Reporter says he was threatened with ban from press calls after declining to alter story: report

Reporter says he was threatened with ban from press calls after declining to alter story: report
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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been accused of threatening to bar a reporter from Modern Healthcare from its press calls.

The threat came after the reporter, Virgil Dickson, claimed he did not agree to alter a story he wrote to take out a part regarding CMS administrator Seema Verma, according to the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

The story, published Jan. 23, was about the resignation of a Brian Neale, who oversaw Medicaid. The story said that the departure was a result of "some sort of disagreement between Verma and Neale that erupted in the past few days."

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After the article's publication, a communications contractor working for CMS, Brett O’Donnell, said the reports of a disagreement were "false speculation."

O'Donnell reportedly sent an email to Dickson's editor including the warning: “Short of fully correcting the piece we will not be able to include your outlet in further press calls with CMS.”

Dickson said he was told during a CMS press call last week that he wasn't allowed to take part in it.

But a CMS spokesman denied reporters had been banned from the press call.

“No reporters have been banned by CMS," an agency spokesman said.

“Administrator Verma seems to think she can bury inconvenient facts by threatening reporters with blacklisting,” said Ivan Oransky, M.D., president of the AHCJ.

“That tactic won’t work — truth will out,” Oransky said. “But the very act of trying to stifle a press report is a frightening assault on the First Amendment. AHCJ intends to vigorously protest this bullying.”

Aurora Aguilar, editor-in-chief of Modern Healthcare, said she doesn't think she's ever "come across a situation where I was asked to remove something from a story in a way that felt like censorship."