Why Health Insurance Actually Sucks (Season One, episode 6)

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.

Jenny Gold works for Kaiser Health News — which, we should explain, is not part of Kaiser Permanente health care. It’s part of an independent foundation that basically runs on an endowment set up by Mr. Kaiser, more than 50 years ago.

RESOURCE ALERT:  Jenny’s boss, former New York Times reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, published an amazing book in 2017: An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.  I have been studying it like a bible and a playbook since I started working on this show.  

If you want to really get mad — and learn a ton about how health care got so crazy in the U.S. — this is the book to read.

An audio version of Jenny’s story ran on the public-radio show Marketplace. Thanks to Kaiser Health News, and to Marketplace for the story and for the tape of Sarah Azad and Ken Weber.

Photo, above: by Liza, via Flickr. CC 2.0 license.

Thanks again to the great Mucca Pazza for the use of their tune War of Amusements at the close of this episode.

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