OR: Interview with Diane Lund-Muzikant, Lund Report — Part 3

Lund reportDiane Lund-Muzikant is editor-in-chief of The Lund Report–the first independent Web site in Oregon dedicated to educating the public about the inner workings of the health care industry as well as a must-read for many industry insiders.

Recently, State of Reform’s DJ Wilson sat down with Diane to ask about her work, her background, and her passion for investigative journalism.

In part one of this three-part interview, Diane told DJ about her decision to launch Oregon Health Forum in 1996. In part two, Diane talked about some of the experiences and relationships that have shaped her outlook on life and her approach to journalism.

In this third and final part of the interview, DJ asks Diane her views on the future of journalism and health care reform, and about the future of The Lund Report.

DJ: A criticism I have of journalists is that they no longer hold this commitment to the truth as much as I think that you do.  Do you agree?

To a large degree I think that’s true.  There are always exceptions, and I’m not the only one out there seeking the truth.  I think it’s easier for me than others because I’ve had my own publication for so long that I don’t have an editor telling me what I can and can’t write.

My board at the Oregon Health Forum, my board at The Lund Report, have always stood behind me.  They’ve always had the same values that I have: that we need to be a fearless publication, beholden to no one, regardless of who gives us money or who doesn’t give us money, we stand for the truth.

DJ: What does the future look like for journalism?  You’re doing a lot of stuff at The Lund Report, but what do you think all of this means for those who are trying to get at the truth?

I think the trend has been going for quite some time.  I think the sad thing is that the general public is going to lose out.  If you look at who reads our publications, it’s the people who are affiliated with the health care industry or they are in some way impacted by what’s going on.  It’s not the average consumer, people who are impacted by the system.

Then again, if you look at how our society is structured, how the power structure is built, 10 percent of our country rules what goes on and what happens.  They are the decision makers.  Why should this be any different?  I think it’s sad, but it’s how it works today.  People aren’t as attuned to the news as they were when I was growing up.

We rely on television.  We rely on radio.  But I think the news will always be out there for people seeking it.

DJ: What do you think of this period of reform?  You’ve seen reform efforts come and go.  What’s your view of today?

I think the trigger will be whether costs are actually held at bay or not.  Whether we can really get a handle on the cost structure.  Health care is absorbing about 18 percent of our GNP.

I think that’s a big question.  Will we, in fact, be able to hold down health care costs? We still don’t know the average cost of a physician visit. We need more transparency.

I think there is a lot of potential.  I think we’re in a wait-and-see mode.  I don’t think we can make any predictions right now.

DJ: Can the health care industry reform itself, or does it take legislation to force change in health care?

I think it’s hard to change industry.  I don’t know how it’s going to change.  You say legislation might make it change, but you’ve got a lot of lobbyists out there that are trying to keep the status quo.

I think it’s hard to know.  I think it’s not just a question of will it change, but how do we want it to change.  What do we want it to look like?

You’ve got to take it apart and see where that piece is going to fit in, or where this piece is going to fit in.

And should they?  I think these are really tough questions.  But I think it would be great if we had more people invested in the system who wanted to give their opinions on these questions, but we don’t.

DJ: Some people have commented to me, “It’s unfair how much you love Regence.”  Others have said it’s unfair how much you pick on Regence.  So I’ll just ask you, how do you respond to those comments?

I understand the criticisms.  I think with all insurance companies there are some issues that just become more obvious than others.

Regence issues have risen to the surface.  Will Regence be the #1 insurer we write about a year from now?  Probably not.  Regence is a large insurance company, so sometimes you hear things that you don’t hear about from other companies.

I don’t dislike Regence.  I have a lot of friends who have Regence as an insurance company.  I don’t have any deep down feelings of, you know, “I gotta get ‘em.”

Our goal is to tell the truth.  And when things become obvious that there are problems, we want to write about it—whether that means we write about Regence a lot, or we write about hospitals. We do that all the time.

I just think it’s easy for people to find one thing to criticize us about, but whatever.

My goal is to write the truth.

DJ: I told you the story about being in Idaho, and talking with the CEO of a health care entity there, and they had read one of your stories.  The comment they made was that they had read something and said “that was a blistering article.”

I think it’s really easy to be critical.  I think the hard thing about writing about this stuff is to get both sides of the perspective. I think people think we don’t do that with Regence.  However, on every story we do about Regence, we always ask their PR people for comment.  However, with Regence, unlike others, they won’t speak to us directly. They won’t answer our questions directly.

Whatever you’re writing about, I think it’s important to get both sides of the story.  You have to do that.

DJ: Who do you think are the smartest organizations in terms of how they engage in reform, but also the media, PR, consumers – recognizing that you’re a vehicle for consumer engagement?

That’s hard to say.

