A New Law Could Require Hospitals to Post Their Standard Prices Online

iStock
iStock

Try shopping around for affordable hospital care like you would for a car or a house, and you'll surely hit a wall. Hospital bills are a huge expense in America, but the prices for specific services are often obscure until patients check out. Now, PBS reports that Medicare may soon require hospitals to post their standard prices and share medical records online.

Hospitals are already required to disclose their prices to the public, but actually tracking down a number can suck up more time and effort than customers have to invest. While making a video for Vox, it took reporter Johnny Harris two weeks and 30 phone calls to get an estimate for how much his wife's delivery of their child would cost. Under the new rules, such prices would be made clearly available on the internet so that third-party app developers could access them.

The change wouldn't automatically make shopping for hospitals as easy as comparing airfare prices. Patients would still be responsible for getting in touch with their health insurance provider to see how much of a hospital's listed price is covered and how much of it falls on them. Even then, the numbers patients get will likely be more of an estimate than a hard figure.

In addition to making pricing more transparent to customers, the proposed rule aims to make personal medical records more accessible as well. The hospitals that make the effort to present this information clearly, possibly by organizing bills from multiple providers into a single app, would receive benefits from Medicare.

The U.S. has some of the most expensive healthcare in the world: In 2016, Americans collectively spent $3.4 trillion on medical costs. For many people, high medical bills are unavoidable, but if the proposed rule goes into effect (most likely in 2019), it could at least make them less of a surprise.

[h/t PBS]

Can't Find Yeast? Grow Your Own at Home With a Sourdough Starter

Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images
Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images

Baking bread can relieve stress and it requires long stretches of time at home that many of us now have. But shoppers have been panic-buying some surprising items since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to pantry staples like rice and beans, yeast packets are suddenly hard to find in grocery stores. If you got the idea to make homemade bread at the same time as everyone on your Instagram feed, don't let the yeast shortage stop you. As long as you have flour, water, and time, you can grow your own yeast at home.

While many bread recipes call for either instant yeast or dry active yeast, sourdough bread can be made with ingredients you hopefully already have on hand. The key to sourdough's unique, tangy taste lies in its "wild" yeast. Yeast is a single-celled type of fungus that's abundant in nature—it's so abundant, it's floating around your home right now.

To cultivate wild yeast, you need to make a sourdough starter. This can be done by combining one cup of flour (like whole grain, all-purpose, or a mixture of the two) with a half cup of cool water in a bowl made of nonreactive material (such as glass, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic). Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let it sit in a fairly warm place (70°F to 75°F) for 24 hours.

Your starter must be fed with one cup of flour and a half cup of water every day for five days before it can be used in baking. Sourdough starter is a living thing, so you should notice is start to bubble and grow in size over time (it also makes a great low-maintenance pet if you're looking for company in quarantine). On the fifth day, you can use your starter to make dough for sourdough bread. Here's a recipe from King Arthur Flour that only calls for starter, flour, salt, and water.

If you just want to get the urge to bake out of your system, you can toss your starter once you're done with it. If you plan on making sourdough again, you can use the same starter indefinitely. Starters have been known to live in people's kitchens for decades. But to avoid using up all your flour, you can store yours in the fridge after the first five days and reduce feedings to once a week.

9 Amazon Prime Perks You Might Be Missing Out On

iStock.com/jahcottontail143
iStock.com/jahcottontail143

From diapers to camera equipment to jewelry, you can buy just about anything on Amazon and have it delivered to your doorstep in a matter of days—or in some cases, even hours. If you buy from the retailer often enough, its Prime service, which offers free two-day shipping, will save you far more than the $119 it costs to subscribe.

Your Prime membership offers a lot more than free shipping, though. To get even more out of Prime, don't forget to take full advantage of all its extra perks.

1. Photo Storage

Woman on computer next to camera
iStock.com/vgajic

One of the most convenient perks of your Prime membership is unlimited photo storage on Amazon Drive. You can add photos from your phone or computer and access them from your devices. You also have the option to back up those photos automatically with the Amazon Photos app. This way, you can free up precious storage space on your phone. Amazon says it doesn't adjust or reduce the quality of your images, either.

