who urged school districts to have the voluntarily unvaccinated stay home from school. After we published the story, it quickly went viral. Media outlets from the New York Times to CBS Evening News picked it up.

The father has since testified at hearings in the state legislature to tighten vaccine exemptions.

End-of-Life Reporting

This year we also made end-of-life-care reporting a central coverage area. Our readers and listeners learned about a palliative care doctor in rural far-northern California who was launching a start-up to bring quality medical to remote patients. While physician-assisted suicide is being widely debated in California, we reported that there’s already an underground world of assisted suicide.