‘An Arm And a Leg’: How a Former Health Care Executive Became a Health Care Whistleblower

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Former health care executive Wendell Potter spent part of 2020 publishing high-profile apologies for the work he used to do — the lies he said he told the American people for his old employers. These days, he said, he’s also trying to debunk myths he once sold.

“What I used to do for a living was mislead people into thinking that we had the best health care system in the world,” Potter said.

In this episode, Potter talks about his transformation from health care executive to health care whistleblower. His is also a story about the long, messy process of change — whether that’s changing your own life or trying to change a bigger system.

Here’s a transcript of the episode.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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‘An Arm and a Leg’: A Look Back at 2020 — What We Learned and Where We’re Headed

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This episode turns the tables: Host Dan Weissmann gets interviewed about what he learned in 2020 and what’s ahead for the show — with T.K. Dutes, a radio host and podcast-maker who is also a former nurse, so she knows a thing or two about the health care system. She chronicled her career transition in an episode of NPR’s “Life Kit.”

During their conversation, Dutes shared stories about life before and after health insurance. She coins what could be a new tagline for “An Arm and a Leg”: “Where there’s money, there’ll be scams.”

Here’s a transcript of the episode.

For more of Dutes’ work, check out “Open World,” a podcast she published recently with Rose Eveleth. The first episode features a reading by and discussion with the writer N.K. Jemisin, who won a MacArthur “genius” award the day after the show came out. (Clearly, the MacArthur folks were listening.)

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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‘An Arm and a Leg’: Shopping for Health Insurance? Here’s How One Family Tried to Pick a Plan

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When host Dan Weissmann and his wife set out to pick a health insurance plan for next year, they realized that keeping the plan they have means paying $200 a month more. But would a “cheaper” plan cost them more in the long run?  It depends. And the COVID pandemic makes their choice a lot more complicated.

After trying to puzzle it out, Weissmann debriefs with Karen Pollitz, a health insurance expert at KFF, who knows about the angst of medical bills from personal experience.

Health insurance can be painful, but the alternative ― not having health insurance ― is so much worse. If you want to go deeper on health insurance, you might want to check out these episodes from the first season of the podcast:

  • In “Why You (and I) Will Likely Pick the Wrong Health Insurance,” we learn: Smart economists have proved it’s actually super hard — even they aren’t sure they’ll pick correctly.
  • In an episode inspired by KHN reporter Jenny Gold, we learn about insurance companies’ price-gouging. And often we end up paying the price.
  • In the first-ever episode of this show, Weissmann’s family confronts the big puzzle: Can we even get insurance that’ll work for us?
  • In “A ‘Deal’ on Health Insurance Comes With Troubling Strings,” we go on a journey with a kinda-famous “financial therapist” who says she gets rattled when it comes to picking health insurance. And she’s pretty uncomfortable — morally, personally — with some of the choices she’s made. (Also, Weissmann’s family makes another cameo.)

And here are some other helpful big-picture takes:

Want to go a lot deeper? Especially if you’re actually looking at buying health insurance, maybe on the Obamacare exchange?

Weissmann found healthcare.gov to be super usable this year, way better than the last time he checked.

“I punched in the answers to a few questions, and got to quickly tell it which doctors our family sees (and what meds we take) … and it provided a clear list that showed which plans cover our docs, how much they would cost us, etc.,” he said.

  • Subsidies are available for Affordable Care Act plans. KFF has this explanation of how they work. It’s a slog, but thorough. Print it out, grab a snack and settle in. This bit of research explains that a lot of people qualify for a plan with no premium. (KHN, which co-produces “An Arm and a Leg,” is an editorially independent program of KFF.)
  • KFF has a whole database of frequently asked questions about the ACA. Hundreds of Q’s and A’s, including 180-plus in Spanish.
  • Also great, also very thorough: The Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms has a whole site full of resources for navigating the ACA. (It’s actually for “navigators” — folks who help civilians understand the sign-up process.)

