When 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?”
The new season launches June 4! I’m so excited to share the trailer with you.
This season is full of stories from listeners — and every single one of them opens up vital, maddening questions about the cost of health care… which I get to run down.
In fact, we spend about half the season starting to wrap our minds around what may be the biggest question of all: HOW THE HECK DID PRICES GET SO HIGH?
We’ll look at three examples: an MRI, a routine prescription drug, and insulin, which was discovered almost 100 years ago and still keeps getting more expensive. (We go back to the very beginning for that one. The origin story is wild, and super-revealing.)
And… I have been looking forward to making this introduction for a while: Please meet our partner for Season Two: Kaiser Health News.
Three things to know about them:
First, what they’re not: Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with the giant health care provider Kaiser Permanente. They share an ancestor — which is a fun story I’ll get to in a little bit.
Second, what they are: A GREAT non-profit newsroom covering health care in America, an editorially independent project of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (There’s that name again. Hang in there, the story’s coming.)
Third: Their editor-in-chief is one of the people who inspired this show.
The morning before we posted that episode, I wrote Elisabeth Rosenthal a note that said, essentially: Hi there. Big fan. Interviewed one of your reporters, posting the episode tonight, hope you like it, would love to talk sometime.
She wrote back, a few hours later, with a note that started: Hi Dan, Good to hear from you – actually, I was going to reach out to you.
And here we are.
It took us a while to work out the details of how we’d work together. Here’s what we decided:
Kaiser Health News is our co-producer for the season, which means they’re providing some financial support — not our whole budget, by a long shot, but a big help — and editorial support too. So far, that’s meant:
KHN’s national editor for broadcast, Diane Webber, has been consulting on edits. She’s amazing. Also, super-nice.
A Kaiser Health News reporter is following up on one of this season’s stories, digging deeper into some things we found out.
Elisabeth Rosenthal herself shows up in Episode 3, to explain some really puzzling stuff.
And we’re just at the beginning.
Meanwhile, An Arm and a Leg remains very much an editorially independent project: Whitney Henry-Lester is still the show’s editor, and she and our consulting managing producer Daisy Rosario are still the show’s guiding voices — and they hold the final word.
It’s just that we’ve got some incredibly awesome new friends and allies.
So, you may be asking:
Where did Kaiser Health News come from, and why are they so great?
Glad you asked! Please strap in.
Henry J. Kaiser was what you might call an “industrialist.”
He built a lot of U.S. cargo ships for World War II, and he helped build the Hoover Dam. He got into smelting aluminum, making steel, all kinds of stuff. (He also started a health-care program for his shipyard workers that became Kaiser Permanente, so that’s that deal.)
Along the way, Henry Kaiser started a family foundation, and when he died in the 1960s, he left the foundation half his money. It gave away money like a regular foundation until 1990, when Drew Altman became their CEO.
At that point, the Kaiser Family Foundation — also known as KFF — turned itself into a different kind of organization: It stopped giving money away, and instead hired a bunch of health policy experts, and had them do their thing. The idea was to become a place where reporters and policy-makers could get solid, non-ideological information about the U.S. health care system.
(As a reporter in earlier jobs, I’d called them as sources. Editors and colleagues said they were solid, and the information definitely seemed super-straight-up. But nobody’d ever told me this story, and I always wondered: Honestly, what’s the deal? When they invited me to work together, I made sure to find out. OK, back to the story…)
By 2009, the Foundation noticed: It wasn’t getting as many calls from reporters — because newsrooms were shrinking, and journalists were getting laid off.
So Altman created Kaiser Health News — an editorially-independent program within KFF — that aims to fill that gap: a newsroom putting out the kinds of stories that commercial newsrooms just … weren’t doing as much, or as well, as they used to.
They hired a bunch of amazing reporters and editors — the word “award” appears dozens of times on the staff-bios page — and had them start putting out stories.
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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.