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Health Highlights: A tax surprise, debating the 'right to die,' treadmill desks




Californians totally understand their health insurance plans!

That might be a belated April Fool's joke, because it's far from the truth. And far from funny.

In this week's Health Highlights, I bring you two stories about the challenges of navigating the intricacies of health insurance, plus two more of KPCC's best consumer-focused health stories of the week.

Some Californians have to pay back Obamacare subsidies

My colleague Stephanie O’Neill explains that those who signed up for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act are experiencing for the first time the tax consequences of the federal law.

Some are surprised to learn that they have to refund the government several hundred to several thousand dollars when they file their taxes.

"I think a lot of people are confused about many aspects of Obamacare but in particular about the subsidies," Larry Levitt, senior vice president and health policy expert for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told O’Neill.

That's especially problematic, O'Neill explains, because those who received subsidies in the first place are typically low- or middle-income families with little discretionary income.

She has health insurance, but can't pay her medical bills. She's not alone.

Speaking of confusion and frustration: Here on Impatient, I tell the story of Celisa Flores, who thought she had a health plan with a $5,000 deductible.

She later learned she had a $10,000 family deductible, because she was also covering her son on her plan. To make matters worse, she discovered that the physical therapist she was seeing - at a cost of $300 per week - was out of network. Out-of-network care does not count towards her deductible.

"I have a job and I have insurance, and I thought it would be helpful," Flores says. Instead, she's now overwhelmed with medical bills.

And she's not alone: A Kaiser Family Foundation report finds that, like Flores, 70 percent of people with medical debt are insured. More than half – 54 percent – have employer-sponsored coverage.

The End of Life Option Act – a "right to die" for Californians?

As California's legislature considers SB 128 (called the End of Life Option Act), which would legalize physician-assisted suicide, Impatient is collecting and sharing people's experiences with end-of-life situations.

We want you to join the discussion: Should the right to take one's life be legally available to terminally ill patients? Is it an act of compassion, a breach of the doctor's oath and duty, an opportunity for abuse?

Join KPCC's Stephanie O’Neil and her guests as they discuss these questions in our Crawford Family Forum on April 29. RSVP here for the event. While you're there, share your story about dealing with an end-of-life situation.

Sure, use a treadmill desk — but you still need to exercise

Enough about death and taxes: Let's talk about that treadmill desk that you may or may not be using.

Patti Neighmond reports for NPR on a small study that asked people to use their treadmill desks twice a day. But a lot of people didn't use them that much. And when they did, they didn't burn enough calories to lose weight, because their pace was too slow.

The takeaway here: "If you have a treadmill desk – use it," Neighmond writes. "But don't forget you still have to fit about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise into your weekly routine as well."

Which health stories are you reading and talking about this week? E-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org or ping me on Twitter at @rebeccaplevin.