An Arm and a Leg

An Arm and a Leg

A podcast. Because we need to talk about the cost of health care

Episodes

December 5, 2019 26 min

Sarah Macsalka has seen the stories about how expensive an emergency room visit can be, even for a minor complaint.


So when her seven year-old son Cameron gashed his knee on a weekend morning in June, the ER was NOT where her family headed first.


In fact, Macsalka did just about everything she could to avoid paying a big, fat bill to get Cameron’s knee stitched up — and ultimately failed.


For instance, she took Cameron first to a loca...

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It would sound a LOT like Explanation of Benefits, which is a musical revue that actually played in New York City in 2019.


... so it would feature a parody of "Bills, Bills, Bills" — the 1999 Destiny's Child hit —rewritten for the age of GoFundMe.


And it would have smart, funny musical numbers tracing the long, sad history of the U.S. health care industry.


Welcome to our musical episode! And thank you to the young NYC trou...

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November 21, 2019 29 min

Meredith Balogh has spent years learning to navigate the financial side of the health-care system. She’s a type-one diabetic, she’s never had a lot of money, and for years she didn’t have health insurance.


It hasn’t been easy, but she’s become a master. 


“There's only three things that you're fighting,” she says. “Problems with competence, problems with greed and problems with maliciousness. And luckily most things are incomp...

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November 14, 2019 28 min

Stephanie Wittels Wachs has a daughter born hearing impaired, which is how she found out insurance didn't cover hearing aids for kids. Those start at $6,000 and only last a few years. Stephanie teamed up with a few other moms to change Texas law... and won.


Stephanie is a terrific storyteller. She's the author of Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful, a memoir about grieving her brother, Harris Wittels, a writer for TV comedi...

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It’s going to be REALLY fun. Also, maybe useful. Catch you here soon!

Also, here’s a little video preview.


Bonus news: Did you know we're nominated for an award as a TRUE CRIME show?

Almost too perfect. Everything on this show is legal, and that's the true crime. Here's a link — please pass it around!


Wanna share it with folks? Be our guest! Here it is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo.

For information regardin...
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For our Season 2 finale, time for some inspiration.

For 30 years, James Gingerich has run a super-effective clinic in Indiana, delivering great results at low cost — to high-need, low-income patients.


James Gingerich stands in front of shelves holding books that Maple City Health Care Center distributes to families with young children.

He’s not a modest guy, and two of his brags stand out — as a study in contrasts.

One is a quote from ...

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Dr. Saul Weiner is a physician and researcher at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. (Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin)

Researcher Saul Weiner has been sending fake patients — actors, wired for sound — into real doctors’ offices, to learn about what actually happens, especially: How well doctors really listen to their patients.

He’s tallied up what doctors miss (a lot), and how much it costs (ditto). 

...

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That’s the rude awakening Eric Umansky got when he called the company that provided his CPAP machine — a device that helps him breathe at night.

He got mad. And he got even, in a way: Eric is an editor at the non-profit newsroom ProPublica, and he tipped a colleague —Marshall Allen, who covers health care there.

The two of them together, in this episode, are hilarious and enlightening.

The story Marshall wrote

opened up bigger issues a...

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The price of insulin is iconic — doubling, tripling, multiplying like crazy, for medicine Type 1 diabetics can’t live without.

To understand it, we went back almost 100 years and dug up a story of sweaty Canadian researchers — swatting away flies and doing business with probable dog-nappers, on the way to a Nobel Prize… and a deal with corporate pharma.


Charles Best and Frederick Banting on the roof of the University of Toronto medic...

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As we started working on season two of this podcast, there was one topic that seemed like we just had to look at: insulin.

… and I wondered: There are stories about insulin prices everywhere. Would we really have something to add? Something that wasn’t just more of the same? (Enraging, terrifying, depressing.)

Turns out: OH YES WE DO.

And some of it is… hopeful.

We are holding it back a week, so you can take a break for the holiday, co...

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I filled a prescription recently, and the drugstore said they wanted more than 700 bucks… for an old-line generic drug. My insurance ended up knocking that down, but it was WEIRD. And it meant a big homework assignment for me.



Luckily, I got help. Both from some experts, and from the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life (source of the pictures above and below, of course).



I mean, what I actually learned was not a hundred per...

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This week, we look at three MRIs with four different price tags, and an enormous range. 



Liz Salmi and a view of her brain. (Photo: Kaiser Health News)

The first two price tags come from listener Liz Salmi, who has been living with brain cancer for more than a decade.

Liz gets MRI scans twice a year, to make sure the cancer isn’t growing. 

A couple years ago, Liz changed insurance, changed providers… and got serious sticker-shock when ...

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June 12, 2019 15 min

Hospital bills are too high, and insurance doesn’t cover enough. Turns out, that’s a crisis for hospitals too: more and more of us aren’t paying those bills, because we can’t. So, they’re getting creative about collecting — and offering discounts. Which raises questions about why the bills are so high to begin with.


Photo courtesy James Crannell

We start with Chicago woodworker James Crannell, who — and there’s no non-scary way to sa...

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June 4, 2019 23 min

Caitlin and Corey Gaffer got a surprise letter from their insurance company — saying they were being dumped for non-payment. Except, as far as they knew, they were paid up.

As it turned out, they’d made a couple of small mistakes, which they were eager to fix. But their insurer was definitely not interested. Caitlin and Corey spent fruitless weeks on the phone.

And then, Caitlin’s pregnancy — more than six months along — ran into com...

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Hey there! We’ve been working hard on season 2. We hope you enjoy this preview — there’s so much good (and frightening) stuff ahead.

For information regarding your data privacy, visit acast.com/privacy
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Bari Tessler is a little famous as a “financial therapist,” but even she gets rattled by the price of health care.

Also: What my family is doing for health insurance next year.

This is our Season One finale. Maybe you’d like to subscribe to our newsletter, so we can keep you posted as we prepare Season Two.

Also this week: A taste from one of the most painfully-hilarious things to hit the Internet for a long time. Welcome to Our Moder...

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Emergency rooms often bill you a “cover charge” just for walking in the door, and it can be thousands of dollars.

That’s in addition to the huge markup on everything that happens there: seven bucks for a band-aid. Twenty dollars for a couple of pills.

Reporter Sarah Kliff has collected more than a thousand ER bills from her readers at Vox.

She was an expert on health care before starting this project — she covered it for years at the ...

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Turns out, insurance companies allow — even encourage — crazy price-gouging by hospitals. For example, the leg brace Blake needed was available for $150 on Amazon. But thanks to his insurance, he paid more than $500.

Investigative reporter Jenny Gold’s work helps us understand how that kind of thing happens.

She compares health care to shopping for a gallon of milk.

“We can look at the cost of a gallon of milk at lots of different sto...

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The health-care system — especially the financial side — can feel like a Medieval torture device. So maybe it fits that workers from Renaissance fairs have come up with a work-around.

In this episode I meet Robin Hood and a woman who has made more than $2 million in medical bills… disappear.

Also, you’ve started sending us stories as voice memos. And they are awesome.

Send more! stories@armandalegshow.com.

Regular emails are nice t...

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Because as smart economists recently proved) it is super-confusing, and most of us can’t do the math.

But! We found glimmers of hope. So don’t be scared.


We’d like to hear how you’re choosing your health insurance for next year— or are you going to do without? — and what you’ve learned from past mistakes. You can scroll down and just start typing, or hit us up at insurance [[at]] arm and a leg show [[dot]] [[com]] 

EXTRA CREDIT: We’d...

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