NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - FOX 8 and Chief Investigative Reporter Lee Zurik have been announced as finalists for the George Foster Peabody Award, one of the most prestigious awards for broadcast, electronic media and storytelling.
Zurik and his team were honored for groundbreaking continuing coverage into health care costs.
"It's a great honor to have two of our investigative series, 'Medical Waste' and 'Cracking the Code' nominated for such a prestigious award," said FOX 8 News Director Mikel Schaefer. "The work by Lee Zurik and his investigative team, our partners at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and Clear Health Costs, has been extremely impactful and exemplifies the deep commitment to our community."
"Cracking the Code", FOX 8's widespread investigation into the healthcare industry, exposed glaring inequities in medical procedure pricing and questionable billing practices by healthcare providers.
"Cracking the Code" began by building a tool called the New Orleans PriceCheck database. The aim of the database was to generate a crowdsourced inventory of healthcare prices.
The investigative team spent two months calling and emailing healthcare providers throughout the area. Some cooperated, some did not, but eventually the investigation was able to gather nearly 700 cash prices for 35 common procedures, such as mammograms, MRIs and cholesterol tests.
More than 800 people shared their billing information. Once the series began, the investigative team reached out again to healthcare providers and have since received nearly 2,000 procedure prices.
There have been more than 7,000 database searches as consumers look to educate themselves.
"The partnership between NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and FOX 8, now in its fifth year, is a model for how local newsrooms can collaborate to produce important journalism for their communities," said Mark Lorando, editor of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and vice-president of content for NOLA Media Group. "But this honor is especially gratifying because of the essential role our readers, FOX 8's viewers and Clear Health Cost's users played in the reporting. Engaged audiences are good for journalism."
In a separate investigation, "Medical Waste" exposed a widespread, yet secretive, insurance industry practice bilking consumers many times they fill a prescription.
"Medical Waste" quickly grew national in scope as we revealed some of the nation's largest health insurance providers - United Healthcare, Cigna Health, Humana - sometimes charge their customers a hidden premium for much-needed medications.
More than 80 million Americans are affected by this practice, called a "clawback." They pay tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars every year in unnecessary fees some industry watchdogs say may break federal laws.
"Medical Waste" got results. Following the reports, a new state law was passed in an effort to combat this practice.
Eleven separate class action lawsuits were filed against insurance companies, all of which referenced the reports and included documents FOX 8 used on TV and posted on fox8live.com.
United Healthcare announced it would stop the practice of overcharging customers.
But perhaps the most important impact was the immediate benefit for FOX 8's audience. As "Medical Waste" began to draw back the curtain on this complex system, viewers began to realize how much they were being overcharged.
The series empowered them with the information needed to find cheaper alternatives through techniques we highlighted.
Winners will be announced on April 24. The 77th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.