Doctors and patients traditionally have not discussed the cost of health care. But that's beginning to change, as doctors recognize that value is an important part of high-quality care. At St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, one doctor has learned that discussing cost is critical to improving the health of poor, diabetic patients.
On a recent morning, several dozen Latina women gather at the clinic for a weekly diabetes class. They eat a healthy breakfast and then turn on some music and dance for exercise.
Dr. Shom Dasgupta, director of social medicine and health equity at St. John's, sits at a nearby table and holds one-on-one meetings with patients. The class atmosphere is festive, but when Dasgupta talks with 56-year-old Rosa Aviles, their conversation is far from light-hearted party chitchat.
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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).
Nathan Reading/Flickr Creative Commons
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.
psyberartist via Flickr Creative Commons
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.
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.
Monash University via Flickr Creative Commons
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.