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Medill conference gives students chance to discuss health care issues and reporting

Medill students get an insiders' look at the rapidly changing health care industry and how to cover it

November 3, 2017 | By David Thill (MSJ18) and Samantha Yadron (MSJ18)
Students toured the Clinical Center, where researchers diagnose rare diseases at the National Institutes of Health. (Photo by NIH staff)
This year’s Health Care Reporting Conference opened with a panel on drug shortages and prices. (L to R) Abigail Foerstner, moderator, Megan Scott of the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs, Valerie Jensen of the FDA, and Robert Zirkelbach of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. (Photo by Adam Cohen/Medill)
Dan Rutz, former CNN correspondent and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public affairs official, shared his experiences and strategies for covering epidemics. (Photo by Abigail Foerstner/Medill)
Students spoke with Brigadier General Jill K. Faris at the national Defense Health Headquarters. (Photo by U.S. Army staff)

Medill’s third annual Health Care Reporting Conference coincided with a new wave of uncertainty about the future of American health care.

The conference, Oct. 12-13 at Medill’s Washington, D.C., newsroom, came as President Donald Trump announced policy changes that could significantly alter the Affordable Care Act. Against this backdrop, speakers representing major players in the health care system – from the insurance industry to the public health sector to the federal government – addressed 28 Medill graduate and undergraduate students on major issues in health care and the media’s role in covering it.

Funded by UnitedHealth Group, the conference was planned by Medill faculty and staff. In organizing it, faculty focused discussion on major topics in health care, said Professor and Executive Editor of Medill Washington Ellen Shearer, who co-organized the conference with Medill Professor Donna Leff and Assistant Professor Abigail Foerstner.

Key topics included the Affordable Healthcare Act, drug prices, treatment innovation and the opioid crisis. A recurring theme during the conference was the need for journalists to understand the nuances of the massive American health care system.

“In health care, there are so many apparently compelling anecdotes that may have a very complex set of facts behind them,” said Matt Stearns, vice president of external communications at Optum, part of UnitedHealth Group and a graduate of Medill’s journalism master’s program.

“Medill students get to learn from and interact with experts in the health care field through this conference,” said Foerstner. “With a field that’s changing as rapidly as this one, this experience gives them an insiders’ perspective and helps them be prepared to hit the ground running in their future jobs.”