The 4 biggest 2013 stories that impacted your wallet

We're joined by Marketplace's David Gura, Tara Siegel Bernard of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times consumer columnist David Lazarus to talk about some of the biggest personal finance-related news stories of 2013:

HEALTH CARE

David Lazarus:

“Health care, probably the single biggest pocketbook story of the year for ordinary folks because the stakes are so large. We spend approximately $3 trillion every year on health care in this country and per person that’s about twice what our colleagues in the developed world are spending. There was a big story earlier this year … Steve Brill just had a fantastic piece in Time Magazine looking at the health care landscape and specifically hospital charges and how insane they are. Not to put too fine a point on it.”

“I dwelled into that a bit myself, and I looked at drug prices, pharmacy prices, and in my reporting I found that all the major drugstore chains, mostly CVS, were refilling people’s prescriptions without their permission. CVS said, ‘Oh no, we would never do that,’ but I got my hands on emails from within the company saying that there are quotas, that there are ramifications for druggists if they don’t get these things refilled. And all of this adds up to show how unlevel the playing field is, and how hard it is for consumers to make informed decisions about the treatment they’re seeking, about the drugs they’re taking, when the entire system seems to be about reaching deeper into our pockets.”

Tara Siegel Bernard:

“We’ve heard from a variety of readers that have had really mixed experiences [with the insurance changes from the Affordable Care Act]. Some were able to get on, no problem and were happy to learn that they’d be paying less.”

“There’s also plenty of people that wrote to me over the past month or two that had said, ‘Hey I’m going to be paying far more than I expected.’ And oftentimes those were younger, healthy people who are going to have to probably pay a little bit more to offset the fact that older people, sicker people, are required to pay only three times more than the general population. So there’s going to be some give-and-take.”

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

David Gura:

“This couldn’t have happened at a worst time. This was at the beginning of October leading into the holiday season, and Washington has not done very much good to help consumer confidence over the last many months. I think coupling with a fight over the budget was a fight over the debt ceiling, that certainly gave consumers a lot more reason to be nervous as well.”

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Tara Siegel Bernard:

“The demise of the Defense of Marriage Act will entitle these couples to a slew of federal benefits that their opposite sex peers took for granted. If you are a married couple with a lower-earning spouse, or a stay-at-home spouse, you’re probably going to get a nice refund … you could save nearly $4,200 in federal taxes.”

“On the other end, if you’re a higher income couple, or a couple that earns about the same amount of money, just because of the way the tax brackets line up you could be paying far more. So you really have to run the numbers to see where you’re going to come out.”

“TurboTax has a new calculator that will help you do that. And the reason why you want to check in with such a calculator or an accountant is because you can re-file your taxes for the past three years. So if you’re that couple … entitled to a $4,200 return times three, that’s significant savings.”

CONSUMER FINANCE PROTECTION BUREAU

David Lazarus:

“They spent a bit of their time, not just getting the enforcement thing rolling, but marking their territory. They’re trying to basically establish the territory that they’re going to be covering. And it is a wider purview than might have been imagined. They’ve been gradually going after other types of lenders, other types of financial institutions, other types of loans and making it clear they’re taking their mandate of consumer finance protection very seriously.”

Tara Siegel Bernard:

“I’m curious how the CFPB lays in the big credit reporting bureaus, because up until now, they really haven’t been … maybe lightly regulated by the FTC, if you could call it that. So now they fall under their purview, [and] our credit reports are our lifeline to everything these days."

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

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