How to Not Go Broke When You Need Healthcare, With Journalist Dan Weissmann

How to Not Go Broke When You Need Healthcare, With Journalist Dan Weissmann


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This week we’re speaking with investigative journalist and radio producer Dan Weissmann about how to get around all the outrageous expenses that come with the cost of healthcare. From the surprise medical bills to choosing from the endlessly confusing health insurance plans, we’re covering it all and revealing surprising strategies to lower expenses.

Dan is the host of the podcast An Arm and a Leg, which investigates the cost of healthcare and explores ways to fight back against our flawed system. Dan has also worked as a staff reporter for Marketplace and Chicago’s WBEZ, and has won awards for his investigative reporting, feature writing, and his production and hosting work in radio.

Listen to The Upgrade above or find us in all the usual places podcasts are served, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Stitcher.

Highlights from this week’s episode

From the Dan Weissmann interview

On how to approach calling your health insurance company:

The most helpful person I talked with was a self-defense expert about how do you keep cool in a tough moment because you get on the phone, you’re trying to negotiate. And it’s very hard. I mean…You get on the phone and nine times out of ten, well, one, you’re on hold for a really long time, you’re getting mad and you’re looking at the clock and you’re wondering where you have to be. And then you end up talking to somebody who’s not going to be very helpful, partly because, like, they may not know very much, it’s their maybe their job just to get you off the phone. It’s going to be extremely frustrating and keeping yourself together enough to actually see it through…And so I found the most important thing is to kind of have a strategy…This is key. And the self-defense expert, because self-defense is not just hitting and kicking, right, it’s kind of learning to stick up for yourself and in all kinds of situations. And what she said was, your strategy is, I’m quoting her: to remain calm and confident while still being very assertive and persistent.

On one of the strategies you can take when you get that gargantuan medical bill:

If you’ve been seen at a hospital, you can look at their charity care policy. If it’s a nonprofit hospital, they are legally obligated to have a policy for charity care where they say we can get financial assistance on a sliding scale. And one thing that’s interesting, I mean, hospitals are all over the map about who qualifies for what kind of assistance. Some of them are extremely stingy. Some of them make it hard for you to get the charity care policy and some of them are more forthcoming and more generous. And in some of them, at some places, the charity care policy includes income ranges that you might not expect.

On using the “magic words” before signing hospital paperwork:

“I agree to pay reasonable charges up to twice the Medicare rate.” Medicare pays rates that’s set by the government. They tend to be lower than what BlueCross BlueShield takes, but it’s a standard that the hospital accepts all the time. So you’re saying I’ll pay twice Medicare? That’s a reasonable standard. That’s the good news…[I]f you show [up] at a place and they hand you a paper form that has a paragraph, it’s like, “I agree to pay whatever the hell my insurance doesn’t happen to pay that you’re charging me,” then cross that out and write the magic words and sign and initial it…They may be like, screw you. We’re not going to accept this unless you done it is OK. You tried. You took your shot, you wrote on it. I mean, you can also…take a photo for your records, like even before you hand it back to them. Right. Like I made this offer. That’s good. That that’s that’s a step you can take.

To hear more of Dan’s strategies for lowering or avoiding healthcare costs, we recommend listening to the full episode.

Episode Transcript



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