Helping make the health care system work for you

To boost vaccination rates, the flu shot needs a PR makeover

Student Nursing

Greg Black/Flickr Creative Commons

Each fall, as pumpkin-flavored items start hitting store shelves, doctors implore people to get a flu shot.

This has been a major public health push since 2010, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices updated its flu vaccination recommendation to recommend that everyone 6 months and older should get the shot each year.

(Previously, the agency recommended the shot for a more limited group, including health care workers, pregnant women, people over 50, and those coming in contact with kids under 5.)

Since then, CDC data show that flu vaccination rates among adults have slowly ticked up a percentage point or so each year, from 40.5 percent during the 2010-2011 season, the year the universal recommendation took effect, to 43.6 percent in the 2014-2015 season.


California unveils web tool to help consumers shop for health care

Health Care Costs

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

This summer, KPCC asked our audience members to share their childbirth costs with us. The effort was part of a project – called #PriceCheck – where we crowdsource the costs of certain medical procedures.

#PriceCheck has allowed us to see the wide variation in charges by hospitals and clinics, as well as in how much insurance covers. We hope that, by bringing transparency to these costs, the database has served as a resource for people who are trying to shop around for medical care.

On Monday, California's Department of Insurance unveiled a similar tool, called California Healthcare Compare. It lets consumers look up the costs of more than 100 medical procedures and conditions in their region. It also cracks a nut that #PriceCheck could not: For certain procedures, like childbirth and colon cancer screening, the website also includes quality information about the hospitals and medical groups providing care.


Take a selfie with your doctor, then ask about costs

Rebecca Plevin/KPCC

Take a selfie with your doctor. Once you've broken the ice, ask the awkward but critical questions about the cost of your care.

"How much is that going to cost me?"

That's the question we've been encouraging people to ask their doctors. It's part of an initiative that we're calling #JustAsk.

We understand that this is an awkward conversation to bring up with your doctor or his staff.

Most of us have little experience with this line of questioning: Traditionally, if people had insurance, they had pretty good insurance. They were more shielded from the costs of care, so they didn't need to ask these questions. But these days, more of us have higher deductibles, so price matters to us.

Doctors, meanwhile, were never taught to consider the cost of care. That's changing, as I recently reported. But given the intricacies of insurance, it's still really hard for doctors to know what a specific procedure will cost a particular patient.


When is it OK to record your doctor's orders?

cell phone audio recording

Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Jonathan Sommers didn't use his cell phone to record the moment when his doctor diagnosed him with testicular cancer in 2012.

He was 28 years old and had so many questions, but was too confused to process anything the doctor had just told him. He remembers going home after that first appointment and feeling overwhelmed.

After that, he recorded virtually every other significant appointment.

He says he would ask his doctor if it was OK to record their conversation that day, especially when it pertained to "new news, or treatment options, or different therapies that we wanted to discuss."

He was also sure to record when he was asking the doctor specific questions.

"That was really the most important part for me was when there were questions that I wanted the answer to," says Sommers, who's now 32 and cured of the cancer. "I would record it because a lot of the times, when you hear the answer, you need to let it marinate in your brain for a bit."


Bill watch: 2 bills aim to limit out-of-pocket costs

Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Bills

kenteegardin via Flickr Creative Commons

Feel free to use this image, just link to www.SeniorLiving.Org

There are a lot of reasons that people get hit with daunting medical bills. But here are two I hear frequently:

  • #SurpriseBills: People are being charged the out-of-network rate to see doctors they thought were in their insurance network.
  • People who are covered under a family plan have to reach a family deductible – instead of an individual deductible – before their insurance coverage kicks in.

Two bills moving through Sacramento are trying to address both of these situations. The bills passed the Assembly and are awaiting votes on the Senate floor. If they pass the Senate, they'll return to the Assembly for final votes on any amendments. All of this must occur before Sept. 11.

Consumer advocates say these bills are urgently needed. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, says they will protect people from unexpected out-of-pocket costs, which have the ability to destabilize a family's finances.