Best of 2012: Health reporting

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The year in medical investigations

By The Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity's health reporting in 2012 included "Cracking the Codes," an investigation that exposed loopholes in Medicare billing costing billions of tax dollars. Since the series ran, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder have threatened possible criminal prosecutions of doctors and hospitals that use electronic health records to bill for more complex and costly services than they actually delivered.

Our 21-month 'Cracking the Codes' investigation documented for the first time how some medical professionals have billed Medicare at sharply higher rates than their peers and collected billions of dollars of questionable fees as a result. 

A coal miner performs a lung function test in a mobile clinic run by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Norton, Va. After decades of decline, black lung is back. Its resurgence is concentrated in central Appalachia, and younger miners are increasingly getting the most severe, fastest-progressing form of the disease. Federal regulators are assembling a team of lawyers and other experts to consider how to bolster coal mine dust enforcement given systemic weaknesses revealed by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR.

David Deal/NPR

'Dollars and Dentists,' a joint investigation with PBS FRONTLINE, found pressure to meet production goals may have compromised treatment of poor young patients.

Frontline

Forty percent of Americans have a family member who can’t afford to go to the dentist. Private-equity firms have found a lucrative market in this statistic, investing in corporate dental chains to treat people who’ve neglected their teeth.  A Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and FRONTLINE investigation found that the same business model that makes dental chains accessible to people short on cash can also lock people into debt and has led to complaints of patients being overcharged or given unnecessary treatments.

Frontline

Breast cancer victim Carol Bristow, 54, has worked as a machine operator in a plastic auto parts factory in Windsor, Ontario, for 23 years. A recent study that found a high breast cancer risk for plastics workers supports her belief that on-the-job exposures to toxic fumes and dust played a role in her illness.

Mihintale Dhammarakkita Thero, a monk in Sri Lanka, donated his kidney to a high school principal with kidney disease. Mystery in the Fields is a three-part series that explores in text, photos and video how a rare form of kidney disease is killing laborers and crippling communities in three different regions, from Central America to Sri Lanka to India. As the death tolls mount, researchers remain puzzled, unable to definitively uncover the disease’s causes.

Anna Barry-Jester