According to the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) barred the media last November from covering “listening sessions” which focused on receiving public input on the administration’s signature health care law.
The “sessions,” held in ten cities, were publicized among thousands of invited “stakeholders” and sought comments on the definition of “essential benefits,” the minimum health care benefits that would be covered by plans sold on the health insurance exchanges that are a central part of ObamaCare in the states.
The AHCJ states that no notices of the public sessions were sent to the media and, worse yet, reporters who happened to learn of the meetings were told they were not permitted to attend. Furthermore, no records of the sessions were kept.
AHCJ reports that they found out about the meetings through an independent medical blogger who had requested to attend but was told she could not. AHCJ then proceeded to contact fellow journalists in cities where the sessions had taken place. Only two of the 26 journalists who responded knew about the meetings prior to their occurrence.
In a review to HHS about media being barred from the public sessions, Felice Freyer, Chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee wrote, “By excluding the news media, HHS was essentially shutting the door on the majority of people who weren’t on the mailing list or connected with someone who was. Most people don’t go to such events, but rely on the news media to tell them what happened.”
According to AHCJ, HHS was asked for a list of “stakeholders” who attended the sessions and for any notes available, but HHS replied that they were unable to provide the information. Apparently a resolution was eventually reached. At the request of the health journalists’ organization, HHS agreed to add this sentence to their media guidelines: “Meetings that are open to the public are, by definition, open to the media.”
Of course, as we have come to realize all too often, having the media “covering” anything to do with President Obama and his administration does not necessarily translate into factual information provided to the general public. Still, so much for the most “transparent” administration ever.