Helping make the health care system work for you

Health Highlights: A colonoscopy song, sunscreen confusion

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Confused about what all of those health insurance terms mean, which sunscreen to buy, or why your prescription drugs are so expensive?

If there's one takeaway from this week's news, it's this: When you're confused, #JustAsk.

Here at KPCC, we're so committed to this idea that we've written a song about it. More on that below, plus this week's top consumer health news.

#PriceCheck: The high costs (and horrors!) of colonoscopies

As part of our #PriceCheck collaboration, we've been crowdsourcing the cost of colonoscopies and other medical procedures. I recently reached out to several of the people who have generously shared their colonoscopy costs with us so far. (There's still time to share yours!)

While they were grateful that their insurance covered most of their bills, two people told me that they were shocked by the prices charged by the facilities (even though their insurers ultimately negotiated a lower price).


Planned Parenthood releases STD home testing app


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A swab of a gonorrhea strain.

Under the Affordable Care Act, some women who visit an in-network provider can get preventive chlamydia and gonorrhea screenings, without having to pay a copayment or coinsurance or meet a deductible. The law also says that higher-risk men and women can get preventive counseling for sexually transmitted diseases at no extra cost.

But for many people, there are still barriers to getting an STD test.

"There's still a lot of embarrassment and shame" around the potential of having an STD, says Amy Rosenfeld, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. "People even delay getting treatment, or coming in to see a doctor, because of that stigma."

Testing at home

Planned Parenthood is trying to tackle that stigma with a new app called Planned Parenthood Direct™. The app, Rosenfeld says, is designed to make getting tested and treated for an STD more convenient and private. It launched this week in California.


20 percent of prescription drug users struggle with costs, survey says

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About three-quarters of Americans say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And if you've been following the news around drug costs, I bet you'll agree. As we've reported here, some specialty drugs, such as those that treat Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, are so expensive that people can reach their annual out-of-pocket maximum set by the Affordable Care Act - $6,600 – in as little as a month.

Unreasonable costs

The Kaiser survey says those high costs are leaving a lasting impact on peoples' wallets: Nationwide, about 20 percent of people who take prescription drugs say it's hard to pay for them. That number rises to about one-third among lower-income people.

The survey also examines what people do when they struggle to afford their medication. Of those taking prescription drugs, one-quarter say they or a family member didn't fill a prescription in the past year because of its cost. Nearly one in five say they or a relative cut pills in half, or skipped doses, to make the medicine last longer.


#PriceCheck: The high costs (and horrors!) of colonoscopies

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Several Southern California residents expected their colonoscopies to be unpleasant. But they say they never could have predicted the high costs associated with the procedure.

That's what I heard when I reached out to several people who shared their colonoscopy costs with our #PriceCheck project. (Aside: If you've recently undergone the procedure, please share your costs with us! Just grab your Explanation of Benefits and go here.)

While they were grateful that their insurance covered most of their bills, two people told me that they were shocked by the prices charged by the facilities and then negotiated down by their insurance companies.

And each of them had the same takeaway: It's important to #JustAsk in advance how much a procedure will cost. Sometimes, it’s worth asking if there's a cheaper option.


Health Highlights: Health care birthday, hospital charges

NHS Healthcare Organisation Looks To The Future doctors hospital surgery

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Navigating the health care system and its labyrinthine payment system can be challenging, whether you're a young person with a new insurance plan or a veteran patient.

In this week's Health Highlights, I'm featuring several of KPCC's best stories about the consumer health experience. I hope they provide you with some guidance - or at least demonstrate that you're not alone in your frustration with this system!

Study: Some for-profit hospitals charging 10x Medicare rates

A study in the June issue of the journal Health Affairs uses 2012 Medicare data to examine hospitals that charge on average more than ten times their costs. It finds that 20 of the 50 U.S. hospitals that charge the most for their services are located in Florida, and all but one of them are for-profit, according to the AP.