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7. Why are ER bills so crazy? (with Sarah Kliff of vox.com)

Emergency rooms often bill you a “cover charge” just for walking in the door, and it can be thousands of dollars.

That’s in addition to the huge markup on everything that happens there: seven bucks for a band-aid. Twenty dollars for a couple of pills.

Reporter Sarah Kliff has collected more than a thousand ER bills from her readers at Vox.

She was an expert on health care before starting this project — she covered it for years at the Washington Postbefore moving to Vox — but even she found plenty of surprises.

 


1.  This is Water, and it sucks. Let’s talk.

Scared GoldfishWhen I first started talking about doing a show about the cost of health care… everybody had a story. Including me.

It’s like that famous speech by the writer David Foster Wallace called This is Water. It starts with a joke about two young fish swimming along. An older fish passes by and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?”

He goes, then one young fish turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

Sound familiar? The cost of health care is like water. We’re all surrounded by it. We don’t even see it anymore.

(There’s more at the permanent link to this episode.)


2. All the Marbles: One woman’s epic quest for health insurance

marbles-2614142_640Laura Derrick takes a drug that costs more than $500,000 a year.

So when her family was going to lose their insurance, she made crazy sacrifices… and changed the course of history.

I was so determined,” she told me. “I was not going to go through all of this, for nothing.”

Here’s a permanent link to this episode.


3. How one drug got its $500,000 price tag. (With 99 Percent Invisible)

popcorn-via-99piThe answer involves a suburban housewife, a 1970s TV star, and a Las Vegas maker of popcorn and nacho cheese sauce. Also: Wall Street.

Produced with our friends at 99 Percent Invisible.

Many thanks to Abbey Meyers, Joshua Schein, and Nora Guthrie.

Here’s a permanent link to this story.


4. Why you (and I) will likely pick the wrong health insurance.

sad-dogBecause (as smart economists recently proved) it is super-confusing, and most of us can’t do the math.

But! We found glimmers of hope. So don’t be scared.

Also, we’ve got some resources here guides from some smart, friendly folks — to help you get smarter and avoid some worst-case outcomes.

Find those resources at the permanent link to this episode.


5. Is the future of health care at the Renaissance fair?

RobinHoodFullThe health-care system — especially the financial side — can feel like a Medieval torture device. So maybe it fits that workers from Renaissance fairs have come up with a work-around.

In this episode I meet Robin Hood and a woman who has made more than $2 million in medical bills… disappear.

Also, you’ve started sending us stories as voice memos. And they are awesome.

(There’s more at the permanent link to this episode)


6. Why health insurance actually sucks

Pissed Off Sick Boy
Credit: Liza (via Flickr/CC 2.0 License)

Turns out, insurance companies allow — even encourage — crazy price-gouging by hospitals. For example, the leg brace Blake needed was available for $150 on Amazon. But thanks to his insurance, he paid more than $500.

Investigative reporter Jenny Gold’s work helps us understand how that kind of thing happens. She compares health care to shopping for a gallon of milk.

“We can look at the cost of a gallon of milk at lots of different stores and decide which one is the best,” she says.At the store, there’s maybe there’s a couple different brands, with the prices on the shelf. We pick the one we want, pay on the way out.

“Now with healthcare,” she says, “the analogy would be, you go to the store for a gallon of milk. You have no idea what it costs. You don’t know what it costs at that store compared to other stores. You walk into a random store, pick out a gallon of milk, go through check-out. You still don’t know what it costs. You give them your credit card information and then a few weeks later you get a bill telling you how much they charged you.”

Super-crazy. Jenny’s reporting shows how insurance companies help to keep those prices hidden, and keep them high.

(More at the permanent link to this episode.)


Our Trailer!

The spiraling cost of medical care shapes people’s lives: The jobs we’re afraid to leave because of insurance, the risk that a trip to the doc could end in bankruptcy. It’s not healthy.

This is my story too, and that’s why I’m making this podcast. Here’s what I’ve got in mind.

An Arm and a Leg will be entertaining, empowering— even useful. As a reporter, I’ll bring my skill at finding and telling revealing, surprising stories. But the project’s big focus— since I’m in this mess too—is connecting and problem-solving, together. (One segment I’m excited to try out: Car Talk for Health Care.)

You are not alone. We may be screwed, but we’re together. And if we want to get even a little bit less-screwed, we need each other. If nothing else, we can be good company to each other. (more…)