Category: Economy

Information Overload?

HealthCare.gov and the challenge of making health-care data useful to consumers.

Originally published at Newsweek.com.

Even before health-care-reform measures mandating the largest changes to the industry go into effect, the Obama administration is hoping a little sunshine will start clearing up our confusing and fragmented system. On June 30, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unveiled HealthCare.gov, a site designed to provide information about health insurers and providers so Americans can make better health-care decisions and create a market incentive for offering better care at lower cost. “HealthCare.gov helps consumers take control of their health care and make the choices that are right for them, by putting the power of information at their fingertips,” Sebelius said in a statement. But how much information is too much?

More information is definitely needed. Patients have little data about their options in the current system, which leads them to make decisions about their care that do not always make them healthier and often cost them—and the insurance system—more than it should. Though various government agencies already collect a range of data on providers, it is often inaccessible to the public. Private insurers have been able to keep information about their practices hermetically sealed. The hope is that educating Americans to become better health-care consumers will create market pressures to provide high-quality care and bring down costs.

The current tools, while a step in the right direction, underscore the challenge of providing medical information to citizens who don’t have specialized health-care knowledge. Continue reading

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Bottom Dollars

The recession has created a boom in the cloth-diaper business—even for used diapers.

This story originally appeared in Slate’s The Big Money.

The Ninth Semi-Annual Great Cloth Diaper Hunt kicked off at the beginning of May. This online scavenger hunt is sponsored by Diaper Decisions, a Web site that provides support to more than 400 cloth-diaper businesses run by work-at-home mothers (or WAHMs). Businesses that pay to sponsor the Diaper Hunt “hide” a badge on their Web site each day—an image of a diaper, of course—and shoppers flock to their Web sites with the hopes of winning prizes worth as much as $250. Interest in the hunt exploded since the last one was held in November, says Diaper Decisions co-owner Susan Arevalo, with sponsorship applications—from companies like Cute Caboose and Butt Chic—up 25 percent.

At a time when most of the economy is in the toilet, the cloth-diaper business is booming. Cloth diapering has long been a countercultural lifestyle choice, reserved largely for deeply committed environmentalists. It became more popular in the past couple of years as green went from crunchy to hip. Sometimes too hip: Parents in search of eco-status could shell out more than $300 for a single diaper made from designer-printed organic bamboo fabric. While luxury diapers still sell for upward of $100, most are no-frill models retailing for less than $20, converting a new generation of parents looking to cut costs and creating a growing market for entrepreneurs. Cloth-diapering site Diaper Swappers now has more than 67,000 members, and it is adding new ones at a rate twice as fast as before the recession, now around 100 per day. Continue reading