In addition to unlimited photo storage, Prime members also get 5 GB of data storage for free, which is useful for saving videos and other files.

2. Grocery Delivery

A grocery cart on top of iPhone
iStock.com/adventtr

With Prime Pantry, you can skip the supermarket and have grocery staples delivered to your door. For a flat fee of $5.99, you can order all the kitchen, household, and pet care items you can fit in a box. Each time you add an order to your virtual Pantry box, Amazon will tell you how much room you have left. And if the order is over $35, Prime members get free delivery.

3. Music, Movies, and TV Shows

Amazon Prime Video app on Apple TV
iStock.com/marcoventuriniautieri

Prime members also get access to Prime Video, where they can find a huge selection of free movies and TV shows, including its original programming. Similarly, Prime Music includes a massive collection of streaming music from top artists. The songs are ad-free and you can download them to your device in order to listen to them even when you’re not connected to data.

Prime also gives away free entertainment credits via its “no-rush shipping” option. Your Prime membership comes with free two-day shipping, but if you choose a later delivery date, you can score digital credits toward eBooks, music, videos, and apps.

4. Free Kindle eBooks

A Kindle Paperwhite on display
David McNew, Getty Images

If you're a Prime member with a Kindle e-reader or Fire tablet, you also have access to the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. It's like a digital public library that offers access to hundreds of thousands of books.

The catch is that you can only borrow one title a month, and the available titles change every month. However, there are no due dates, so if it takes you a few months to finish a book, you don't have to worry about late fees.

5. Steeper Discounts on Some Products

baby products
iStock.com/Steve Debenport

If you have a young child or infant, you can score discounts on supplies with Amazon Family, which offers 20 percent off certain product subscriptions (like diapers and baby food) through Amazon Subscribe & Save. If you use Amazon Family to register for gifts, you also get a 15 percent completion discount on some items, which basically means you'll get a price cut on any items left on your registry.

Even if you’re not a parent, Amazon's Subscribe & Save option can help cut the cost of certain products. You get up to 15 percent off household items when you opt to receive at least five of those products periodically—you set the schedule, so you decide whether that new bag of dog food is delivered every week or month.

6. Early Access to Deals

Amazon homepage
iStock.com

Amazon's Lightning Deals can be hit or miss, but if you have Prime, you can scope them out early. Amazon allows Prime members to check out what's on sale 30 minutes before anyone else, which can help you snag popular items that will sell out fast.

And on Amazon Prime Day, Prime members are privy to even more deals.

7. Two-Hour Delivery

Scarlett Moffatt of Gogglebox with Prime Now package
Andrew Benge, Getty Images for Amazon

If you need something in a rush, Amazon will ship items from local stores, depending on your Zip code, with free two-hour delivery. This service is called Prime Now, and it is, of course, only available to Prime customers. It includes over 10,000 items, many of which are household staples like cleaning products, toiletries, and food. However, it also includes some electronics like video games, chargers, and computer accessories.

After acquiring Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon has added the grocery chain to its Prime Now service in select cities, too. They're testing Whole Foods delivery in a number of major metro areas before rolling it out nationwide.

8. Twitch Prime

Hands on a controller playing a video game
iStock.com/scyther5

Twitch is a live video streaming service for gamers. And since Amazon purchased the company in 2014, you can now get Twitch Prime membership for free with Amazon Prime.

Each month, Twitch members get "free game loot," which includes access to a new game. You can also watch other gamers stream their videos ad-free, and you get one free channel subscription every 30 days. If you already have Amazon Prime, you simply need to link your account to Twitch Prime.

9. Amazon Elements

Amazon Elements Baby Wipes
Amazon

For the socially conscious shopper, Amazon launched Amazon Elements, a shopping portal that includes a line of "premium products."

With Amazon Elements, Amazon only partners with suppliers that meet its "high-quality and safety standards." For now, the selection of products on Elements is scarce. Categories are limited to vitamins and baby wipes. You can dig deeper into the sourcing of these products, though, and review the item's quality report as well as ingredient and product origins via the Amazon app.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER