Blasts From The Very Recent Past: Consumerist’s Most-Read Stories For 2015

Image courtesy of Corey Templeton

Another 365 days, another 6,000 or so Consumerist stories in the can. We’ve seen the biggest name in TV fail miserably (again, and again), cooked our own burgers and pondered the history of the hot dog, investigated surprise medical bills while getting the sense of what it’s like to own a very small share of a very large NFL team. In short, it’s been your typical sort of year for us.

As we chill our sparkling apple cider and set our DVRs to record Ryan Seacrest at midnight because we’ll all be long asleep by then, we take this look back at the year’s most-read stories.

Another Comcastic Year

While the story we covered with most frequency (at least in the first half of 2015) was the doomed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (and the aborted plan to spin off the bizarrely named GreatLand Connections), the single-most read story of the year was about a guy named Seth who was just trying to get Comcast to provide the broadband connection it promised was already in place at his newly purchased home.

Seth’s story — both Comcast and CenturyLink had lied to him about their ability to provide his home with the broadband access he needed for his home office, and Washington state law prohibited his county from selling him access to its high-speed fiber network — made headlines around the country, with various companies and people coming out of the woodwork offering advice and help.

Ultimately, it was Seth’s own determination, and his willingness to figure out how to work the system that finally got him connected to that county fiber line (though not without considerable personal expense). Of course, even after millions of people around the world had read about Seth’s story, CenturyLink still sends him mail urging him to sign up for service that the company knows it can’t actually provide.

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Surprise! You Owe The Hospital A Lot Of Money

Image courtesy of MeneeDijk

As more and more hospitals bring on freelance doctors, nurses, technicians, and other specialists who may or may not accept the same insurance plans as those honored by the building, we’re seeing an increase in the number of patients who find out after they’ve been treated that they are stuck with unexpectedly high medical bills.

According to our colleagues at Consumer Reports, around 30% of patients with private insurance had been hit with these surprise bills in the last two years alone.

We spoke to some of those patients, along with some experts on medical billing in a pair of our most-read stories from 2015. First we looked at how loopholes in insurance coverage, along with hospital billing practices, allow for these surprise bills to happen in the first place. We then followed this up with personal stories from consumers who were hit with sky-high bills after emergency room visits, including a woman who now has to drive to a hospital several towns over just to make sure she doesn’t get hit with another crippling out-of-network bill.

We’ll have more to come on this issue in early 2016.

Another popular medical story from 2015 involved a father’s months-long search to find out what was causing a mysterious, painful rash on his 8-year-old daughter’s skin. The source: A common preservative used in a number of products that may be in your bathroom or closet right now.

If It Please The Court

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

We write about a lot of lawsuits, from the incredibly serious to the arguably frivolous, but one particular case attracted more attention than the others.

In April, we brought you the story of Val, a California woman who had been sued for defamation by her mother’s nursing home simply because Val copied her mother’s legal aid attorney on an email. That case was ultimately dropped, but now Val is caught up in a Sisyphean effort of trying to hold the law firm that filed the defamation case — one of the nation’s largest and most powerful firms — accountable for illegally trying to shut her and her mother up.

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Getting Our Hands Dirty

Image courtesy of MeneerDijk

As much fun as it is to write about other folks’ experiences, sometimes we have to take the plunge and experience things for ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some of our most-read stories involved Consumerist writers sharing their first-hand experiences.

Like when our Mary Beth Quirk returned home to Wisconsin to fulfill her nonexistent fiscal obligation as one of several hundred thousand shareholders of the Green Bay Packers.

In some ways, it was the same as any other shareholders’ meeting — voting on board members, financial updates, PowerPoint presentations — except those slides were being shown to 12,000 Packers fans on a jumbotron at Lambeau Field.

As one shareholder who’d traveled all the way from Virginia explained to someone who asked why he attended the event, “I’m an NFL team owner, you’re not.”

We also got our hands mucked up making and tasting burgers in the Consumer Reports test kitchen.

Some of the recipes we tried out came from readers who wanted to help us show that you could indeed cook a burger to a safe 160 degrees Fahrenheit and not end up with something that tastes like a hockey puck. Just imagine the halls of the CR offices filling with the smell of dozens of frying burgers at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning… Somedays it’s fun to go to work.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

Image courtesy of James Vaughn

To understand the present, you have to look to the past. So it’s no surprise that some of the most-loved stories of 2015 include a few history lessons.

There was our look at what happened to 72 different real-life brands that had been featured on Mad Men in the 45 years since the Don Draper era.

Speaking of advertising, we called out Dodge for taking historical liberties with its “Dodge Brothers” campaign, which grossly overstates the brothers involvement in the muscle cars that the carmaker is known for.

We did several popular histories on fast food chains, including White Castle, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Not to mention our not-exactly-an-exposé on why hot dogs got such a bad rap.

With everyone talking about the apparent invincibility of companies like Google — sorry, “Alphabet” — and Facebook, we did a “Where are they now?” with the faded superstars of Internet 1.0, catching up with the likes of AltaVista, GeoCities, Lycos, and others.

And finally, we not only waxed nostalgic about supposed movie theater innovations like Smell-O-Vision, Sensurround, and indoor weather machines, we also rated their staying power alongside more worthwhile changes like stadium seating and IMAX.

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