I think Chuck Sheketoff at the Oregon Center for Public Policy does great work.  He doesn’t do a lot of health care.  But he does a lot of deep research into policy issues.

I have a great amount of respect for him and the work his organization does.

I could point to other groups, but each group has its own politics associated with it.  I think it’s wrong for a journalist to pick favorites.

DJ: I know you’ve given a lot of thought to The Lund Report moving forward.  Tell us what’s coming as you’re moving forward to keep the site sustainable.

We’re doing a lot.

We’re doing a site redesign with a new look and a new tagline.  We’re going to make it easier for our readers to access information.  We’re also going to do a job board, as we mentioned, and give people the opportunity to list volunteer opportunities, internships, both paid and unpaid.

We’re going to have the first calendar of health policy events in the state, and it’ll be free.

We’ve got some great reporters that we’ve brought on.  We hope that our reporters are going to be full time sometime next year.

We don’t accept advertising, but we do list the name of our donors on our site.

We’re going to start premium subscriptions for articles that analyze legislation, hospital profitability, insurance analysis–things you won’t find in other publications.

So there will be 4 to 6 articles a month that’ll be inside the pay wall.

We will continue to raise money through tax-deductible donations.  We’re going to bring on a development director in 2014.  And we have a very viable board that is committed to keeping The Lund Report sustainable.

I have the fortunate position of not being paid for my position.

I’m very fortunate that my husband has savings that we can rely on.  I am lucky that I invested in some very good stocks early on, called Nike, Intel and Microsoft.

I do this out of my love for telling the truth, and believing that there needs to be a vehicle out there that does what journalism should do.

DJ: And are you thinking about retirement?

I’m always thinking about retirement.  Like I said I have a great staff of reporters and tech support I think we’re in the best position we’ve been in since we started in 2009.  So my goal is to keep delegating.  We’re going to be part of a radio program starting in January.

My job is to build the organization, leveraging the skills I learned from the Oregon Health Forum, to make it a very viable organization, so that I can step away and leave it in very good hands.

DJ: Whether people like you or love you…

Right, and there are a few in the middle!  I don’t think it’s a question of like or love, I think it’s a question of trust.  It used to be when I walked into a room people would be quiet.  But I think I’ve developed a strong relationship with consumer advocates, with some in industry.

There are some people that will never let us quote them. But is everyone supposed to be our friend, or our colleague?  No.  Like I said, most of my friends aren’t even in the industry.

DJ: What happens after Diane Lund?

<Laughing>  What do you mean?  There is no after Diane Lund!

DJ: As an observer, I look at what happened to the Oregon Health Forum, and it collapsed after you.  Without your vision, what becomes of The Lund Report?  I know you’ll say it’ll live on and all of that, but what becomes of Oregon health care after Diane Lund?

No one is irreplaceable.  I mean, I know what you’re saying.  But I have to believe it can survive after me.  I have to believe it can.  It has to.  I don’t want to think about the alternative. I mean, why?  Why think about it?  You go day to day and try to make a difference, and try to do the best you can.

DJ: So what is your advice to me, to somebody who is on the front end of this new media space?

I think it’s hard because there is a lot of competition out there, as you know.  As you know, where you started your conference, and CCO Oregon comes in right behind you and says “Wait a minute, we’re bigger and better than you.”  I think there are a lot of questions.

If the Oregon Coalition of Health Care Purchasers stays around, along with the conferences sponsored by CCO Oregon…  I just think it’s really, really tough.

I think you’ve got to have a unique path–something that you do better than everyone else.  I can’t give you any advice for how you become more sustainable.

DJ: What is your advice to policy makers, a number of which read your site?

That’s a good question.

Don’t get so lost in the transformation movement that you forget to listen to the people who are being affected.  I think they’d say that they try, but it just seems hard to envision all of the people who are coming on, all of the people who haven’t had any access to coverage, how to meet their needs without blowing everything apart.

I think there are so many different challenges out there.

I heard the governor apparently wants Oregon to be the healthiest state by 2020.  I think you have all of these obesity problems, tobacco issues.

What really motivates people to be healthier?  I’m sure there are a number of studies out there, but you can’t forget to listen to the people. It sounds so simple, but it’s not.

DJ: What do you think your advice would be to the health care sector overall?

I’ve never thought about my advice to anybody, let alone the health care industry.

I think transparency is the key.  Just be as transparent as possible.

DJ: When they write the history of Oregon healthcare, what do you want them to write about Diane Lund?

She did her best to make a difference in the lives of Oregonians, to tell the truth.  It’s as simple as that.  I don’t have a hidden agenda, though I think that’s what the people at Regence think.  It’s not there, but I think it’s easy for people to think that about me depending on the stories we write.

Interesting, when we write our stories about Regence they get some of our highest readership.