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The Affordable Care Act and other recent initiatives have opened large amounts of hospital data to prying eyes, Ronald Campbell writes in a review of what's available: "Hospitals are always complaining that their ER’s are financial black holes. So why not dig into the numbers and find out what’s really going on? The data is just sitting there for free. And it’s available in formats you can download into Excel or any database manager (CSV, CSV for Excel, tab-separated)."

Freelance writer and Freedom of Information Act fan Philip Eil has a suggestion for reporters worried about a Trump administration — redouble their efforts to use FOIA in their reporting: "The FOIA, notably, places no limit on the number of requests an agency can receive or a person can submit. And it is with this fact in mind — and Trump’s well-documented fondness for superlatives — that I suggest we make Donald Trump the most FOIA-requested president in U.S. history."

Philip Eil recaps his fight for documents from a federal drug trial, and concludes that a successful Freedom of Information Act request often means a court fight: "So, if you’re filing a FOIA, and you actually care about getting results, start thinking about the eventual lawsuit. Talk to your local ACLU. Read the RCFP’s how-to guide to FOIA litigation. Ask your editor if you have a legal budget." Also, how FOIA should change in the digital age.

Pia Christensen reviews several recent news stories involving journalists' access — or lack of access — to nominally public information about issues relating to public health, and how media organizations and courts are responding: "Whether it involves public health data from Florida, evidence in a federal criminal case or embargoes and favored access at a federal agency, it’s clear that journalists are facing obstacles in ensuring the public’s access to information."

Government emails are treated much like paper documents under public records laws, but journalist Matthew Yglesias thinks that's a bad thing: "Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind." Rebuttal from Michael Morisy.

Illinois has hiked penalties for public agencies that drag their heels on responding to public records requests, but Jackie Spinner writes that the state's journalists aren't thrilled: "I heard mostly skepticism that the new law, which goes into effect next January, will do much. The responses highlighted a general frustration with how easily public bodies in Illinois can — and do — ignore requests for public documents, not just from journalists but also from citizens."

Shan Wang summarizes the FOIA Improvement Act, which President Obama — whose transparency record is not that great — signed last week: "The changes might be a step towards openness, though journalists aren’t letting the administration’s past record slide, rolling their eyes at the language of the White House’s fact sheet, which declared that the 'over the past seven and a half years, the Administration has made good on' its promise of a more transparent government."