Helping make the health care system work for you

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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California state lawmakers are concerned about health costs

Chris Potter via Flickr Creative Commons

Last spring, KPCC – in collaboration with KQED and ClearHealthCosts.com – started a conversation about health costs in California.

We knew a growing number of people wanted to shop around for affordable mammograms, MRI's and other procedures. But it was nearly impossible to discover the costs. As part of our project, called #PriceCheck, we invited you to share what you paid for certain procedures. In the process, we began building a database of health costs.

Yesterday, the California State Senate Committee on Health picked up that conversation.

During a hearing in the state Capitol, doctors, researchers and consumers told the lawmakers that despite the federal health care law, health costs are still a barrier to care.

Deductibles as deterrents 

More Californians now have high-deductible health plans, Health Access Executive Director Anthony Wright told the legislators. The unintended consequence of this, he said, is people are reducing both unnecessary - and necessary - health care, because they can't shoulder a large share of their bill.

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

taxes 1040 tax time tax return filing

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

About two weeks ago, we received a note from a man who was fed up with fighting for his health insurance.

"Elliot" — he asked that we not use his real name for privacy reasons — had been uninsured for several years before the Affordable Care Act was enacted. He couldn't find an affordable plan because of a pre-existing condition (high blood pressure). So, he says, he was thrilled to be able to buy insurance through Covered California, and was satisfied with the private plan he purchased for 2014.

But when Elliot tried to renew his coverage for this year, he hit a roadblock: He received a letter from Covered California, stating that his income level disqualified him for a plan on the exchange. It said he should contact Medi-Cal instead.

Elliot wrote to us:

"What was especially odd about this confusing letter was that my income (which, granted, had been near, though not below, the [$16,105 for an individual] threshold for Covered CA) had actually increased since 2014. That being the case, how could I be deemed eligible for Covered CA in 2014 and then ineligible in 2015?"

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Friday Favorites: High deductibles, iPhone medical research, and is pregnancy a 'life event?'

Tax Credits via Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, I asked you all to share your experiences with high-deductible health plans. Thanks to those of you who have answered my call!

Among those who responded was Ellen Augustiniak of Irvine. She was on one of these plans when she became very sick. Her doctor recommended a slew of diagnostic tests, but she balked. She didn't want to undergo any unnecessary tests, since she would have to pay for them out-of-pocket.

But in retrospect, "all the weird tests that he wanted to do might have caught my particular tumor more quickly," Augustiniak tells Impatient.

Here's another reader's story about high-deductible plans, plus three more of KPCC's top consumer-focused health stories of the week:

High-deductible plans: Hidden costs, obvious frustrations

Like Augustiniak, Kevin Dick of Palo Alto tells us that he and his family has relied on a high-deductible plan for several years because it's far cheaper than plans with higher premiums.

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High-deductible plans: Hidden costs, obvious frustrations

Mercer 9893

iStockphoto.com

Last week, I asked our awesome KPCC audience to share its experiences with high-deductible health plans.

Ellen Augustiniak, of Irvine, and Kevin Dick, of Palo Alto, are among those who responded to my call. Both Augustiniak and Dick chose high-deductible plans because they were far cheaper than plans with higher premiums.

(By the way, if this insurance jargon is making your head spin, check out KPCC’s glossary of insurance terms.)

Both Augustiniak and Dick say that being on the hook for a greater share of their health costs has spurred them to seek fewer medical services, and be more price-conscious when they do need care. And both agree that the experience of trying to shop for affordable health care is maddening.

That's where their experiences diverge.

Kevin's story: Costs are hidden

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