An Arm and a Leg

An Arm and a Leg

A show about why health care costs so freaking much, and what we can (maybe) do about it. Hosted by award-winning reporter Dan Weissmann (Marketplace, 99 Percent Invisible, Planet Money, Reveal). Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


May 23, 2024 23 mins

We take our first look at Medicaid— the big, federally-funded health insurance program for folks with lower incomes— for two reasons: 

First, it’s a huge part of our health-care system. Medicaid covers a quarter of all Americans, and four in ten children. 

Second, it’s timely: In the last year, more than 20 million people have lost Medicaid — even though there’s evidence to suggest a lot of those people probabl...

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We’re launching a brand new project and need your help!

We’re zooming in on charges that are becoming more and more common on your medical bills: facility fees. 

Facility fees are charges tacked onto your bill for visiting a doctor’s office or clinic related to a hospital or larger health care system… or even talking with a doctor who’s in one of those places on a telehealth visit. 

If you’ve ever seen a charge f...

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April 11, 2024 21 mins

When a subsidiary of the giant UnitedHealth Group got hit by a cyberattack recently, a big chunk of the country’s doctors, pharmacists, hospitals and therapists just stopped getting paid. 

It’s been a huge disruption, with some providers wondering if they can keep their doors open.

But thanks to their huge size and reach, the situation may have had a silver lining — for United.

Which seems like a big problem, and got ...

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March 21, 2024 30 mins

Reporter Bob Herman from STAT News unpacks his blockbuster investigation about the country’s biggest health care company.   

Covering the American health care system means we tell some scary stories. But this episode is almost like a horror movie

It’s got some of Hollywood’s favorite tropes: Machines taking over. Monsters from separate franchises meeting face to face in a new movie, like Godzilla and Kin...

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February 29, 2024 29 mins

Health insurance sucks. Which leaves lots of us counting down the days until we turn 65 and can get on Medicare – the federal government’s health insurance program for seniors. 

But Medicare is a lot more complicated – and costs more money – than a lot of us realize. (Also, it involves insurance companies.) And:t There will be huge, complicated decisions to make when you turn 65, that can have huge consequences. 


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February 8, 2024 25 mins

A listener wrote to us at the beginning of the year with a query, “I was just reading the news about the price of insulin going down to $35! Is that for everyone?”

It turns out, there is a lot of good news about the so-called “poster child” for the high cost of prescription drugs. But to say it costs $35 now is an oversimplification – and diabetes activists don’t think this fight is over.

Senior producer and self-proclaimed “...

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Dealing with the American health care system as a patient means lots of tough moments – unexpected bills, meds not covered, insurance and hospitals making you go back and forth without a clear answer, endless hold times and phone trees… the list goes on. 

So listeners ask us all the time: How do I stay strong and fight for my rights without totally losing my s---? 

We’re bringing back one of our most useful episodes...

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December 28, 2023 4 mins

Real quick: Now's the best time to support this show! Thanks to a few super-star Arm and a Leg listener/donors, your donation is matched two for one right now. Here's the link to donate.

Ok, now: We’ve got a mini-episode for you today, a four-minute coda to the epic story we brought you in December.

It features a last tip for anyone who might want to ask a hospital about charity care — which, as we learned from these recent ...

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December 21, 2023 36 mins

Hey! The BEST time to support this show with a donation just got even better. Right now, any gift you make, up to $1,000, will be matched TWO for ONE, thanks to a few super-generous Arm and a Leg fans who’ve pooled their dough. . It’s a great deal, and it will set us up to kick maximum butt in 2024. Here’s the link, go for it!

And… are you ready for our most-ambitious story yet? We’ve been working on this investigation all year,...

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December 7, 2023 28 mins

Hey, it’s the BEST time to support this show with a donation. Thanks to NewsMatch, any gift you make, up to $1,000, will be doubled. It’s a great deal, and it will set us up to kick maximum butt in 2024. Here’s the link, go for it!

We’ve been working on this investigation all year, with our partners at Scripps News and the Baltimore Banner

For years, we’ve been hearing about hospitals suing patients over unpaid medical...

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Last fall, actor-writers Ellen Haun and Dru Johnston were hustling to get their health insurance sorted out for 2023. To qualify for insurance through the actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA, Ellen would have to book a little more work — doable, but not a sure bet. 

So they came up with a plan: crowdfund a bunch of money to make a short film, starring Ellen … called “Ellen Needs Insurance,” of course.

It worked! And the movie, a 13...

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In 2019, Dr. Luke Messac was a medical resident who found himself spending his day off in a courthouse archive. He’d heard about hospitals suing their own patients over unpaid medical bills. He wanted to know if the hospitals he worked in were doing the same. They were. 

Trained as a historian, Messac then set out to trace the history of this phenomenon, and the story of medical debt in the U.S.

His new book, Your Money ...

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First: an update on our recent two-parter with the writer John Green, about the global, decades-long fight to make an important tuberculosis drug more widely available. 

Just two days after we posted part 2, the activists waging that battle scored a major victory. John Green was kvelling on YouTube, of course. We’ll get you up to speed. 

And for the meat of this episode, we’ve got a guest a lot of you have been aski...

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September 28, 2023 26 mins

This is part two of our globe-spanning story about drugs, patents, and YouTube megastar John Green. 

Quick recap: In our last episode, we learned how writer and YouTube star John Green kicked up a fight with Johnson & Johnson over a medicine called bedaquiline. And appeared to score a victory.

Here, we dig into the backstory: How everything John Green and his fans won was built on activism going back 20 years, and sp...

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September 7, 2023 22 mins

This episode  is special. When we heard that widely-beloved writer John Green was rallying his online community  around a fight over drug prices — and apparently making a difference — we were pumped. And this story took us in so many different directions:  Literally around the world, and then straight back home.

The drug in question is bedaquiline, made by Johnson & Johnson. It treats drug-resistant tuberculos...

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August 17, 2023 3 mins

Hey there— our next story is gonna take a little more time to cook, but it is going to be SO worth it.

It involves John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars — and yes, we've got an interview with him — and a global fight against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

... which turns out to be directly related to fights over the prices of drugs like insulin and humira in this country.

Meanwhile, let me recommend a story from P...

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For a year and a half now, the No Surprises Act has protected patients from some of the most outrageous out-of-network medical bills. But Congress left something pretty crucial out of the law — bills from ground ambulances. 

We look at just how wild ambulance bills can be, with a story about three siblings who took identical ambulance rides — from the same car wreck to the same hospital — and got completely different bills....

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If you’ve been told your insurance won’t cover your meds — or that you’re gonna have to pay an arm and a leg for them — you’ve met a PBM: a pharmacy benefits manager. 

And: Experts say they play a big role in jacking up drug prices overall. 

But how, exactly? We took a deep dive.

This episode first went out in 2019. We’re bringing it back because PBMs are in the news these days: Congress is targeting them, i...

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June 15, 2023 21 mins

A listener’s doctor wanted her credit card info up front — before her appointment. She wondered: Do I need to give it to them? We did too. 

After all, who wants the risk of being overcharged — and then having to fight for money back?

Experts gave us their best advice, including a couple of tricks to try, and a legal protection you may be able to rely on. 

Meanwhile, Elisabeth Rosenthal, senior contributing editor...

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When a New York doctor tweeted recently about “payday loans” for doctors from a branch of UnitedHealth Group — which operates the giant insurance company UnitedHealthcare — we were intrigued.

Especially when we saw that the loan product — a “cash flow solution” for health care providers — was real.

The doctor’s tweet essentially accused UHG’s insurance arm of causing cash flow problems for providers in the first place, by den...

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