Healthcare’s top stories this week

From sharing personal health information to the Medicare advantage scam, plenty of stories prove that there is too much money in healthcare that’s being misused. With our healthcare costs rising yearly, we can’t afford this waste of money.

Progressive U.S. lawmakers and advocates renewed calls to abolish the private health insurance program that a recent Senate report said is “running amok” with “fraudsters and scam artists.”

In a new Nation article written by health insurance reform advocate Wendell Potter, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) contend that one of the most confusing things facing elders while choosing their Medicare plans “is a scheme by private insurance companies to prey on seniors and profit off of the Medicare brand, all in the name of padding their corporate profits and shareholder returns.”

Kaiser Health News detailed how insurance companies selling Medicare Advantage plans “have repeatedly tried to sidestep regulations requiring them to document medical conditions the government paid them to treat.”

Open the Workit Health website, and the treatment path starts with a simple intake form: Are you in danger of harming yourself or others? If not, what’s your current opioid and alcohol use? How much methadone do you use?

A joint investigation by STAT and The Markup of 50 direct-to-consumer telehealth companies like Workit found that quick, online access to medications often comes with a hidden cost for patients: Virtual care websites were leaking sensitive medical information they collect to the world’s largest advertising platforms.

On 13 of the 50 websites, STAT and The Markup documented at least one tracker — from Meta, Google, TikTok, Bing, Snap, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest — that collected patients’ answers to medical intake questions. Trackers on 25 sites, including those run by industry leaders Hims & Hers, Ro, and Thirty Madison, told at least one big tech platform that the user had added an item like a prescription medication to their cart or checked out with a subscription for a treatment plan.

It was the largest burst of emergency spending in U.S. history: two years, six laws, and more than $5 trillion intended to break the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money spared the U.S. economy from ruin and put vaccines into millions of arms, but it also invited unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse, and opportunism.

In a year-long investigation, The Washington Post followed the covid money trail to figure out what happened to all that cash. Experts say the cash may never be recovered even where wrongdoing has been apparent. In cases where the federal government has found the perpetrators, the work to prosecute and punish them has been extended, expensive, and grueling, often taking them far beyond the United States.

The vast sums of cash that spared some families from financial ruin also attracted sophisticated criminal networks. For example, malicious actors stole the identities of thousands of innocent Americans. They obtained small business loans and unemployment checks in their names — making the funds hard to access when people legitimately needed help.

The problems were especially pronounced when it came to the nation’s jobless benefits. A top watchdog for the Labor Department estimated in March there could have been “at least” $163 billion in unemployment-related “overpayments.” By that point, the United States had recaptured only about $4 billion, according to state workforce data furnished by the Labor Department this March.