Friday, August 28, 2009

AARP: 8 Myths About Health Care Reform

And why we can't afford to believe them anymore [AARP Magazine]

Americans spend more on health care every year than we do educating our children, building roads, even feeding ourselves—an estimated $2.6 trillion in 2009, or around $8,300 per person. Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever. These staggering figures are at the heart of the current debate over health care reform: the need to control costs while providing coverage for all. As John Lumpkin, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Health Care Group for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says, "There is enough evidence that it is now time to do something and to do the right thing." The key is to focus on the facts—and to dispel, once and for all, the myths that block our progress.

The 8 Myths:

Myth 1: "Health reform won't benefit people like me, who have insurance." Just because you have health insurance today doesn't mean you'll have it tomorrow.

Myth 2: "The boomers will bankrupt Medicare." If you're looking to blame the rise in health care costs on an aging population, you'll have to look elsewhere. Our fee-for-service payment system, in which doctors are paid by how many treatments they prescribe, rather than by the quality of care they provide. Some experts say this fee-for-service payment system encourages unnecessary and wasteful over treatment.

Myth 3: "Reforming our health care system will cost us more." Think of health care reform as if it's an Energy Star appliance. Yes, it costs money to replace your old energy-guzzling refrigerator with a new one, but over time the cost savings can be substantial.

Myth 4: "My access to quality health care will decline." Just because you have access to lots of doctors who prescribe lots of treatments doesn't mean you're getting good care. In fact, researchers at Dartmouth College have found that patients who receive more care actually fare worse than those who receive less care.

Myth 5: "I won't be able to visit my favorite doctor." Mention health reform and immediately people worry that they will have fewer options—in doctors, treatments, and diagnostic testing. The concern comes largely during discussions of comparative effectiveness research (CER): research on which treatments work and which don't. But 18 organizations in a broad coalition, including AARP, NFIB, Consumers Union, and Families USA, support CER—and believe that far from limiting choices, it will instead prevent errors and give physicians the information they need to practice better medicine.

Myth 6: "The uninsured actually do have access to good care—in the emergency room." It's true that the United States has an open-door policy for those who seek emergency care, but emergency room care doesn't help you get the right information to prevent a condition or give you help managing it. Plus, hospitals have no way to recoup the costs of treating the uninsured, so they naturally pass on some of those costs to their insured patients.

Myth 7: "We can't afford to tackle this problem now." We may be in the middle of a recession, but as Robert Zirkelbach, spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, says, "the most expensive thing we can do is nothing at all." If we do nothing, the Congressional Budget Office projects that our annual health costs will soar to about $13,000 per person in 2017, while the number of uninsured will climb.

Myth 8: "We'll end up with socialized medicine." Some experts favor a single-payer system similar to Medicare or the health program offered to federal-government employees. Yet all the proposals being discussed today would build on our current system, Feder says—which means that private insurers and the government are both likely to play roles. Says Lumpkin: "There are many ways to solve our health care problem, but we will come up with a uniquely American solution, and that solution will be a mixed public and private solution."

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