Helping make the health care system work for you

Shopping for health care: Patient advocates say do your homework, then haggle

Thomas Hawk via Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, I shared some tips on how to get affordable health care from David Newman, executive director of the Health Care Costs Institute in Washington, D.C.

As promised, I'm back with more tips. This batch comes from patient advocates – people who fight high costs and unfair bills for a living.

(In case you missed it: Check out this piece from the Los Angeles Times about consumers' increasing reliance on such advocates to help them navigate the health care and insurance systems.)

I found advocates Claire Freeman, Martine Brousse and Lisa Berry Blackstock on the consumer finance website NerdWallet.com.

Understand your plan

First things first: Patient advocate Claire Freeman, of Chino Hills, preaches the importance of understanding the fine points of your health insurance plan.

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Health Highlights: Skip physicals, beware breast milk, ban vaccine exemptions?

Jorge Elías via Flickr Creative Commons

This week's Health Highlights help you navigate the health care system, passes on important milk news, and updates the hot bills moving through Sacramento.

Read on for KPCC's top consumer health-related stories of the week.

Breast milk sold online contaminated with cow's milk

Two stories this week urge consumers to beware the beverages they're buying.

Scientists analyzed samples of breast milk ordered online and found about 10 percent of them were "topped off" with cow's milk, reports NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff. In fact, the tainted breast milk contained at least 10 percent cow milk, according to an article in Pediatrics.

"It really is, 'Buyer beware,' " says public health researcher Sarah Keim, who led the current study. "When you are purchasing milk from a source you're not familiar with, you can't tell by looking at it if it's safe. It's really a risky activity that we don't recommend."

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Shopping for health care: Have an 'awkward conversation' with your doctor

According to a recent report from the nonprofit organization Public Agenda, an estimated 56 percent of Americans have tried to find out how much a medical procedure would cost them – or their insurer - before getting care.

That number caught my attention, since conventional wisdom says Americans don't shop around for health care. It also raised a question for me: What about the other 44 percent? Why haven't they tried shopping for medical care?

Public Agenda's study provides one explanation: 50 percent of the people who have never checked a price are unsure how to do so.

That finding would probably not surprise David Newman, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Health Care Costs Institute. His group recently launched a website - called guroo.com - that allows people to compare cost information for common health conditions and services.

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Physician-assisted suicide: How and when to die should have been mother's decision, daughter says

Courtesy of Amber Phillips

Amber Phillips, right, says she wanted her mother, Connie, to continue treatment for breast cancer.

Tuesday afternoon the state Senate Judiciary Committee takes up SB 128, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. As part of KPCC's ongoing coverage of this issue, Impatient is featuring people's stories about how they or a loved one dealt with an end-of-life situation. 

Last week, I shared the story of Teressa Syta, who was glad her mother didn't have the option of ending her life when she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. This week, I bring you the perspective of another daughter: Amber Phillips of Pasadena wishes she'd conceded sooner to her mother's requests to stop treatment for breast cancer.

'A fighter'

Amber Phillips says her mother, Connie Phillips, battled breast cancer for 20 years. She shared her story through the Public Insight Network; I followed up with a phone call.

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Health Highlights: A tax surprise, debating the 'right to die,' treadmill desks

Californians totally understand their health insurance plans!

That might be a belated April Fool's joke, because it's far from the truth. And far from funny.

In this week's Health Highlights, I bring you two stories about the challenges of navigating the intricacies of health insurance, plus two more of KPCC's best consumer-focused health stories of the week.

Some Californians have to pay back Obamacare subsidies

My colleague Stephanie O’Neill explains that those who signed up for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are experiencing for the first time the tax consequences of the federal law.

Some are surprised to learn that they have to refund the government several hundred to several thousand dollars when they file their taxes.

"I think a lot of people are confused about many aspects of Obamacare but in particular about the subsidies," Larry Levitt, senior vice president and health policy expert for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told O’Neill.

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