John Hilton wins the April DFMie for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster for his reporting on a controversial hospital billing practice.
His editors’ nomination explains:
John Hilton alerted our readers to a little-known fact: Being treated at the hospital doesn’t always mean you were in the hospital. Even spending a night or two in a room might mean you were on ‘observation status,” rather than being officially admitted. The difference? It can mean a big impact on out-of-pocket fees. John used contacts and social media to search for people who believed they’d been burned by observation status. Time after time, potential sources backed out because they didn’t want to provoke the hospital they were fighting with. Nevertheless, John put together a range of sources that allowed him to become an expert on the topic. As a writer, he then worked hard to break down a complex problem into an understandable story that could help anyone who reads it avoid getting hit with massive, unexpected hospital bills.
Hilton’s piece was a fine example of data-driven journalism with wide- ranging implications for readers both locally and nationally. … This was an A-Z here’s how it happens and it could happen to you kind of story. As a journalist, HIPPA has made it very hard to report on these type of stories, however with the constantly evolving landscape of healthcare and the Affordable Care Act, it’s more important than ever to to provide this type of watchdog journalism for the communities we serve.
Solid reporting illustrated once again how consumers of medical care in the United States continue to get the shaft. The reporter is commended for a well-sourced piece, for connecting with potential sources on social media and for letting readers know what’s being done to help alleviate this problem.