Helping make the health care system work for you

Doctor calls for action on 'crazy' health costs

Would a doctor dressing neatly affect your rating?

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Should doctors play a role in the push for greater transparency in health costs?

As it turns out, even doctors are shocked by the wide variation in charged prices for certain medical procedures.

Dr. Stephen Rakower was the chairman of several surgery departments in Orange County before he retired in 2010. In his career, he told me, he ordered several thousand ultrasounds and CAT scans.

But it wasn't until recently, when a relative needed a radiology procedure, that he learned there exists a wild variation in charges for many common procedures, like mammograms and back MRIs. And, he learned, patients typically don't know how much of the bill they'll be responsible for until long afterward.

He reached out to our ongoing #PriceCheck project to say that he – and most likely other doctors, too – has no idea how widespread and deeply ingrained this phenomenon is.

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More California parents opting out of vaccinating their kids

A student gets vaccinated against pertussis at a Los Angeles middle school in 2012. The state required that students be immunized to halt an epidemic of whooping cough.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California parents are opting out of vaccinating their children at twice the rate they did seven years ago, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.

Are the rates of vaccine exemptions increasing at schools in your community? Or have school officials succeeded in lowering the rates of personal belief exemptions? We want to hear about the situation at your local school.

Losing herd immunity

More and more parents are choosing to opt out of vaccinating their children, due to personal beliefs, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Reporters Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter analyzed immunization data over seven years and found:

  • California parents are opting out of vaccinating their kids at twice the rate they did seven years ago. The growth in these "personal belief exemptions," which are legal, was particularly prevalent at private schools, the Times reports.
  • Health experts say a school loses "herd immunity" (protection of most members of a community as a result of high vaccination levels) when 8 percent or more of the students are unvaccinated, according to the Times. The paper reports that nearly one in four private kindergartens reported at least 8 percent of their students were exempt from at least one vaccine last fall, due to personal beliefs, the Times reports.
  • In Los Angeles County, the increase in personal belief exemptions is most pronounced in wealthy coastal and mountain communities. The more than 150 schools with exemption rates of 8 percent of higher  for at least one vaccine were in census tracts with average incomes of $94,500, the Times reports.

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How much should a vasectomy cost?

Filling out the forms is part of the ritual of going to the doctor. But with the Affordable Care Act, it's more complicated.

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Vasectomies have traditionally been covered by insurance. But they're not included under the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In this great episode of the WNYC podcast Death, Sex and Money, blogger and stay-at-home dad Clint Greagen describes how he made the decision to get a vasectomy.

Greagen tells host Anna Sale that his wife brought up the idea of a vasectomy when she was pregnant with their fourth – and final – son. He agreed to do it, but:

"It was probably about two years after we first brought it up before I actually got into gear and got the job done."

His decision

He explains why he hesitated:

"…the two biggest things I worried about was all the inspections that had to go on with my genitals in front of other people, and the second thing was actually having my genitals pierced by sharp objects."

Another reason, he tells Sale, was the knowledge that he wouldn't be able to father any more kids:

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Does 'futile' care needlessly clog the ICU?

Hospitals need to cut patient load

Tim Samoff/Flickr Creative Commons

Over a three month period, 11 percent of ICU patients received futile care, according to a new journal article.

If a patient in the intensive care unit is receiving futile care, can that hurt another patient’s chances of getting needed treatment? In the journal Critical Care Medicine, researchers from UCLA and RAND Health conclude: Yes.

"Virtually no one worries that health resources that get used in one area, might be affecting the treatment that others receive, and this is a sort of fact check," Dr. Neil Wenger, a professor at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and one of the article's authors, tells Impatient.

"The reality of the situation is that for treatments that many people really need and most people want, there can be limitations," he continues. "One of the limitations is when the treatments are used ineffectively."

Futile care

Before we dive into this debate, let's back up. What's futile care, anyway?

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Next up for #PriceCheck: IUDs (and vasectomies!)

IUD

+mara/Flickr Creative Commons

Next up in our #PriceCheck project, we're crowdsourcing the cost of something a little more private: IUDs and vasectomies.

Next up in our #PriceCheck project, we're crowdsourcing the cost of something a little more… private: Intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

This small, T-shaped device is inserted into a woman's uterus to prevent pregnancy, and can last there for seven years to more than a decade. (Men, feel free to submit your costs for an even longer-lasting form of birth control: Vasectomies.)

Why IUDs?

Sheri Bonner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, tells me this form of birth control is becoming more popular.

About 5 percent of her patients get IUDs. That lines up with figures in a recent Guttmacher Institute report, which found that about 5.6 percent of contraception users chose IUDs in 2010.

The IUD got a bad reputation in past decades due to concerns about pelvic inflammatory disease. But, Bonner says, the devices on the market now - the copper ParaGard and the hormonal Mirena – "are light years away from that and extremely safe."

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