Watchdogs for health care

Meet four Money heroes dedicated to helping other Americans cut their health care costs.

  • Cutting housing costs for cancer patients

    photo: shayla hunter

    Ann Calahan, 53

    On a crusade since: 2004

    Day job: President, Joe’s House

    Achievement: Creating a website that provides info on thousands of discounted lodgings near medical centers.

    Why she’s a hero: When Calahan’s husband, Joe, had to travel to Texas for cancer treatment in the 1990s, the New York travel industry veteran faced an extra task: finding affordable lodging near the hospital. Seven years after Joe’s death, memories of that chore led her to launch The site offers 1,900 options for patients and their families, from discounted hotel rooms to free apartments.

    Quote: “The whole idea is, you have enough to worry about. Let us help you find a place to stay.”

  • Helping seniors save on health coverage

    John Richard

    John McDonough, 77

    On a crusade since: 1995

    Day job: Retired engineering manager, volunteer

    Achievement: Assisting thousands of other retirees in saving money on Medicare.

    Why he’s a hero: An aerospace engineer for 40 years, McDonough signed up in 1995 to help out at SHIIP, where he guides seniors through the Medicare benefits maze and advocates in billing disputes. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native, a standout volunteer, aided 574 clients last year. His biggest victory: retrieving one woman’s $10,000 overpayment.

    Quote: “About 80% of people can save on Medicare Part D if they change plans every year.”

  • Fighting Medicare insurance fraud

    photo: julian dufort

    Bonnie Burns, policy specialist, California Health Advocate<strong>s

    Why she’s a hero: Her 1980s congressional testimony exposed the abusive marketing of Medicare supplemental insurance (one woman had been sold 39 different policies) and contributed to today’s standardized Medigap policies. Burns, 70, also enlisted volunteers to help California seniors navigate Medicare’s confusing reimbursement — a forerunner of a thriving national program known as Senior Health Insurance Information Program, or SHIIP.

    Her current passion: As a two-decade consumer rep at an association of state insurance officials, Burns fights to protect buyers of long-term-care insurance from churning and other exploitative practices.

    Quote: “I saw hundreds of people who were sold all of these supplemental Medicare insurance policies because they didn’t know any better and they trusted the person selling them. That stirred my sense of right and wrong.

  • Fighting on behalf of the chronically ill

    Ryan Field—Ryan Field

    Jennifer Jaff, 55

    On a crusade since: 2005

    Day job: Executive director, Advocacy for Patients With Chronic Illness

    Achievement: Obtaining insurance benefits and workplace accommodations.

    Why she’s a hero: Forced by Crohn’s disease in 2004 to give up her career as a trial attorney, Jaff decided to share with other sufferers of chronic illness her knowledge of rights and resources. Her nonprofit helps over 1,500 patients annually, appealing denials of insurance claims and obtaining approvals for experimental treatments. Jaff’s book, “Know Your Rights,” is now in its fifth edition.

    Quote: “Coverage of preexisting conditions is a civil rights issue if you have a chronic illness.”

    Editor’s note: This profile originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Money magazine. Jaff died on September 14, 2012, after the issue had been printed. For more on Jaff’s work, go to

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