That’s a lot, right? Picking a plan can be overwhelming. But don’t let it get you down.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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‘An Arm and a Leg’: Obamacare Alum Andy Slavitt Takes Stock of the COVID Pandemic — So Far

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Andy Slavitt has spent much of 2020 talking with almost everybody who knows anything about the COVID-19 pandemic — and sharing what he learns in real time, first on Twitter, then on his pandemic podcast, “In the Bubble.

To do our own podcast episode about what we’ve learned so far and what we might expect next, Slavitt was the person to speak with.

He is a former head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services during the final years of the Obama administration.

Slavitt shared some of the cost-side realities of vaccines and testing. Then there was an uncomfortable guest-host moment about the characterization of his role as founder of a venture capital firm — before the conversation got back on track and he shared thoughts on the role of profit and health care.

“We’ve created some of the worst excesses, and we’re not getting the basic job done. Health care is not affordable to people,” Slavitt said.

Given the choice, he said, he would pick a health system that covers everybody even if it were a little worse than the current system, versus one that is very expensive and leaves many people without health care. 

“I’d be, ‘I’m all over the socialist side,’” he said. “If you asked me, though, what do I think are the ingredients to a successful health care system? I would say it includes innovation.”

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: How to Avoid a Big Bill for Your COVID Test

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Tests for the coronavirus are supposed to be free. And, usually, they are. But sometimes … things happen. Here’s how to keep those things from happening to you.

New York Times reporter Sarah Kliff has been asking readers to send in their COVID-testing bills. She’s now seen hundreds of them, and she ran down for us the most common ways things can go sideways, and how to avoid them.

First off, she said: “I don’t want people to think, ‘Holy crap,  I should just not get tested for coronavirus because it’s going to cost me a ton of money.’ You absolutely should. And the odds are that you will not get a surprise bill, and it will cost zero dollars.” Still, if only 2% of people end up with a surprise bill and a million people a day are getting coronavirus tests, that’s a lot of surprise bills, she noted.

Kliff’s top tip is to avoid getting a test in an emergency room, where you might get charged a “facility fee” that your insurance doesn’t cover.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: For Your Next Health Insurance Fight, an Exercise in Financial Self-Defense

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A listener asked: ‘How do I remain cool when calling insurance companies?” So we called veteran self-defense teacher Lauren Taylor for advice. She leads Defend Yourself, an organization that works to empower people against violence and abuse. 

As Taylor teaches it, self-defense involves a lot more than hitting and kicking. It’s about standing up for yourself in all kinds of difficult situations. Striking that posture includes using your words, and we asked Taylor to talk us through her top strategies. This year, she used them in her own health insurance fight.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: David vs. Goliath: How to Beat a Big Hospital in Small Claims Court

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When Jeffrey Fox and his wife got an outrageous medical bill for a simple test, he said to his wife, “No way am I paying this.” In a classic — and hilarious — David vs. Goliath story, Fox takes on a huge hospital, and wins.

He’s a bit of an expert in using small claims court to get satisfaction and shared detailed instructions with the rest of us.

Fox doesn’t only take on big opponents. He said even his small wins are a way to get better at standing up for himself.

It’s pretty good practice for us all.

Want more? Here are some extras:

Our episode Can They Freaking DO That?!? describes how some folks have used just the threat of small claims court to get outrageous bills lowered.

Law professor Christopher Robertson describes some of the legal theory behind this method in this post from a Harvard Law School blog.

Fox posted documents from his case and a brief narrative.

Finally, here’s this episode transcript.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: Vetting TikTok Mom’s Advice for Dealing With Debt Collectors

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TikTok mom Shaunna Burns used to be a debt collector, so she knows a few things about what’s legal and what’s not when a company contacts you to settle a debt. We fact-checked her advice with a legal expert: Jenifer Bosco, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Bosco said most of Burns’ advice totally checks out.

