National News

My First Job: Wienermobile Driver

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

Some first jobs are exactly what you'd think they'd be: fry-cook at a fast food chain, sales associate somewhere, maybe a telemarketer.

But not all of them.

Natasha Best worked as a "Hot-Dogger," driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile across the Midwest and giving away whistles.

"We would park somewhere, and we would just get inundated; people wanting to see the inside of it," Best says. "But then I would even have people come up to me and ask me for my autograph or ask to take a photo with me.  They just loved it." 

Hear Best's full story, including how difficult the Wienermobile was to drive, in the audio player above.

Despite insurance, some Americans still struggle with medical debt

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 13:00

At the Yakima County courthouse in Washington, presiding District Court Judge Kevin Roy walks past a rattling dot-matrix printer and long rows of color-coded folders to a shelf of files awaiting his signature.

“If I was to pull this file,” Roy says, taking one from the shelf. “Yep, Memorial Physicians, PLLC. That’s not just by luck.”

Not luck, because most of these files are for medical debt. The Affordable Care Act has expanded coverage to more than 10 million Americans who were previously without health insurance and provided subsidies to millions more. But it hasn’t changed much for those who have fallen behind in paying for healthcare.

Roy spends a big chunk of his workday signing judgments against people who owe money to hospitals and medical providers. “It’s like the tide coming in every week," he says.

Medical debt affects one of every four Americans and accounts for more than half of all bankruptcies.

At age 60, Scott Cliett says he’s in debt for the first time in his life. Chronic pancreatitis has forced him to stop working, and regularly sends him to the emergency room for a week at a time. He now has free health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but he’s still struggling to pay off old debt. Missing a single $25 installment landed Cliett in court.

“The Judge did allow me to speak, but the fact that I admitted I do owe them money pretty much cut everything else off,” Cliett says, reflecting on his day in court. “‘You know, I’m sympathetic to your plight, but I have to follow the letter of the law. You owe them money, so therefore I’m granting the judgment.’”

Most of Cliett’s bills were forgiven through the hospital’s charity care program. But he’s barely made a dent in the remainder, like a $4,000 ambulance ride.

 “Let’s see, $4,000 divided by twenty five dollars,” he says. “My grandkids will probably still be working on it when I’m gone.”

Overall, gaps in coverage like Cliett’s are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of people with medical debt have insurance the whole time those costs are piling up. But the bills insurance doesn’t cover can be devastating on their own.

That’s one reason Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, who teaches health policy at City University of New York, says health insurance is often a "defective product."

“People buy it in good faith to try and get medical care and make sure their bills are paid, and then when they get an expensive or prolonged illness, the health insurance doesn’t work,” she says.

Woolhandler says Obamacare has definitely helped. She says even with Obamacare, many policies still have high out-of-pocket costs.

Karen Pollitz, who co-authored a recent study on medical debt for the Kaiser Family Foundation, says, “We see a lot of plans, still, that have 2, 3, 4, 5,000, $6,000 deductibles. That’s still way more than most Americans have on hand.”

The Morning After: Lawmakers Vote to Reduce Amtrak Funding

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 12:48

In Philadelphia, an Amtrak train derailed on Tuesday. But in Washington on Wednesday, transportation supporters still could not get the House on track for providing more funding.

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Senate Reaches Deal To Vote On 'Fast-Track' Trade Bill Thursday

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 11:22

The deal calls for separate votes on bills that Democrats had wanted to move as a single package, with a vote on a customs bill that includes safeguards championed by Sen. Charles Schumer.

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Why Would A Fish Make Its Own Sunscreen?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 11:16

Research suggests that genes that make a natural sunscreen jumped from algae to an ancestor of vertebrates hundreds of millions of years ago. Some animals kept the ability. Others didn't.

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How To Feed A Numbat: Zoo Cookery Aids Endangered Species

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 10:29

Zoo nutritionists these days have to do more than try to keep displayed animals happy and healthy. Sometimes the goal is to bring endangered wildlife back from the brink.

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Vatican Officially Recognizes State Of Palestine

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 10:02

In a treaty between the two sides, the Holy See switches its diplomatic relations from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the State of Palestine. Israel said it was "disappointed."

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Nothing More To Say On Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw Says

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 08:40

The former NBC Nightly News anchor's comments came on Fresh Air. Williams, the man who succeeded him, is serving a six-month suspension for exaggerating his experiences in the Iraq War.

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Harriet Tubman Wins Unofficial Contest To Be On $20 Bill

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 08:16

The Women on 20s campaign is petitioning President Obama to put the face of Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who led others to freedom, on the $20 bill. She edged Eleanor Roosevelt in a close vote.

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What It's Like Living On The Block That Philadelphia Bombed 30 Years Ago

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 08:01

Long-time Philly resident Gerald Renfrow wants you to know that there's more to his block than what happened on May 13, 1985.

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I'm From Philly. 30 Years Later, I'm Still Trying To Make Sense Of The MOVE Bombing

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 07:55

Philly native Gene Demby was four years old when city police dropped a bomb on a house of black activists in his hometown. Thirty years later, he's still trying to make sense of it all.

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One Woman's Struggle To Survive 'Too Much Vacation' In France

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 07:18

NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley doesn't expect a ton of sympathy when she complains about unending holidays in France. But when you have a kid who's always off school, it's tough. Really.

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Military General In Burundi Claims Coup Against Its President

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 06:55

The country has been the scene of mass protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza seeking a third term. It's unclear whether the coup has the support of the full military.

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Nepal Update: Quake's Death Toll Rises; U.S. Chopper Still Missing

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 06:35

Emergency officials in Nepal say at least 76 people have died in Tuesday's earthquake, which hit as the small country is still coping with a prior quake that killed more than 8,000.

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Here's A Radical Approach To Big Hospital Bills: Set Your Own Price

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 06:09

Some companies are refusing to pay employee hospital bills that they think are out of line. Instead, they pay what they think is reasonable. So far the gambit appears to be working.

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Bill Endorsing Illegal Immigrants To Serve In Military Splits GOP

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 05:03

Some members of Congress would like to allow immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally to serve in the armed forces. But some Republicans are threatening to hold up a key defense bill over it.

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A Rust Belt Story Retold, Through Portraits Of The Women Who Lived It

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 05:03

LaToya Ruby Frazier's photography tells the story of the black community living in the shadow of Andrew Carnegie's first steel mill through portraits of her grandmother, her mother and herself.

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Jury Will Hear Final Arguments In Sentencing Of Boston Marathon Bomber

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 04:25

The jury will decide whether 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be sentenced to death or life in prison. They are expected to begin deliberations today.

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Spy Agency: North Korea Executes Its Defense Chief With Anti-Aircraft Guns

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-13 04:25

Officials from South Korea's intelligence agency say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's latest high-level purge took place in front of hundreds of onlookers at a shooting range.

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PODCAST: Uber loans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-13 03:00

On top of Macy's reporting disappointing profits Wednesday, there's news that retail sales last month were flat. More on that. Plus, we'll talk about Facebook luring publishing companies into putting their content directly onto the social media site. And Uber has a finance program for potential drivers with bad credit. Getting more drivers on the road means more money for Uber. But those loans can have high interest rates and some drivers are struggling to make the payments.