Fight Unreasonable Health Care Costs

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, April 7, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Janae Theodore, Pearl City High School, Class of 2019

With an annual health budget exceeding $10 billion, it is expected that America is at the forefront of medical advancements. Equipped with fancy million dollar machines and hospitals designed like the Hilton hotels, American health care takes on a different look compared to other countries. However, in the midst of the new gadgets and modern waiting rooms, patients fail to realize that American health care has become a lucrative business that has lost sight of the entire basis of the profession.

Average Americans often find themselves being treated by specialized doctors. With a specialized medical degree, doctors charge their patients higher fees for the same treatment that can be given by a primary-care physician. The national average salary of a primary-care physician and a specialist is $195,000 and $285,000, respectively.

Along with higher fees for specialized doctors, many medical bills include additional charges for the hospital administration. Harvard economist David Cutler explains, “About one-quarter of health care cost is associated with administration, which is far higher than in any other country.” Americans are funding the paychecks of medical workers that they do not even encounter during their hospital stays.

Further, in European and Latin countries, Americans find lower costs for minor surgeries such as Lasik. The U.S. average of $4,000 for the procedure is four times more than in Latin America.

With their lives literally in the hands of their health care providers, patients fall oblivious to realize that their long-trusted doctors manipulate the system, resulting in exorbitant charges totaled on their medical bills. The script is all too predictable.

Patients visit their doctor for a check-up. Doctors suggest to run more tests. The naive patient finds no issue in running more tests even though they struggle to understand the necessity of the exams. Weeks later, patients are confronted with confusing lists of items and fees summed up into a large total at the bottom of the bill.

According to a 2014 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. utilizes triple the amount of mammograms, two-and-a-half times the number of MRI scans, and 31% more Cesarean sections than other countries. Not only do patients find themselves paying for unnecessary exams requested by their doctors, but patients also find themselves intaking treatments priced at ridiculous rates.

Unlike other countries, the U.S. government does not negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Consequently, drug manufacturers are getting away with charging $600 for EpiPens, whereas the price is one-sixth in Europe, and $750 per Daraprim pill for AIDS patients.

Moreover, many Americans have the mentality that brand name prescriptions are the tried and true treatment for their symptoms and often forego their option for generics. Although generic drugs cost about 80 to 85 percent less than name-brand medications and have proven to be nearly just as effective, doctors still prescribe what they know the consumer will buy.

The American healthcare system leads in advancements worldwide, but at what cost? It has turned into a business, completely neglecting the foundation it was built on - compassion. If we can no longer trust our doctors and medical companies to act fairly, we must take steps in order to push back on what has become of American health care.

Patients can advance toward change through resistance and advocacy. Don’t pay the total without knowing what the bill includes. Request an itemized bill to view the detailed charges. Be encouraged to question the necessity of the doctor’s orders. Without this push back, the crippling cost for compassion will persist.

Navigating the Misinformation Age: How to verify sources before making conclusions

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, March 3, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Keona Blanks, James Campbell High School, Class of 2019

Picture this: a smiling Catholic high school student and his classmates donning MAGA hats. They’re standing in front of a chanting Native American elder. Sounds like a moment that could be interpreted in many ways, right? Well, it wasn’t. It was hardly interpreted in one, and that interpretation called for the boys’ heads.

On January 18th, a Twitter account with more than 40,000 followers posted a minute-long video showing this interaction. The caption read, “This MAGA loser gleefully bothering a Native American protester at the Indigenous Peoples March”—without further context. The video, garnering over 14,000 retweets and 2.5 million views, sparked a political uproar.

In a perfect world, the thousands who retweeted the image would have investigated its context before doing so, because they’d have learned to. Unfortunately, ours is a world of concluding minds over inquiring minds.

However, it shouldn’t be so; information literacy is a national standard for higher learning set by the American Library Association. The information literate individual has the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the desired information. “When you visit the library in elementary school, you’re taught which sources are good and bad and why that might be so; but a lot of that gets disregarded nowadays because the information is so quick and easy to access,” said James Campbell High School history teacher John Santiago.

To avoid another MAGA Catholic student misconstruation, don’t believe everything you read. Be skeptical. Santiago said, “Say that I hear something once on a news site or I catch it on Twitter, I’ll be like ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Might not be true. Let me go verify by checking other sites.’ Reading articles or watching videos from trusted news sources like CNN is my go-to. I always check out CNN or local news sources like Hawaii News Now or KITV. I also look at FOX News or BBC News sometimes just to get a different opinion or different perspective.”

In 2016, the Stanford History Education Group released a study sampling over 7,000 middle school, high school, and college students. When asked to evaluate online information, the students based their evaluation on a site’s look and feel, things a website creator could easily manipulate. When determining the legitimacy of a source, avoid lending validity to superficial factors like web page design and instead focus on their quality, evidence, footnotes, and content. Even verified evidence still requires investigation beyond surface-level analysis. “With statistics, if you see a number but don’t understand how people got that number, those numbers could be meaningless or mean something totally different. It’s good to have cameras and evidence; but when there’s no context, deeper analysis, or explanation, it can be dangerous,” Santiago said.

Thus, the question still remains, why are we information illiterate outside of the classroom? Defined as confirmation bias, this cherry-picking of information can lead to statistical errors and sweep vital evidence under the rug. We already know that social media can result in echo chambers supporting one’s point of view. As companies and website continue to work towards rectifying the issue, conclusions must be made based on the evidence at hand, rather than finding evidence that supports a preconceived conclusion.

In 1998, when journalist Stephen Glass was exposed for his unverifiable story “Hack Heaven” in addition to partial or full fabrication for 27 of his 41 stories, the public came to know full well that trusting a single source is risky. News can easily be fabricated. Have we since forgotten? In the end, it is the role of the consumer to digest information comprehensively and carefully.