Episode 9: Elisabeth Rosenthal on how patients can fight the system

Season 2 of Fixing Healthcare welcomes leaders from outside of the medical mainstream to deliver practical solutions for our nation’s deepening healthcare crisis.

Elisabeth Rosenthal did not disappoint. She is a physician, author of the 2017 national bestseller “An American Sickness: How Healthcare became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back,” the current editor-in-chief of the Kaiser Health News. Prior to the KHN, she was a The New York Times reporter for 22 years.

Through her investigative research, Elisabeth has exposed corrupt healthcare players, fought outrageous medical bills and advocated tirelessly for American patients.

On this episode of Fixing Healthcare, Elisabeth recalls some of the most obnoxious medical bills and health insurance denials she has come across in her research. She also offers everyday day patients the tools to advocate on their own behalf, arming them with advice, resources and the courage to push back against the big business of healthcare.

Here are some practical suggestions for patients, courtesy of Elisabeth Rosenthal on Episode 9 of Fixing Healthcare:

If you leave the hospital and they say, “Do you want some crutches? Do you want a wheelchair? Do you want a breast pump?” Say “no” because the mark up on those things is going to be crazy and you can buy them on Amazon for literally 20% of the price.

This sounds like terrible advice to give someone who’s about to have a baby, but … be careful. When someone says, “Do you want the nice nitrous oxide? Do you want the birthing tub? Do you want a private room?” You have to say, “Okay, well how much is that going to cost?” Because the last thing you want as a new parent is to end up with a $10,000 bill you didn’t anticipate.

Ask for an itemized bill. See what you’re being charged for. Protest any charge that seems outrageous or unreasonable. I do tell people, also, and this sometimes works, go find out what the Medicare DRG rate is for that same hospitalization and go in armed to the patient ombudsman and say, “You are charging four times what the Medicare approved rate is and I’m not going to pay it. Let’s see if we can do a deal.”

Write about (your surprise medical bills). Write to a journalist, write to your local newspaper. Hospitals today are very sensitive about their reputations and they do not want to be shamed by some of these charges. So that is often effective. The problem we have here at Kaiser Health News with our “Bill of the Month” project is there are so many outrageous bills that people are sending us right now that we don’t have the bandwidth to write about even a small fraction of them. I will say the ones we write about, the bills go away.

I think we all need to become healthcare voters. I’m here in D.C. now. Many of the politicians, who do they hear from? Their biggest constituent is their local hospital system. They get a lot of campaign donations and lobbying from pharma. They hear from a lot of patient groups that are often connected to pharma, but they don’t hear a lot from average doctors in the trenches and patients who are living this terrible medical system day in day out and I think we really need to have our voices heard.

READ: Full transcript of our discussion with Elisabeth Rosenthal

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Fixing Healthcare is a co-production of Dr. Robert Pearl and Jeremy Corr. Subscribe to the show via Apple Podcasts or wherever you find podcasts. Join the conversation or suggest a guest by following the show on Twitter and LinkedIn.