The News & Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer both launched a five-part series on Sunday that analyzed nonprofit hospitals in their regions. The two McClatchy papers worked together to gather the data then wrote their own localized stories.
In part one of the News & Observer series, Joseph Neff, Karen Garloch and Ames Alexander write:
“In the national debate over health reform, soaring costs and insurance premiums have drawn attention. But one trend driving costs – the growing market power of hospitals – has gone largely unnoticed.
While growth at Wal-Mart and Target has led to lower prices, the opposite is true for hospitals. They compete by offering ever more sophisticated, high-tech and costly services.
Across the country, hospital systems have become so large and dominant that insurance companies can’t afford to exclude them from the plans they offer to employers. These consolidated systems use their clout to negotiate higher reimbursement for privately insured patients.”
Today’s Tips: Use these tactics for finding hospital financial data.
As noted in the “How we did it,” choosing the right numbers took a lot of thought. Joseph gave me a list of some sources they used:
- Cost reports from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services: These files contain financial information submitted by hospitals. The site offers tips on downloading the large files.
- Bond documents from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA system: The Reynolds Center’s site offers self-guided training on using EMMA. There are also session recordings and PowerPoint presentations from last month’s webinar.
- The American Hospital Directory: The directory provides information such as Medicare claims data and hospital cost reports on its site.
- Certificate of Need applications: Some states require health systems to submit Certificate of Need applications to expand. For instance, North Carolina’s site offers a list of approved and rejected applications. It also posts public hearing notices that offer information about pending applications.
- Consumer complaints filed with the attorney general’s office and lawsuits: This helped the reporters find real people, including some who were sued by the hospitals for failure to pay, Joseph says.
To share the collected data, the reporters posted files on Google Docs and DocumentCloud. They also shared information through their common computer systems. But coordinating the facts before publishing was still a challenge.
“It was like giving birth to Siamese twins,” Joseph says.
Ames of the Observer wasn’t able to talk yesterday, but plans to offer me more tips when he comes up for air.