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Stories About High Health Care Costs Win Prizes

If you're bugged by cost problems you find in health care, you can draw attention to them (and blow off a little steam) by writing about them. And if you're really lucky your work might help change things.

Who knows? You might even make a little cash. Essays from four people just won them $1,000 each in the second annual Costs of Care contest.

Costs of Care is a nonprofit group that's trying to get doctors and other health professionals to be more thoughtful about health costs. The group gets some backing from insurers Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Plan.

Now, with that out of the way, who won?

The patient winners:

Renee Lux of Connecticut explains how a CT scan that she could probably have done without triggered some expensive insurance complications. As Lux was shopping for health coverage for her healthy family of four, a broker told her there was a problem. She'd had a scan and a medicine prescribed within 30 days of applying for coverage, which made her "practically uninsurable." She eventually got coverage but at $189 more per month than she would have otherwise spent, she writes. Next time, she'd ask if the test and prescription were really necessary.

Court Nederveld of Florida, who has only catastrophic insurance coverage, saved money on heart tests and blood pressure medicines by shopping around and pushing doctors to explain their prices. "It will be several years before Medicare is available to me and until that time I intend to challenge every prescription or procedure as to necessity and cost," he writes.

The winners in the health professional category:

Molly Kantor of Massachusetts tells the story of a 65-year-old woman with heart failure and several other condition who didn't want to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. The health clinic where Kantor, a third year med student, works one afternoon a week came up with an appropriate outpatient treatment plan, saving money and hassles.

Andrew Schutzbank of Massachusetts explains how a woman receiving an infusion of a $1400-a-day medicine to treat her pulmonary hypertension couldn't be discharged from the hospital. An internal policy about patients taking the drug prevented her from being moved out of the expensive cardiac care unit, even though she had been using the drug without problems as an outpatient. And a move to rehab wasn't an option because of the particulars about how the drug was paid for. Eventually, the woman's doctors decided it was probably best to stop the medicine anyway. She was stable and having some side effects. While the decision was a valid medical one, he writes, "we would not have considered it if [it] were not for the cost factor of the medicine."

The Costs of Care group says it will post the entries, including the winners, on its blogduring 2012.

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Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.