A show about the cost of health care that’s more entertaining, empowering, and occasionally useful than enraging, and terrifying and depressing. Reporter Dan Weissmann digs in to show how we got into this crazy mess and how we just might live through it.
This bonus episode turns the tables: Ace reporter Sally Herships interviews Arm and a Leg host Dan Weissmann, about what he's learned so far, and what's ahead for the show. \They dig into the stories listeners are sharing -- the lessons people say they’re learning, and the lessons they’re sharing.
And Dan previews the celebrations in store as the show hits a landmark: 500 Patreon supporters! If you haven't signed up already, there's still time to join us -- sign up by March 1 -- and earn some special rewards. https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, an investigative reporter with a bad back, 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. Whenever someone I know says their back is killing them, I send them a link to Ramin's 2017 book, Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry. In this episode, we hit the highlights of Ramin's findings. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
How one family's tragedy became, decades later, a $1 million gift to their neighbors. This story has everything: Laughter. Tears. Family. Community. Generosity. Softball. AND: Punk rock. John Oliver. A taco bar. For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
They say the problem with relying on journalists to embarrass providers into caving on crazy bills is, there aren’t enough journalists to go around. Fair. But sometimes journalists can scale up.
In Memphis, reporter Wendi Thomas found that the city’s biggest hospital routinely sued its patients over unpaid bills, despite making tidy profits.
The hospital even sued its own badly-paid employees — a fact Thomas said was immediately visible just by visiting the court house. “You saw them, there, in their scrubs,” she said. “I could see their [hospital] badge clipped to the front of their uniforms.”
The injustices were stark. “The defendants are just outmatched,” Thomas said. “They don't have the resources of a billion dollar hospital with its own collection agency and attorneys.”
Thomas did such a good job making a stink about it that after a couple of months, the hospital dropped more than 6,500 lawsuits, and erased the debts.
“Shame is a powerful motivator,” said Thomas. “It just is. And the hospital didn't look good, so they had to address it.” For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
A woman got a bill from a medical testing lab she’s never heard of, for $35. Then, a follow-up bill said if she didn’t pay up right away, that price was going up — WAY up: to $1,287.
Which raises a question that comes up a LOT with medical billing: Can they freaking DO that?!?
Can some random lab hit you up for money — and then threaten you with a late fee of more than $1,000??
On this episode, we go find out.
This was fun. We'll do it again. Next time you want to know, Can They Freaking DO That?!? ... get in touch.
Also: We get into a whole story in this episode about "surprise billing" — and as we were publishing this episode, news was breaking. We've got an update at https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
Sarah Macsalka has seen the stories about how expensive an emergency room visit can be, even for a minor complaint.
So when her seven year-old son Cameron gashed his knee on a weekend morning in June, the ER was NOT where her family headed first.
In fact, Macsalka did just about everything she could to avoid paying a big, fat bill to get Cameron’s knee stitched up — and ultimately failed.
For instance, she took Cameron first to a local urgent-care clinic, but was told they didn't have anesthetic. So it was off to the ER.
Before signing anything, Sarah asked what it might cost and pressed hard — but got only squishy answers.
She ended up liable for $3,000 in charges. If only she had known.
“I would've said thank you very much. And walked out and gone back to our lovely urgent care and been like, 'Cameron, bite on this stick.'”
Her adventures make an entertaining parable, and they raise a big question: In a health care system where consumers are told to "shop" for the best deal, why is it so hard for us to get the information we need?
On this episode, we get some answers, thanks to a super-insider and straight shooter: Lisa Bielamowicz, a doctor who now runs Gist Healthcare, a consultancy firm where hospitals are the clients, gives us the dirt.
We'd love it if you support this show on Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
It would sound a LOT like Explanation of Benefits, which is a musical revue that actually played in New York City in 2019.
... so it would feature a parody of "Bills, Bills, Bills" — the 1999 Destiny's Child hit —rewritten for the age of GoFundMe.
And it would have smart, funny musical numbers tracing the long, sad history of the U.S. health care industry.
Welcome to our musical episode! And thank you to the young NYC troupe Heck No Techno for creating Explanation of Benefits.
Our episode isn't sung all the way through — it's more like the PBS documentary on Hamilton than an actual musical of its own. But that is still. Pretty. Darn. Cool.
AND: In keeping with our theme this season of self-defense against the cost of health care, Explanation of Benefits wraps with a set of short vignettes demonstrating ways patients can work to protect themselves from excessive charges.
So we have included here an email-by-email breakdown of songwriter Emily Lowinger's successful battle to fight off a surprise medical bill.
... and we've set it off with music — timing and cues lovingly adjusted by our audio wizard, Adam — and it is a TREAT.
Go enjoy. Have a great Thanksgiving!
... and speaking of thanks: I recently spent a weekend afternoon sending thank-you cards to folks who support this show on Patreon. I'd love it if you became one: https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
Meredith Balogh has spent years learning to navigate the financial side of the health-care system. She’s a type-one diabetic, she’s never had a lot of money, and for years she didn’t have health insurance.
It hasn’t been easy, but she’s become a master.
“There's only three things that you're fighting,” she says. “Problems with competence, problems with greed and problems with maliciousness. And luckily most things are incompetence.”
She has saved herself and her family many thousands of dollars, and made a habit — even a hobby — out of helping others: Fellow diabetics, co-workers, and strangers on the Internet.
She's a health-care ninja. And she happens to be my neighbor.
Also in this episode: Our show's chief investor (and my spouse) applies some ninja-level negotiating skills to save our family more than $700 on a lost medical device. Around here, that's what we call romantic.
