Relative Value and journalistic values

Medical price-setting is a scandal. So is the way the WaPo deals with being beaten by the Washington Monthly.

Saturday’s Washington Post runs a long story – breathlessly labeled “Exclusive” – about the Relative Value Update Committee, an AMA venture that effectively sets the prices Medicare pays for medical procedures. The committee meets in secret and consists entirely of people who represent those with direct financial stake in the outcomes. (Not, of course, including patients or taxpayers.) Fox, met henhouse.

Astoundingly, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, designed precisely to prevent this sort of abuse, doesn’t apply, because – even though the results of the committee’s deliberations are almost always accepted by CMMS, the group isn’t technically an “advisory committee.” That’s because it it’s run by the AMA rather than by the agency. Given how thoroughly FACA screws up the process of getting outside information to federal decision-makers, to find that it doesn’t apply in the case where it most needs to apply is pretty scandalous.

And, while we’re on the topic of scandalous behavior, take a look at the story on precisely the same topic by Haley Sweetland Edwards in the current Washington Monthly, which showed up on line about three days ago.

No doubt it came as considerable shock to Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating of the Post, and to their editors, to find that they’d been beaten like a drum by a little outfit that isn’t even subsidized by a test-prep company.

But they handled the situation with all the grace and style you’d expect of the newspaper that still runs Richard Cohen: they simply ignored it. No doubt most of their dead-tree readers will never know that they they “Exclusive” they’re reading is stale news.

There’s no issue of plagiarism here; the WaPo story must have been in the can for days before the WaMo story appeared. But surely both the reporters and the editors must have known that the the Edwards story had priority, unless the Post has become even more ingrown than it usually appears to be.

Would it really have killed them to give her, and the publication she writes for, some credit?

Update Actually, it’s worse than that.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

6 thoughts on “Relative Value and journalistic values”

  1. I had the same reaction, but I wonder if that’s because we are academics and are expected to cite each others’ work? I find it graceless but maybe that’s how journalists treat each other.

    It is not unlikely given the overlap in the interviewees that the two outlets heard the other was snooping around this story. Must have been significant pressure if so on Haley as a one-person operation to get the story out before the Post’s team.

  2. It’s even worse than you described. I saw the Washington Monthly article online at least a couple of weeks ago, available from a link in their blog.

  3. The Washington Post got a Pulitzer in 2007 for their “exclusive” reporting “exposing” abuses at Walter Reed – essentially re-reporting (and expanding) a story that had been fairly well covered in Salon in 2004-5. The Post articles did not as I recall mention the reporting in Salon. Seems to work.

  4. Just saw your post Mark! I can confirm that both stories have been in the works independently for sometime, any similarity to other stories living or dead is purely coincidental : )

  5. When I worked at a trade magazine, it was pretty common to see our work re-reported and put under some major reporter’s byline. Occasionally, when the re-reporting was too thin we managed to extort a reference out of them. I shocked, shocked to see that none of the plagiarism cops have bothered with any of this.

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