You’re helping us shape Season 3

You’re helping us shape Season 3: Here’s some of what we’re learning

About 500 of you responded to our listener survey, and you are amazing. I mean, to start with: you are SO NICE.

Here’s a small selection of things you’re saying you get from the show:

  • My sense of hopeful outrage I guess
  • Because of you guys I was able to face a lingering hospital bill. I ended up talking to the billing department and they reduced my bill by 80%!
  • The system is bananas, makes it feel like I’m not the only one.
  • I love that you don’t shy away from the nuts and bolts or geeky stuff!
  • I feel like this could be part of a consumer movement.
  • Your show is very moving. Greetings from Norway.

One thing LOTS of you are saying you like about the show — and want more of: Useful information. (Noted!)

You’re also saying you find the show entertaining, and that you appreciate the combination of real-people stories and big-picture insight. (Thank you! So nice to hear.)

One thing comes through loud and clear: We are all in this together. People listening to this show represent all ages, all incomes, all levels of education.

That includes lots of folks who work in health care, like this ER nurse in Texas: Listening to your show makes me an advocate for change. Whenever I have the opportunity, my patients get your info!

I heard similar things from doctors, physician assistants, hospital administrators, pharmacists, medical students and med-school professors.

And then there’s this:

Keep doing what you’re doing! I’m a kindergarten teacher in a low-income neighborhood, the people who are screwed by this system the hardest are my students and their families. You give me hope that things will get better and my babies will get healthier.

YES. Let’s do this.

Episodes of An Arm and a Leg

Season 1: Fall/winter 2018

Episode 1: This is Water, and it sucks. Let’s talk. The cost of health care is like water. We’re all surrounded by it. We don’t even see it anymore. And why am I making this show?

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

Episode 3: How one drug got its $500,000 price tag. The 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.

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

Episode 5: So, Robin Hood’s got an approach to medical bills The 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.

Episode 6: Why health insurance actually sucks 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.

Episode 7: Why are ER bills so crazy? Emergency rooms often bill you a “cover charge” just for walking in the door, and it can be thousands of dollars.

Episode 8: Is it ever appropriate to fudge a little? Bari Tessler is a financial therapist, but even she gets rattled by the price of health care. Also: What my family is doing for health insurance next year.

Season 2: Summer 2019

Episode 1: We thought we had adulted properly… Caitlin and Corey Gaffer got a surprise letter from their insurance company — saying they were being dumped for non-payment. Except, as far as they knew, they were paid up.

Episode 2: To get paid, hospitals get creative. Hospital bills are too high, and insurance doesn’t cover enough. Turns out, that’s a crisis for hospitals too: more and more of us aren’t paying those bills, because we can’t. So, they’re getting creative about collecting — and offering discounts. Which raises questions about why the bills are so high to begin with.

Episode 3: How much for an MRI? Well, that depends… We look at three MRIs with four different price tags, and an enormous range. Like, from under $1,000 to about $26,000.

Episode 4: Why are drug prices so random? Meet Mr. PBM I filled a prescription recently, and the drugstore said they wanted more than 700 bucks… for an old-line generic drug. My insurance ended up knocking that down, but it was WEIRD. And it meant a big homework assignment for me. Drug pricing and PBMs.

Episode 5: The insane, surprising history behind insulin’s crazy price (and some hopeful signs in the wild) The price of insulin is iconic — doubling, tripling, multiplying like crazy, for medicine Type 1 diabetics can’t live without. Some bizaare history…and a lot of dead dogs.

Episode 6: Whoa, this medical device is spying on me. In my sleep. So my insurer can deny me coverage. That’s the rude awakening Eric Umansky got when he called the company that provided his CPAP machine — a device that helps him breathe at night.

Episode 7: So, an actor walks into a doctor’s office… Researcher Saul Weiner, MD  has been sending fake patients — actors, wired for sound — into real doctors’ offices, to learn about what actually happens, especially:  How well doctors really listen to their patients.

Episode 8: A place where they do health care more cheaply and effectively. (And yes, it’s in the U.S.) For our Season 2 finale, time for some inspiration. For 30 years, James Gingerich has run a super-effective clinic in Indiana, delivering great results at low cost — to high-need, low-income patients.



Season 2 is coming!

This is our latest newsletter.
You can sign up to get these every couple of weeks.

YEP!  That’s right: Season 2 starts in June!  Whitney, Daisy and I agreed on the dates just last Friday. I am having a great time working on this batch of stories-in-progress.

And it’s going a LOT more smoothly than last season, thanks in part to a group of librarians, archivists, and other beautiful nerds who helped me last summer and fall.

They’ve got a project called Preserve This Podcast, which starts with an unnerving (to me) premise: Stuff online does not stick around forever. Not all by itself.

They’re teaching podcasters like me how to archive our own stuff, and they’re doing it… via a podcast.

In the latest episode, Getting Organized, you can hear host Molly Schwartz teaching me how to keep my digital files orderly.

It’s pretty funny. As Molly says — and my mom can confirm —  I am “not the most organized person.”

BUT I LEARNED. Just in time, because this season’s first story involved an EPIC interview. I’m going to show you the folder structure I created for all the audio, because I’m so darn proud. And because I am a nerd.

Meanwhile, listen to the episode. Hearing me bumble my way through this — it’s hilarious.

Meanwhile, in the news…  maybe a little less funny… 

Paying an arm and a leg to lose a foot — and re-learn a big lesson: Picking insurance is awful.

Actually, it’s worse than we knew...

A big theme in Season 2 is the incredible amount of adulting — vigilance, persistence, organization — that this system requires of us.

If you ever feel like that’s too much —

… well, here’s an example of how you’re not alone:

A professor in Philadelphia found out she needed her foot amputated to stop an infection from spreading. But, she thought, at least she had insurance.

Except, it turned out her insurance was junk — a short-term plan with a ton of exclusions —and it wasn’t going to cover the operation. Or anything related to her problem.

Sarah Gantz reported the story for the Philadelphia Inquirer (which has such a strong paywall you may not be able to read anything. With apologies to the Inquirerhere’s a summary published elsewhere.)

Gantz found herself having to defend her source. And she followed up with a new story.

Remember our episode on why most of us will choose the wrong health plan?

Turns out, most of us are even worse at it than we thought. Sarah cites a study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners:

The crazy part to me: These folks in the study spent an hour with the pamphlet. They did the reading. And still.

These were short-term plans — like the one the professor in Philadelphia had — which don’t comply with Affordable Care Act requirements to, you know, cover essential services.

People skipped it.


Instead of ending on that note, I’ll just report how pleased I am to see that somebody else’s household is just excited for Avengers Endgame as ours:

Back in a couple weeks. Till then, take care of yourself.