Helping make the health care system work for you

Health Highlights: Taxes, medical shopping, drinking less and a vaping fight

Kirti Poddar via Flickr Creative Commons

The strategy of helping people moderate their drinking is gaining traction.

You're definitely going to need affordable health insurance if you're indulging in these vices. Get all of the details in our best consumer-focused health stories of the week.

Affordable Care Act makes this tax season painful for many

The deadline to file 2014 taxes is right around the corner. Will you owe money because of the federal health care law?

Michelle Andrews of Kaiser Health News writes that 52 percent of people who enrolled in subsidized health insurance plans had to repay part of their subsidies (due to jumps in income). H&R Block analyzed the first six weeks of returns filed through the company, and found the average repayment was $530, she reports.

Andrews has this message for taxpayers:

"If your income or family status changes, go back to the insurance marketplace now — and as necessary throughout the year — to make adjustments so you can minimize repayment issues when 2015 taxes are due."

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Widow backs physician-assisted suicide: Wife 'needed that right'

Courtesy of Deborah Reuter-Zsarko

Deborah Reuter-Zsarko, left, says her wife, Michelle Ann Reuter-Zsarko, needed the right to decide when to die. Michelle died March 1, 2015.

Earlier this week, I asked people to share their experiences with end-of-life choices. The post was part of our ongoing coverage of SB 128, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California.

We've received a lot of feedback on the legislation on KPCC's Facebook page. (You can click on "comments" to read the online discussion.)

Facebook post

Many people expressed their support, and described seeing a loved one die, slowly and painfully.

"I support this in memory of my mom, who endured unimaginably terrible terminal suffering from a Glioblastoma," Jennifer Harris writes. "Until you or a family member is there, you don't get it."

A few expressed concerns with the bill. "This is not our decision to say if you're ready to die or not," writes Yvette Galvan. "The only one who says it's your time is the Lord."

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More people are shopping around for health care than you might think

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Keith Ramsey/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

Conventional wisdom says that most people don't shop around for health care. It's generally accepted that if people do shop for care, it's a frustrating experience.

So I was surprised to read a study, released last week by the nonprofit organization Public Agenda, saying that 56 percent of Americans have tried to find out how much they would have to pay out of pocket, or how much their insurer would pay, before getting care.

That finding elicited a similar response from one of the report's authors.

"We were surprised to find that so many people had at least tried to do it," says David Schleifer, senior research associate at Public Agenda. He added, "We know that it's hard for people to find that information."

Public Agenda surveyed 2,010 adults last summer for the report, called "How Much Will it Cost?" The findings paint a picture of who is currently shopping around for health care, and what it will take to convince more people to start comparing health costs.

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'Prepared' and conflicted: Grappling with end of life choices

Health Stock Photo

Rosie O'Beirne/Flickr

File: hands.

In January, state legislators introduced SB 128, a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. If passed, California would become the sixth state in the country to give the terminally ill the option of ending their life.

KPCC's health team is going to be covering this issue closely. Here at Impatient, we want to know whether you support this legislation, and what personal experiences shaped your views on this issue.

Background

Under the bill, patients would be required to have two physicians confirm their prognosis – six months or less to live – and find them mentally competent.

State lawmakers last considered - and rejected - this type of bill in 2007.

Eight years later, the bill remains controversial: KPCC health reporter Elizabeth Aguilera reports that proponents say the terminally ill should have the right to end their life with medication. Opponents, she says, believe the bill doesn't provide enough safeguards to prevent abuses, especially of the elderly or disabled. Some religious groups - particularly the Catholic Church - have also opposed such efforts.

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Friday Favorites: Superbugs, breast biopsies and suicide prevention

A couple of themes emerge from this week's health news:

  • Online media sources can play a big role in people's wellbeing.
  • Medical technology can come with hidden costs.
  • Insurance can be a boondoggle.

Without further ado, I give you KPCC's five (or six!)  best consumer-focused stories of the week...

Impatient helps man mistakenly enrolled in Medi-Cal get his private plan back

File this one under "Power of the Media."

"Elliot" found this KPCC story about people being switched from private health insurance plans to Medi-Cal. He reached out to us to share his own story: He tried to re-enroll in a private health plan through Covered California, with an income level just above the Medi-Cal cut-off. He was directed to the state insurance program for lower-income people instead.

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