A recent report from ProPublica shows that debt collectors have thrived during the pandemic; they’re out in force to get people to pay up. But we have rights. Scroll down for some consumer protection resources.

You don’t need to have heard our earlier episode about Burns and her story; you can start right here. (Both conversations contain lots of strong language, so maybe listen when the kids aren’t around.)

Meanwhile, here are links to resources:

Burns’ Dealing-With-Debt-Collectors TikTok Videos

Be sure to note Jen Bosco’s legal caveats, but Burns will get you in the fighting spirit.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: TikTok Mom Takes On Medical Bills

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Shaunna Burns went viral on TikTok, partly because of a series of videos dishing out real-talk advice on fighting outrageous medical bills. She said the way to deal with medical debt is to be vigilant about what debt you incur in the first place.

“What you can say is I don’t want you to run any tests or do any procedures or anything without running it by me,” she said.

Burns has three children of her own, and she has become the virtual mom that thousands of Gen Z followers love. She’s funny, smart and relatable — and she has stories that’ll make your hair stand on end. Oh, and she can swear like a sailor. So maybe listen to this episode when the kids aren’t around. Also, some of her stories are kind of intense.

(You can first check the transcript to see if this episode is one you want to share with your kids.)

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: How to Fight Bogus Medical Bills Like a Bulldog

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After Izzy Benasso had knee surgery, she and her dad received a letter from a surgical assistant giving notice that he “had been present” at the procedure.

The surgical assistant was out-of-network and seemed to be laying the groundwork to get the Benassos to pay his fee.

Steve Benasso wrote a letter right back, basically telling the guy to buzz off: He had no intention of paying the surgical assistant. Because the bill was a surprise, Benasso suggested that the surgical assistant try to get the money from the insurance company, or negotiate for some part of the knee surgeon’s payment.

Benasso first shared his story with KHN and NPR for the Bill of the Month series.

There are two explanations for Benasso’s chutzpah.

One: “Steve is the kind of person to check every receipt twice and argue over any discrepancies he finds,” his daughter said.

Two: He had lots of experience haggling over medical bills in particular. As a human resources director, he specializes in defending his colleagues against bogus bills and unfair insurance denials.

“I am a bulldog on this stuff,” he said. “I do it every month.”

In this episode, learn how Steve became such a bulldog, and the tips he has for the rest of us.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of KHN and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all KHN podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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This story can be republished for free (details).

‘An Arm and a Leg’: Financial Self-Defense School Is Now in Session

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When you need medical care, it can be a lot like entering a casino — playing for your financial life with the deck stacked against you.

But in this episode, reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen offers insight and tips no dealer will divulge. She got a health care executive to talk honestly — maybe more honestly than he realized — about how his company and others are playing the game when they send patients huge bills.

When she investigated one man’s $80,000 bill, here’s what Llopis-Jepsen found:

Providers who took some of the $175 billion in pandemic-related bailout funds that Congress authorized in March had to promise not to ding patients with surprise bills for COVID-related care. But don’t expect your provider to merely tell you if that rule applies in your case. (That $80,000 bill did not include a footnote that said, “Once insurance pays us, you can forget all about this.”)

If you get a bill for COVID treatment, you can look up the provider yourself. Llopis-Jepsen found a government database where you can see if your provider took bailout funds.

She also has a tip sheet for pushing back against your medical bills.

And this story — which shows you don’t always owe what you are charged — is packed with insight, too.

Podcast Scheduling Announcement

From here on out, look for financial self-defense lessons from “An Arm and a Leg” every two weeks, instead of occasional seasons. Because it is always a good time to learn how to stand up against unfair medical bills.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

To keep in touch with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the newsletter. You can also follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’ve got stories to tell about the health care system, the producers would love to hear from you.

To hear all Kaiser Health News podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to “An Arm and a Leg” on iTunesPocket CastsGoogle Play or Spotify.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

USE OUR CONTENT

This story can be republished for free (details).