NMG’s Johnson wins AP’s Best of the States award

Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson won last week’s Best of the States award for a story exposing how a Guatemalan immigrant couldn’t get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This despite the fact that the Obama administration had held up the woman as the face of its campaign to help Latinos get insured.

More than a year ago, Celeste Castillo had been invited onto a stage with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn at an event promoting the ACA. Castillo discussed how she would finally be able to finally afford health care for herself and her daughter, thanks to the law.

When the Obama administration recently released enrollment figures for people who had signed up for insurance under the law, Johnson combed her contacts database for someone who could talk about the disappointing number of Latinos who’d gotten insured.

Johnson, a Chicago-based Guild member, called Castillo, whom she had met at the event 14 months earlier. The woman said that despite multiple attempts, she still hadn’t been able to get health coverage.

After being blocked by website problems like so many others, Castillo got questionable advice from a government “navigator” guide that she should seek coverage through expanded Medicaid. Then she was rejected for Medicaid, and it was then too late to apply for a policy through Illinois’ federal-state exchange.

But just hours after Johnson called the governor’s office to ask about Castillo’s situation, the woman suddenly had health insurance: A Medicaid casework specialist called to say the rejection had been a mistake because Castillo’s income hadn’t been correctly calculated. Officials determined that Castillo did qualify for expanded Medicaid, but only after Johnson called about her.

Johnson’s story got prominent newspaper and Internet play. She’s been essential in the AP’s national coverage of the ACA, and she’s previously broken other stories after spotting trends on addiction coverage and government marketing campaigns.