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It’s full of good stuff.

Every issue is good, but here’s my favorite one ever, from January 2, 2020:

A mom on TikTok is my new she-ro. Also, new episode: Watching your back

Happy New Year from the World Headquarters!

couple of folks on Twitter tipped me to my favorite story of the season so far:  A mom  dishing out amazing tips on self-defense against medical debt and excessive bills , on the social-media platform TikTok!

Here’s the story:  Shaunna Burns is a prolific and super-charming TikTok’er, whose videos include down-to earth and detailed advice on how to clean your bathroom, and moving stories from her youth in a group home.

She also worked as a debt collector for several years. And her daughter has had some complicated medical adventures, owing to a traumatic ordeal.

When Burns started getting irritating calls from debt collectors ,  for money she didn’t actually owe , she was well-armed, and decided to start sharing what she knows.

The results went viral.

They’re SUPER worth watching , but not at work, or with kids. F-bombs abound. Here’s a quick rundown, with links to the original 60-second videos:

1. At the hospitalprevent some excess charges at the outset.  Tell everyone:  “I don’t want you to run any tests or procedures without running it by me , and I want an itemized bill while I’m here.”

2. When you get a bill: Call and say, “I want a review of the level of care.” This could result in a reduced charge and will buy you time before having to pay.

3. Also tell the billing department immediately: “I want an itemized bill with every single charge.” She says some charges will disappear in the process. “They don’t want you to know that they’re charging you $37 for a f***cking band-aid,” she says. So “they’re going to take that charge right off of there.”

4. If you have insurance, call the company and get their help. Tell them, “I want to request an advocate.” Burns says the insurance company may be able to negotiate a deal to lower the bill.

5. If you hear from debt collectors, demand an itemized bill AND an invoice with your signature: If they can’t provide it, she says, the debt isn’t valid.

6. More tips on debt collectors:

  • You’re not obligated to provide them with information. (“If they don’t already know your address, that’s a clue this isn’t a valid debt.”)
  • If you do owe the money, BE NICE. Take their calls. Be friendly, even if you can’t pay. Eventually, if you can offer them a small settlement, they may take it, just to close the case.
  • Also, don’t try to be a scammer. Burns says she’s just offering self-defense tactics against shady operators.

Finally, here’s Burns responding to testimony from a fellow TikTok’er, who says she used these tips in court, and won!

Oh, also: We’ve got a new episode!  Watching your back , outwitting the “back-pain industry.”

Whenever someone I know says their back is killing them, I send them a link to the book Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin.

An investigative reporter with a bad back, Ramin was on the cusp of booking herself for surgery , but instead spent years researching the $100-billion back-pain industry. She found that the most commonly-prescribed treatments, including surgery, frequently do not work , and often leave people a lot worse off.

She also learned what does work.

Journalist Cathryn Jakobson Ramin says, of her six-year investigation of the back-pain industry: "As the story evolved, the journalist in me relished each appalling revelation. As a patient, however, I felt as if I'd narrowly avoided stepping off a curb in front of a bus."

It’s a wild story, and it’s a great way to cap our season on self-defense against the cost of health care.

Check it out , on our site, or in your favorite podcast app , and let me know what you think!

We’ll be back later in January with a conversation wrapping up the season, summing up what we’ve learned, and previewing what’s ahead in 2020.

Happy, healthy New Years wishes!

We’ve got a TON ahead in 2020 , I’ve got a list of big story ideas, and I’ve started to sketch out a live show I’d like to do. You’ve been making that possible by supporting the show on Patreon, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thank you!  Catch you later in January with our wrap-up episode.

Till then: Take care of yourself.

– Dan