Helping make the health care system work for you

What's your experience with VA medical centers?

Miami Area Observes Veterans Day

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We don’t know yet if the West Los Angeles, Long Beach or San Diego facilities are being investigated.

Are you a veteran? Have you received care at the Veterans Affairs medical centers in Los Angeles, Long Beach or San Diego? Perhaps a veteran is a relative or a friend. As Memorial Day approaches – and as the VA comes under increasing scrutiny – we want to hear from you.

Here’s why:

There’s a scandal surrounding the VA medical centers. Some are accused of gaming the appointment system, and keeping veterans waiting so long to see a doctor that some of them died. President Barack Obama spoke out about it earlier this week, saying those who are responsible should be held accountable.

The largest veterans group, the American Legion, hoped the president would announce the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, but instead Mr. Obama stood by the embattled Secretary. The president said he would wait for the results of an investigation into the situation.

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Weigh in: Are you still having trouble reaching Blue Shield?

Young Son With His Career-Minded Mother

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Nine months after Covered California opened for business, people are still taking to social media to express frustration with call wait times with their new insurance companies.

Almost nine months after Covered California opened for business, customers are still having a heck of the time reaching their insurance companies. Blue Shield of California is well aware of these issues, company spokesman Sean Barry tells Impatient.

"Some customers haven’t received the service they deserved," he said.

To remedy this, the company hired more call staff, and made it easier to deal with some issues online, he said. Now that the open enrollment deadlines has passed, the average time that customers are forced to wait on the phone has dropped to just over 20 minutes in mid-May, Barry added.

The average call wait time for individual and family plan members (including those who came in through Covered California and new members who enrolled directly through Blue Shield) was 38 minutes in March and 34 minutes in April, Barry said.

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Think twice before shaking your doctor's hand

Hospital Infection - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

"I'm convinced the handshake is an important contributor to the spread of disease, and that’s in part because compliance with hand hygiene is not perfect," Dr. Mark Sklansky said.

A handshake is a warm greeting between a doctor and a patient. It communicates understanding and mutual respect. 

But it can also spread disease, says UCLA pediatric cardiologist Dr. Mark Sklansky. He wrote a May 15 'Viewpoint' piece for the Journal of the American Medical Association, called "Banning the Handshake From the Health Care Setting."

Why hate on the handshake?

Sklansky says there are hand-washing protocols in health care facilities, but they’re not effective enough. Studies show that only about 40 percent of health care workers comply with them, he said.

And those anti-bacterial hand-sanitizing gels are not 100 percent effective, he said. For example, they do nothing to fight Clostridium difficle, a bacteria that commonly causes diarrhea in health care settings.

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How much does your doc bill Medicare? Find out using this cool tool

Insurers prohibit doctors from charging more than a copayment or other amount specified in your plan.

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ProPublica reporters discovered which doctors across the nation billed Medicare most frequently for the most expensive type of office visits in 2012.

In April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a treasure trove of data detailing how much money it pays the doctors who care for patients in the Medicare Part B program.

Based on that information, ProPublica last week launched Treatment Tracker.

About the tool:

The online tool allows people to compare different doctors on various measures: How many patients they see, how many services they perform, and how much they’re paid by Medicare. You can dig deeper to find out how a specific doctor compares with others in the state and specialty, which providers are in the doctor’s network, and the doctor’s most commonly provided services. The tool lets you search by provider, city or zip code.

ProPublica reporters Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones write that looking at raw numbers, i.e., how much a doctor earned from Medicare, can "unfairly flag some doctors who have multiple providers billing under their IDs or who justifiably use expensive services."

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Are you paying an arm and a leg for your specialty drugs?

pills money medicine

Photo by Chris Potter via Flickr Creative Commons

Some patients are paying up to one-third of the cost of their specialty drugs.

Do you have a condition – like cancer, hemophilia or multiple sclerosis – that requires a drug in a "specialty tier?"

Are you paying a lot – out-of-pocket – for that drug?

Last week, KPCC community health reporter Adrian Florido reported that some patients are paying up to one-third of the cost of their specialty drugs, instead of just a standard co-pay.

That has spurred a coalition of 23 patient advocacy and provider groups to write a letter to insurance commissioner Dave Jones, asking him to investigate whether specialty tiers might violate a state law banning discrimination based on a medical condition.

Florido writes that HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, epilepsy, seizure disorder, diabetes, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, multiple sclerosis and heart disease are defined as "disabilities" under the California Government Code. He quotes from the advocates' letter:

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