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.


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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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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For lots of people, trying to access mental health treatment — like a therapist or a psychiatrist —is nothing short of a horror story. You could even call it a ghost story.

A “Ghost network” is what researchers and journalists call it when your insurance plan offers a list of “in-network” providers that turns out to be bogus. 

Attorney Abigail Burman has studied this haunted phenomenon, and she’s become a part-time volun...

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April 13, 2023 26 mins

Before her surgery, a hospital told Lisa French she would end up owing them $1,337. After insurance paid them — more than they’d expected — the hospital billed her $229,000. And sued her for it. 

Her case went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. 

The questions before the court, and how they ruled, have potentially major implications for our legal rights when it comes to fighting unfair medical bills — and how...

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What if we had a decent, publicly-funded health system — available to everybody, with or without insurance? We’ve got one, says Dr. Ricardo Nuila. It’s where he works. 

And it could be a model for the whole country. Yes, really. 

That’s the pitch he makes in his new book, The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine. It’s a love letter to Houston’s Ben Taub hospital, and an argument for bringing Ben Ta...

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The ER visit was quick and uneventful. The bill was $1,300. Our listener decided to push back. He didn't win, but he learned a lot — and so did we. 

We had help, from an expert we met by visiting a Renaissance Fair — which we did in this very fun early episode. Kaelyn Globig, head of advocacy for the Rescu Foundation, is a medical-bill wizard, and no one has taught us more.

In this story, she teaches us how to find out w...

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“I sued a hospital in small claims court and lost — here’s what I learned.” That was the subject line for an email we got from listener Lauren Slemenda. 

She wrote: “I feel like I won” — and we knew we needed to talk with her.

She wants to encourage more people to try taking providers to court over unfair bills. 

“If everybody that they screw stands up,” she says, “They can't afford to pay a lawyer to defend agai...

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We’re kicking off the year with a throwback. We revisit a 2019 episode that opened up new possibilities for fighting back against outrageous medical bills — a theme we’ll spend a lot more time exploring this year

A listener named Miriam got a bill from a medical testing lab she’s never heard of, for $35. Then, a follow-up bill said if she didn’t pay up right away, that price was going up — WAY up: to $1,287. 

Which raise...

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December 29, 2022 13 mins

The Arm and a Leg editorial team gathered to talk about the moments from 2022 that we’ll never forget — including when work collided with real life. 

We’re so lucky we get to do this work, and we couldn’t do it without our community. From sending us your stories and questions, to supporting the show financially, our listeners and subscribers are what this show runs on. Thank you. 

If you want to help us take on 2023...

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December 19, 2022 25 mins

When a car hit Susan and knocked out a bunch of teeth, her health insurance was supposed to pay for her oral surgery, and she knew it. So why has she had to chase them for 18 months and counting? 

Getting insurance to pay for anything dental is usually hard, but this had us asking ourselves… is it usually this hard? 

We connected Susan with law professor Jacqueline Fox — who, when she was practicing law, fought insu...

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A couple months ago, we started getting messages from listeners telling us: you gotta watch this video. 

It’s a thirty minute YouTube video from a creator named Brian David Gilbert, and it’s probably the best video about health insurance we’ve ever seen. 

Brian David Gilbert is best known for his highly-detailed, hilarious videos for Polygon, a media company about video games. But when he left that job to strike out...

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Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion has been banned in more than a dozen states. As you choose your insurance plan for next year, you might be wondering: How does that affect my insurance plan? We learned two big things.  

First: There’s no one answer (and few answers are settled yet). A lot depends on where you live, and where you work. 

But second: For lots of people, for a long time, ins...

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It’s open enrollment for 2023 health insurance for lots of folks — a time when you might find yourself asking: what good is health insurance anyway? 

One listener wrote to us about his son, a student with no income. Dad asks, If the son could get charity care (financial assistance) at his local hospital….  should he bother getting health insurance? 

The big picture question: If you’re broke, and can’t get insur...

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October 20, 2022 5 mins

Hey there,

You may have noticed, we've been keeping a slower pace for the last few months — publishing every three weeks instead of every two — since Dan recovered from COVID.

And every-three-weeks is gonna stay our default for now. Putting out the show more often was wrecking Dan's health, and some important behind-the-scenes work just wasn't getting done.

When we slowed down the podcast release schedule, we also suspended t...

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This year, the state of California put up $100 million to produce its own insulin, and sell it for cheap. How’s it going to work? (Is it going to work?)  

The price of insulin could be the starkest example of our out-of-control health care system: More than 7 million Americans need it to survive, and some die because they can’t afford it— medicine that’s been around for 100 years, medicine its discoverers didn’t want t...

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