5 Health Care Myths Debunked

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Health care is a topic that inflames passions. Everyone has an opinion on how to fix or improve the current system of medical care.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get the facts straight. Here’s a look at five common myths about health care and the truth behind them.

1. You need an antibiotic for every infection

Before we get to the topics that are bound to really upset some of you, let’s start with an easy myth to debunk. That myth is that antibiotics are must-haves for every infection.

You would think all the talk about superbugs would have made this myth fall by the wayside long ago. Alas, 2012 research conducted on behalf of The Pew Health Group found 36 percent of those surveyed believe antibiotics are somewhat or very effective against viral infections like the common cold.

They’re not.

What’s more, using an antibiotic for a viral infection can actually put you at increased risk for other infections.

Even for bacterial infections, which can be treated by an antibiotic, some recommend a wait-and-see approach before running to the doctor for a prescription. For example, one study showed 66 percent of children’s ear infections cleared up without an antibiotic. The study also found parental satisfaction was the same regardless of whether a child took an antibiotic, which implies that children are no more or less miserable regardless of whether they take a prescription.

Of course, I’m not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. But the takeaway here is that you might want to talk to your doctor about alternatives before demanding a prescription for every sniffle.

2. Doctors push vaccines because they’re major money-makers

I’m not even going to touch the debate about whether mandatory vaccines are a good idea. I’ll let you duke that out on your own.

However, there is one common myth that comes up time and time again in these arguments, and that is that health care professionals are getting rich by shooting kids full of immunizations.

Certainly, pharmaceutical companies seem to be making a pretty penny off vaccines, particularly newer ones like Gardasil. However, that doesn’t translate into big bucks for your doctor or health care clinic.

For instance, when Gardasil was introduced and selling for $120 a dose, some reports found insurance companies were reimbursing doctors as little as $2. Other research has found that administering vaccines actually costs money for a third of surveyed clinics. Finally, there’s this article from The New York Times, which outlines the extreme measures some physicians take to keep their vaccine supply stocked and ready for patients.

The bottom line is that while big pharma may be making money off vaccines, your family doctor is probably not reaping those same rewards. Instead of recommending vaccines because they’re a money-maker, they may be recommending them because they think they’re good medicine.

3. The USA has the best (or worst!) health care system in the world

Depending on whom you talk to, the U.S. health system is either amazing (who would want to wait for a doctor in Canada?) or awful (in Canada health care is free!).

Both are a myth. The U.S. health system is neither the greatest thing since sliced bread nor the worst thing since Hammer pants. Rather, we are as a whole remarkably average.

Of course, not everyone agrees. The Commonwealth Fund, a left-leaning think tank, says we rank dead last among 11 industrialized countries. Others, like Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, make the argument that we are best in the world.

However, if you consider life expectancy to be an indicator of the overall level of a nation’s health care, we fall somewhere in the middle. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found U.S. life expectancy is on par with the average of its 34 member countries. And if that isn’t good enough for you, Cancer Research UK found U.S. mortality for cancer was average as well.

Again, when it comes to objective measures of longevity, we’re right in the middle of the pack.

4. Obamacare is causing health insurance rates to skyrocket everywhere

Here’s another area in which the rhetoric hits a fever pitch for both sides. According to some, Obamacare will soon put every working woman and man in the poorhouse because of rising health insurance rates. On the other side are those with rose-colored glasses who insist everyone is getting a break on their premiums.

Again, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted an analysis of health insurance premiums to see exactly how costs changed after one year of Obamacare. The foundation looked at benchmark bronze and silver plans purchased on health insurance exchanges and found that, overall, bronze plans saw a 4 percent increase while silver plans were up 2 percent. In other words, premium increases were minimal for most people.

Still, that doesn’t mean premiums are flat for everyone. Pity the poor people in Alaska, Minnesota and Nebraska, where average premiums increased more than 10 percent for almost the entire state. Those in western Minnesota counties saw prices jump a whopping 43 percent for bronze plans.

On the flip side, people in Summit County, Colorado, saw their premiums drop 40 percent for bronze plans and 45 percent for silver plans.

5. It’s OK to go without health insurance coverage

No, it’s really not.

Forget for a moment that you are now required by law to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. Think instead about how outrageously expensive health care services can be.

AFLAC pulled data from a number of sources to find these health care costs:

  • Leg fracture for a 25- to 40-year-old: $3,403
  • Diagnosed diabetes: $10,970
  • Heart valve procedure and hospitalization: $53,282

And heaven forbid you be diagnosed with cancer. My late husband had esophageal cancer, and when it was all said and done, our insurance company paid close to $200,000 for his treatment and care. You may say you’re young and healthy, but my husband was 34 and thought he was young and healthy, too, when he was diagnosed.

This isn’t a scare tactic. Households totaling 1.7 million people went bankrupt because of medical costs in 2013, and another 56 million adults are reportedly struggling to pay medical bills. Insurance is no guarantee that you won’t have problems, but it sure can help. Unless you have some serious cash stashed away in a bank account, you’re flirting with financial disaster to go without health insurance.

Can you think of any other health insurance myths to add to the list? And I’m sure some of you might disagree with my conclusions about the myths above. Feel free to tell us (nicely) what you think in the comments below.

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