Thanks to our supporters on Patreon! We'd love it if you became one: https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
Stephanie Wittels Wachs has a daughter born hearing impaired, which is how she found out insurance didn't cover hearing aids for kids. Those start at $6,000 and only last a few years. Stephanie teamed up with a few other moms to change Texas law... and won.
Stephanie is a terrific storyteller. She's the author of Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful, a memoir about grieving her brother, Harris Wittels, a writer for TV comedies like Parks and Recreation, who died of a heroin overdose.
... and she is the host of the new podcast Last Day, which uses her brother's story as a starting point for a deep and smart and very-human look at the opioid crisis. Highly recommend: https://www.lemonadamedia.com/show/last-day
P.S. This podcast, An Arm and a Leg, is a finalist for a very-strange, very-approriate award: Best True Crime show of 2019. Because not all crimes are against the law. Let 'em know: Go vote for us right now — voting closes November 18: https://awards.discoverpods.com/finalists/
Also: We'd love it if you support this show on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/armandalegshow
Thanks! For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
It’s going to be REALLY fun. Wanna share this video? Here it is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo. … and here’s an audio version of the trailer https://radiopublic.com/an-arm-and-a-leg-8X4EDj/s1!b9f73
It’s going to be REALLY fun. Also, maybe useful. Catch you here soon! Also, here’s a little video preview. Wanna share it with folks? Be our guest! Here it is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo.
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. He’s not a modest guy, and two of his brags stand out — as a study in contrasts. One is a quote from … Continue reading "A place where they do health care more cheaply and effectively. (And yes, it’s in the U.S.)"
Researcher Saul Weiner 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. He’s tallied up what doctors miss (a lot), and how much it costs (ditto). In today’s episode, we hear what actually happened … Continue reading "An actor walks into a doctor’s office…"
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. He got mad. And he got even, in a way: Eric is an editor at the non-profit newsroom ProPublica, and he tipped a colleague —Marshall Allen, who covers health … Continue reading "Whoa, this medical device is spying on me. In my sleep. So my insurer can deny me coverage."
The price of insulin is iconic — doubling, tripling, multiplying like crazy, for medicine Type 1 diabetics can’t live without. To understand it, we went back almost 100 years and dug up a story of sweaty Canadian researchers — swatting away flies and doing business with probable dog-nappers, on the way to a Nobel Prize… … Continue reading "The insane, surprising history behind insulin’s crazy price (and some hopeful signs in the wild)"
As we started working on season two of this podcast, there was one topic that seemed like we just had to look at: insulin. … and I wondered: There are stories about insulin prices everywhere. Would we really have something to add? Something that wasn’t just more of the same? (Enraging, terrifying, depressing.) Turns out: … Continue reading "Coming next week: The price of insulin"
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. Luckily, I got help. Both from some experts, and from the classic Christmas movie It’s … Continue reading "Why are drug prices so random? Meet Mr. PBM"
This week, we look at three MRIs with four different price tags, and an enormous range. The first two price tags come from listener Liz Salmi, who has been living with brain cancer for more than a decade. Liz gets MRI scans twice a year, to make sure the cancer isn’t growing. A … Continue reading "How much for an MRI? Well, that depends…"
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. We start … Continue reading "To get paid, hospitals get creative"
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. As it turned out, they’d made a couple of small mistakes, which they were eager to fix. But their insurer was definitely not interested. Caitlin … Continue reading "We thought we had adulted properly"
Bari Tessler is a little famous as 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. This is our Season One finale. Maybe you’d like to subscribe to our newsletter, so we can keep you posted as we prepare … Continue reading "Is it ever appropriate to fudge a little? (Season One, episode 8)"
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 … Continue reading "Why are ER bills so crazy? With Sarah Kliff of Vox.com. (Season One, episode 7)"
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 … Continue reading "Why Health Insurance Actually Sucks (Season One, episode 6)"
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. 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 … Continue reading "So, Robin Hood’s got an approach to medical bills. (Season One, episode 5)"
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. We’d like to hear how you’re choosing your health insurance for 2019 — or are you going to do without? — and what you’ve learned from past mistakes. … Continue reading "Why you (and I) will likely pick the wrong health-insurance plan (Season One, episode 4)"
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. Many thanks to Abbey Meyers, Joshua Schein, and Nora Guthrie. Find Us Online Website: http://armandalegshow.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/armandalegshow Instagram: http://instagram.com/armandalegshow Facebook: http://facebook.com/armandalegshow About Us … Continue reading "3. How one drug got its $500,000 price tag. (With 99 Percent Invisible– Season One, episode 3)"
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. Find Us Online Website: http://armandalegshow.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/armandalegshow Instagram: http://instagram.com/armandalegshow Facebook: http://facebook.com/armandalegshow About Us Host: Dan Weissman (www.danweissmann.com) Editor: Whitney Henry-Lester (thedarlingkiller.com) Consulting Producer: Daisy Rosario (@RunDMR) Social … Continue reading "All the Marbles: One woman’s epic quest for health insurance (Season One, episode 2)"
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 … Continue reading "This is Water, and it sucks. Let’s talk. (Season One, episode 1)"
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. Many thanks to Abbey Meyers, Joshua Schein, and Nora Guthrie. Find Us Online Website: https://armandalegshow.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/armandalegshow Instagram: http://instagram.com/armandalegshow Facebook: http://facebook.com/armandalegshow About Us … Continue reading "How one drug got its $500,000 price tag (with 99 Percent Invisible)"
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 … Continue reading "A podcast about the cost of health care, coming November 2018"