Transparent hospital prices, safety on dating apps, and disappearing horses 

in March 24th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of March 24, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

How far are you willing to go for free sushi? For some people in Taiwan, it’s as far as changing their legal name. A restaurant there recently offered a deal where anyone with gui yu (meaning “salmon”) as a part of their name could come for a free all-you-can-eat meal with five friends. In response, the country's government offices flooded with requests to change legal names. Taiwan is now asking their citizens to stop changing their name to salmon to lessen the burden on its workforce.


PRICE CHECK

The slow journey towards price transparency for medical care

Mon Mar 22

A restaurant menu with hidden prices is the first warning that you’re about to drop $$$ — but that shouldn’t be the case for hospital bills. In fact, a Trump-era executive order required hospitals to post their standard list of charges online to provide patients with estimates of their out-of-pocket costs before scheduling a procedure. 

Six months later, hospitals have technically updated their websites with the mandated pricing disclosure pages… you just can’t find them. In fact, a crawler found 164 disclosure web pages shared across 307 hospitals that contained search-blocking code, preventing them from appearing in Google search results. 

  • Hospitals have given a number of excuses, such as saying the search blocker was simply legacy code that didn’t get removed before turning the site live. That code has since been removed for at least 182 of the hospitals.
  • In other cases, visitors had to click through multiple layers of pages before landing on pricing information. These hospitals argue that they first direct patients to information they considered more useful than raw pricing data (for which they also included links). 

Overall, it seems many hospitals are still behind in complying completely with the legislation, which sought to both protect patients from surprising billing costs post-procedure and increase competition to lower health insurance premiums. If you’re looking to take matters into your own hands, one company worked with University Health Care System to create a price calculator that self-generates accurate out-of-pocket expense estimates (whether or not you are insured). 

Some additional resources... 

  • To decode the search blocker hospitals were using further, turn to the Wall Street Journal.
  • To hear more from the creator of the hospital price calculator, turn to the Scientific American
  • For more on the “America-First Healthcare Plan” executive order, turn to BFHS.

SWIPE LEFT

Dating apps plan to charge users for their own safety 

Thu Mar 18

Matches on dating apps don’t come with a background check, which means you could unknowingly meet up with a convict or sex offendor — and sadly, some people have been. In 2011, one woman was raped after being connected via Match.com to a man who had six convictions for sexual battery.

Ten years later, these apps are finally working to provide background checks — for a fee. That’s right, requesting a background check would be a cost placed on the user versus baked into the app itself. And given this access would not be free for all, critics say the recent initiative doesn't show a genuine interest in user safety, but instead is simply another way for the dating apps to make money. This background screening comes as the fourth initiative Match Group (who owns OKCupid, Tinder, Match.com) has taken towards improved user protections in the past year. 

  • In January 2020, Match invested in a safety startup that made a phone-based panic button that would alert law enforcement if a user feels threatened.
  • By September, the company hired its first ever head of safety and advocacy. Prior to joining Match, Tracey Breeden was head of Uber’s women’s safety and gender-based violence operations. 
  • And in December, they hired an anti-sexual violence group to assess how the company handles reports of sexual assault received on any of its dating apps. 

Legislators are also getting involved, particularly due to the dozens of reports of children getting matched with pedophiles. One Illinois Democrat, Jan Schakowsky, has drafted a bill that would force dating apps to be more transparent about rules designed to prevent fraud and abuse (and hold them accountable when they are not). 

Some additional resources... 


ILLEGAL MEAT

The illegal horse meat market in Florida

Wed Mar 17

Horses are disappearing in Florida at alarming rates, leading local police to issue warnings to owners to increase protections for their animals. These horses are most often cruelly stolen, slaughtered, and sold for $7 a pound ($35 if they were ever a race horse).

Buying and selling horse meat is effectively illegal in the U.S., leading to a growing horse trafficking industry born out of a muddled history. 

  • It started in the late 1880s when cars were invented, leading entrepreneurs to ponder ways to sell the excess supply of horses (and therefore, horse meat) no longer needed for transportation. 
  • Just six years later, however, the U.S. had grown a reputation for bad horse meat that led to food poisoning or other health issues. Countries such as Belgium banned all U.S. imports of horse meat.
  • Even still, in 1990, nearly 350,000 American horses were slaughtered for sale in the international market.
  • But in 2007, Congress defunded inspections of slaughter houses all together, essentially banning the practice. 
  • A decade later, Trump attempted to lift these restrictions for horse meat dealers who supply Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses — Canada’s own horse meat exports totalled $33.8 million just last year. 

But who even wants this meat? Some people believe that horse meat holds certain benefits over other meats. For instance, it has a similar Omega-3 count to salmon and twice as much iron as steak. Many Cubans who migrate to Florida grew up accustomed to eating horse meat and want to continue on with that diet. One vigilante has invested roughly $1.5 million of his own savings to take down slaughterhouses while under cover, though police struggle to work with him due to some of his tactics.  

Some additional resources...

  • For more on the Florida horse vigilante, turn to Bloomberg
  • To learn more about the horses being stolen or slaughtered, turn to Tampa Bay Times or Click Orlando
  • For more on the history of horse meat in the U.S., refer to the Atlantic

ASCII ART OF THE WEEK
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This free sushi really is maki-ng my day!
Art Credit: Daniel Au