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



The strategy of helping people moderate their drinking is gaining traction.
The strategy of helping people moderate their drinking is gaining traction.
Kirti Poddar via Flickr Creative Commons

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."

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

Taxes are not negotiable. But consumers do have some choice in how much they pay for certain medical procedures.

It's possible - but at times challenging - to shop for affordable medical care. I report that a survey released last week by the nonprofit organization Public Agenda says 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.

Do you comparison-shop for health care? What's your strategy, and how well has it worked for you? Would you like to, or have you tried and been stymied? E-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.

Drinking: A new approach to reducing alcohol dependence

Does all of this talk about taxes and health insurance – especially on a Friday - make you crave a drink or three?

Allison Aubrey reports for NPR that people who aren't dependent on alcohol but are in the habit of drinking more than one or two drinks a day may be able to cut back on their consumption without stopping altogether.

The strategy of helping people moderate their drinking is gaining traction, she reports. But there are some challenges: For example, there's no way to know which heavy drinkers can learn to control their drinking, rather than having to completely abstain.

One benefit of this approach, Aubrey writes, is: "[I]f moderation doesn't work? It may be a step on the path to abstinence."

State launches tough ads against e-cigarettes

Public health agencies and researchers may be on board with alcohol moderation. But officials with the California Department of Public Health are signaling zero tolerance for how e-cigarettes are being marketed, especially to young people.

KPCC's Adrian Florido reports the state health department has released a pair of television ads accusing the e-cigarette industry of misleading the public about the devices' safety.

He says the ad blitz follows the state agency's January declaration that e-cigarettes are a health threat. "It said they emit cancer-causing chemicals and warned that unless tightly regulated, the devices could lead to new generations of young people getting addicted to nicotine," Florido writes.

Which health stories are you reading and talking about this week? E-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org or ping me on Twitter at @rebeccaplevin.