5-Star Friday: Tackling the unwieldy

5-star fridayMany of the health care journalists we review are brave, intrepid, or both.

Health care is not an easy beat. It’s quite a mash-up of science, politics, economics, ethics, law, technology and … well … us.

These are big topics. A bit unwieldy.

The writers featured in this week’s 5-Star Friday have taken on some very big topics — like race, economics, and health care reform — and done a great job of it. They’ve been both brave and intrepid and we admire them for it.


Michael Joyce | Multimedia Producer

Medicine is Getting More Precise … For White People • by Rob Arthur • FiveThirty-Eight

Michael Joyce

Race is something that health care journalists don’t write about much. But so-called “personalized” or “precision medicine” has become a very hot topic. And Rob Arthur — who, strangely enough, usually writes about baseball and crime for FiveThirty-Eight — has this compelling article connecting the two.

Apparently, the vast majority of genetic studies linking genes to diseases are done using subjects of European descent. Arthur argues this means that other racial groups may not benefit from these studies:

“Those same groups already receive worse health care in the United States than people of European descent get, and personalized medical treatment could make the gap in care larger”

It’s a sobering premise made all the more worrisome when you consider that the National Institutes of Health — which is aware of this problem — may not be able to address the disparity quickly enough given the pressure to get these (lucrative) precision treatments to market.


Jill U. Adams | Associate Editor

Big Money’s Sway Over Doctors • by Danielle Ofri • Slate

Writer-physician Ofri opens her piece with a telling anecdote. An internal medicine practice she once worked at bought a stress-test machine, after which, she writes: “The number of stress tests ordered skyrocketed. Many were for patients who didn’t really need them.”

She goes on to recount other instances of tainted medical decision-making and she cites studies that show how medical drug and device companies can influence physicians’ practices. Yes, even those free lunches.

Ofri wrangles all her evidence into an argument for a single-payer system. Even if you don’t agree with her conclusion, you cannot ignore her arguments for doing “something.


Gary Schwitzer

Gary Schwitzer | Founder & Publisher

An astonishing change in how Americans think about government-run health care  • by Sarah Kliff • Vox.com

On many days, websites like Vox and Kaiser Health News fill a void with their insightful news coverage of health policy and health care reform (does that exist anymore?). This Vox piece highlights what appears to be, based on the survey data cited, a big shift in public attitudes about “government-run health care.”  From the piece:

Specifically, the percentage of Americans who think the government has an obligation to ensure coverage to all citizens has risen from 42 percent in 2013 to 60 percent in 2017.

The piece also offers conjecture from Harvard’s Robert Blendon about what could be reasons for these apparently changing numbers.


We also had 2 news stories over the past few weeks earn 5-star ratings from our review staff. Here they are:

STAT puts $950 DNA-based fertility test under the microscope

  • Can a genetic test really boost your odds of getting pregnant? Or, could it be more anxiety-provoking than helpful?

To taper or not to taper off opioids? Vox lays out strengths and weaknesses of new study

  • There is some crucial context provided here that really helps with understanding the challenges of getting off opioids.

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