Image: Medical doctor © tetra images, Getty Images

Related topics: insurance, health insurance, insurance rates, health care, Medicare

Hearsay and bad information often fuel people's misunderstandings of health insurance. When was the last time someone snuggled up with a cup of coffee and her insurance policy?

According to the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the following myths are alive and well in the minds of most folks.

1. It's cheapest to buy health insurance through an employer's group plan.

If your employer offers a group health plan, you're likely experiencing annual increases in premiums, reductions in what's paid for by your employer, increases in your out-of-pocket expenses and the possibility that you're paying for lots of benefits you don't want or need.

An individual health plan (the kind you buy on your own), especially for someone who's healthy and young, can offer significant savings. Unlike individual plans, group health plans must abide by state health insurance mandates, which can require coverage for everything from autism to hearing aids and from contraceptives to in vitro fertilization.

Although an individual health plan can deny your application based on your health status, Matt Tassey, a spokesman for LIFE, notes that if you're eligible the plan can be customized to meet your specific health care needs.

"If you're a man, you have no need to see an obstetrician. But if they have an employer-sponsored health plan, they are still paying for (the obstetrics coverage)," he says.

2. Health insurance is expensive because health insurance companies are driven by profit.

Brenda Weigel, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Health Underwriters, says this is a common misconception. "The fact that health insurance is expensive is because health care is expensive. Or there's the common misconception that Medicare administrative costs are lower than private plans, when in fact there is quite a bit of cost-shifting," says Weigel.

When patients use a government insurance program (such as Medicare), providers of health care shift more costs to people who have insurance. The result is higher premiums for people who purchase their insurance on the individual market and workers who receive insurance through their employers.

Tassey notes that rising prescription drug costs also fuel increases.

3. If you're young and healthy you don't need to pay for health insurance.

Then what happens when you break your leg in a snowboarding accident or blow out your knee while playing soccer? If you find that your tonsils need to be removed, the cost of a tonsillectomy can start at $5,000, with an additional $1,500 per day for an overnight hospital stay.

"There is this idea that if they need to be hospitalized they can just go to the emergency room because they have to take you," says Tassey. "We like to call them 'young immortals.'

"A problem arises when they have to be stabilized or, worse, have to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. What happens if they have to be transferred somewhere else for care or have to see a specialist? The cost could reach $100,000 once you add everything up, and starting out their lives in serious medical debt can have a long-term repercussions on their financial future."

Tassey says young people rarely think about health insurance until it's time to have a baby.

4. The highest numbers of uninsured people are under age 25.

The fastest-growing group of uninsured Americans is age 50 to 64. The difference between the younger and older people is accessibility to health insurance. While younger people who are not covered by an employer's health plan may find it easy to acquire affordable individual coverage on their own because of age and health status, older people do not have the same advantage.

According to recent estimates from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, middle-aged and older adults under age 65 (and not yet eligible for Medicare) are fast becoming the largest group of Americans without health insurance.