Helping make the health care system work for you

Happy 'health care birthday!' It's time to buy insurance

Health Care Birthday

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

KPCC's Rebecca Plevin holds our downloadable, printable birthday card for your friends and family who are turning 26.

Under the Affordable Care Act, young people can now stay on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26. At that point, they must either get insurance through their employer or purchase it through the insurance marketplace.

In April, KPCC's  photojournalist Maya Sugarman reached this milestone, which she dubbed her "health care birthday."

"I was thinking a lot about how every birthday has its own rite of passage," Sugarman explains. "When you turn 18, you buy a lottery ticket; when you turn 21, you go to a bar. And I figured, I'm turning 26 this April, I'm getting new health care."

"I kind of joked with a lot of my friends, 'You guys, now I'm mature, because I'm on my own health care plan! I'm not on my parents' plan anymore," she said. "I felt like it's a sign of maturity."


Health Highlights: Medical bills and lawmakers' bills

Christiaan Triebert via Flickr Creative Commons

This was a big week for bills - both medical bills and health-related bills moving through the state legislature. Learn more in this week's round up of KPCC’s best consumer health-related stories.

'Assisted suicide' or 'aid in dying?' The semantic battle over SB 128

The state Senate passed a bill that would allow doctors in California to prescribe lethal medication to certain terminally ill patients who request it. The vote was 23 to 14, reports Stephanie O’Neill.

As the bill moves into the Assembly, O’Neill explores a rhetorical battle raging behind the scenes over the word "suicide." She writes:

KPCC is among the media outlets that refer to the practice as doctor- or physician-assisted suicide, which generally follows the Associated Press Stylebook. Opponents of SB 128, such as Californians Against Assisted Suicide also use those terms, while Compassion & Choices and the bill's other supporters strongly oppose that language. 


Tales of high deductibles: Delaying care over cost

Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

Diana Ionescu, 28, says her $1,000 deductible prevents her from seeking care for her aching back.

Monique Dow

Kerry Klein

Monique Dow, who lives outside of Watsonville, hesitated to have surgery to remove fibroids and a polyp due to her family's $6,000 deductible. She almost missed discovering that she has a rare cancer.

There are an estimated 31 million Americans with private health insurance who can barely afford to use it. A recent report from the Commonwealth Fund dubs these people as "underinsured," because their deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are so high relative to their incomes.

Twenty-eight-year-old Diana Ionescu of Los Angeles is a typical underinsured. She has two part-time jobs, but she doesn't get health insurance through either one. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, though, she was able to buy a cheap, subsidized plan through Health Net last year.

Ionescu would like to use her insurance, but she generally doesn't. Her plan has a $1,000 deductible, meaning she will have to pay $1,000 in medical bills before her coverage kicks in. So she skips doctor's visits. 

"I do have some back pain that is probably from biking and backpacking and a previous moped accident that I haven't really gotten checked out, and I've been putting it off," Ionescu says, over lunch at L.A.'s Grand Central Market.


It's time to 'Just Ask' about the cost of your care

Defunding strikes most Americans as the wrong prescription for the Affordable Care Act.

Ricardo Reitmeyer/

You get an estimate before you agree to any car repairs. You know what a dish costs before you order it off a menu.

But when it comes to health care, it's extremely difficult to find out in advance what a test or procedure will cost.

Why do we pay for health care differently from virtually every other service or product?

The reasons are many and varied; it all starts with our byzantine insurance-based health economy, in which we pay these mostly for-profit firms to provide us access to medical care. Meanwhile, the insurers are using complex actuarial analysis to set premiums, deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.  Hospitals have their own inscrutable methods for setting how much they will charge for various services and procedures. Then there are the secret haggling sessions between insurers and hospitals. And we've got the government-funded Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) programs.


#PriceCheck: Some under 50 should get a colonoscopy

Mercer 15244

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The colonoscopy is getting its 15 minutes of fame here on Impatient!

As I shared recently, KPCC - with our friends at KQED and - has re-launched PriceCheck. Through this project, we're crowdsourcing the costs of certain medical procedures. Right now, we're focusing on colonoscopies.

'Free' colonoscopies?

Screening colonoscopies are considered preventive care under the Affordable Care Act, and therefore should be fully covered by insurance. But as I explained last week, there are several reasons your colonoscopy might not come free of charge.

One reason: You might be on the hook for part of your colonoscopy if you don't meet the age requirements, according to Dr. Jeffrey Rice, founder and CEO of Healthcare Bluebook. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force generally recommends screening colonoscopies for people age 50 and up.