Introducing First Aid Kit: A financial survival guide to health care
We live in hell. Who wants some burn cream?
I’m a reporter, and I like a challenge. So my regular job is to take on one of the most enraging, terrifying, depressing parts of American life—the cost of health care—and produce a podcast that’s entertaining, empowering, and useful.
Now—after more than 50 episodes and 2 million downloads— I’m starting a newsletter. Here’s how that happened, and what you can expect:
A few years ago, I left a “dream job.” Which was heartbreaking — and terrifying. Because: Leaving that job meant getting my own health insurance.
“Crap,” I thought. “I may need a new career here.”
I didn’t want a new line of work. I loved being a reporter. And I’d gotten kind of good at it.
So... I started reporting about why health care costs so freaking much, and the result was a podcast called An Arm And a Leg. The first season’s ongoing story? My family’s uncertain quest for health insurance.
(We also looked at how one drug got its $500K price tag, how Renaissance Fair workers created their own hand-woven safety net, and other wild stories.)
A year into making the show, I understood one thing for sure: We’re under siege. All of us. And the cavalry — like, a big political solution — isn’t coming anytime soon.
For one thing, the people making tons of money from this rotten system have too much power. And any change we might get? Would take years. Meanwhile, we’re pinned down, dodging flak, under fire.
So, at that point, I decided An Arm and a Leg had to look hard at self-defense—had to explore what we can do, right now, to protect ourselves and each other.
Because if we’re going to change this system, we still have to survive it in the meantime.
Having spent a couple years focused on self-defense, I can tell you: Not every situation has a decent fix. Which absolutely sucks.
But some do.
I’ve seen people get enormous bills written off completely.
I’ve seen people fight back successfully against insurance companies that wanted to avoid paying for life-saving treatment.
I’ve seen people save themselves a couple hundred dollars here, a couple thousand dollars there—pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.
And listeners tell me: The information we’ve shared helps.
Over the course of making more than 50 podcast episodes, I’ve learned a bunch about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this system.
In this newsletter, I’ll organize that knowledge and share it with you in the most useful way I can. If I ever write a book, this is the first draft, serialized.
You may not need all of this information right now. You may be healthy, wealthy, and have great insurance.
But: You probably know someone who could use this information right now, and for sure someone important to you is going to need it at some point.
So, think of this newsletter as training to protect yourself, your family, and your community — kind of like first aid training or CPR.
Having a first aid kit is not the same as having access to a trauma center—which, honestly, is what a lot of us need in this world—but it’s a hell of a lot better than what most of us have (terror and confusion). This is your First Aid Kit.
Here’s a preview of a few things we’ll cover:
Insurance sucks. To start with, picking the best plan for you is often… impossible. But we can improve your odds of avoiding one that’s terrible. And we’ll do it during open enrollment, so you can likely put this information to work immediately.
Saving money before you go to the doctor: Sometimes you can shop for a better deal. And some “care” you’re better off without.
Emergency! The ER is where they really soak you. We’ve got some fight-back tips that can work, on the spot.
Reducing a big bill, or zeroing it out: The easy way. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
I’m not saying we can win them all. But we don’t have to lose them all either.
Finally, I expect to learn from you as we go: There is so much I still don’t know.
So… comments are open! Am I missing a crucial piece of information? Did I leave a big question unanswered? Once you’re subscribed to First Aid Kit, you can chime in. You can also send me notes and tips directly from the Arm and a Leg website.
And if you’re interested in more, right away— there are more than 50 episodes of An Arm and a Leg for ya. We aim for every episode to be more entertaining, empowering and useful than enraging, terrifying and depressing.
OK! Glad to have you along. I’ll catch you next week.
Till then, take care of yourself.
Further reading/listening and fun facts:
I'll always leave you with some extra reading and resources. This time, it's a few quick hits from (and about) my podcast, An Arm and a Leg.
Our first podcast episode is still a great place to get a sense of what we’re up to: This is water, and it sucks. Let’s talk.
Would you like a blast of hope, humanity and resilience to stiffen your spine? Check out Laura Derrick’s story, from another early episode.
We’ve got pals: An Arm and a Leg is produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News. KHN is an editorially independent project of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (They’re not affiliated with the health care giant Kaiser Permanente—that would be weird. They share an ancestor with that behemoth; it’s an interesting story, and you can read all about it on our website.)
If you like what we’re doing, I hope you’ll donate to support this project.
We’ll never charge for subscriptions, but making this newsletter and An Arm and a Leg is my actual full-time job. I also pay a crew of amazing people, whose work makes this stuff better than I possibly could do on my own. Your donations make it possible.
Right now, your donations count for double: During November and December, a project called NewsMatch will match every single one.
So please, step right up and donate! You’ve got five bucks? They’ll turn it into ten. You’ve got $100? They’ll make it $200.
And if you make a monthly pledge, they’ll match 12 months’ worth, up front: Sign up for $5 a month, and they’ll give us $60 right away.
SUCH A DEAL, RIGHT? Sign up for any amount—a one-time gift or a monthly donation—right here.