Antibiotics Exit the Menu

The fast-food industry has historically been slow to change its ways, particularly when profits are involved. But on one issue, it seems that more chains are now responding to pressure from consumers. These restaurants are moving to keep unnecessary antibiotics out of the production of the billions of pounds of beef, chicken, turkey, and pork that the industry serves every year. According to a new joint investigation by several health and environmental organizations—including Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports—nine of the top 25 fast-food restaurants have publicly committed to significantly limiting their use of the drugs (up from five chains in 2015).

The report, which grades the chains on their antibiotic policies and practices, found that Panera and Chipotle lead the pack with A grades; almost all the meat they serve—beef, chicken, pork, and turkey—is raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Subway might rate a “most improved”: Last year it got an F; this year, a B. It says that by the end of 2016 all of its chicken will be raised without antibiotics. But KFC, Burger King, and 14 other chains received failing grades.

Antibiotics are frequently used to help fatten livestock and keep the animals healthy in crowded, unsanitary conditions. But overuse contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which infect an estimated 2 million people in the U.S. each year, of whom roughly 23,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is the health crisis of our generation,” Consumer Reports’ president and CEO, Marta Tellado, told delegates to the United Nations in September during a special session on antibiotic resistance. “We need leadership on a scale that we have not yet seen.” The U.N. ultimately passed a resolution to help combat the epidemic. To find out more about the overuse of antibiotics, go to ConsumerReports.org/superbugs. You can read the scorecard of restaurant grades at ConsumerReports.org/holdantibiotics.

Minding Our Medical Bills

Within the past two years, almost one in four privately insured Californians received a medical bill only to discover that his or her health plan paid less than expected, according to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey of 825 privately insured California residents. Among those patients, almost one in four was charged an out-of-network rate for healthcare even though he or she had thought a provider was in-network, an all-too-common scenario as more and more medical specialists are declining to enter into contracts with health insurers.

But although unwelcome surprises like those continue to plague patients nationwide, Californians can now recover from their ailments without that worry. That’s because the Golden State recently enacted a law that ensures that its residents will pay only in-network prices when receiving treatment at in-network hospitals, labs, imaging centers, and other healthcare facilities. California already had those consumer protections in place for emergency care. Consumer Reports strongly supported the California law and worked with legislators to share stories of Californians hit with such unfair bills. We also helped to generate calls, emails, and social media outreach to lawmakers.

“This bill is a victory for the millions of Californians who will be protected from surprise medical bills, and it boosts the movement to end the financial pain in states around the country,” says Betsy Imholz, special projects director at Consumers Union.

In fact, our advocates are working in several states to help push for similar legislation and were strong proponents of a law recently passed in Florida that also strengthens patient protections. Go to EndSurpriseMedicalBills.org to learn more about our campaign to safeguard your rights in this area.

Pushing Back on Bad Banks

Our financial system lost a lot of credit with the public in 2008, and so far it doesn’t seem to be too concerned about improving its reputation. Comparing the months of May through July of this year with the same period in 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has seen consumer complaints involving bank accounts and services spike 26 percent.

A majority of the complaints are about problems with checking accounts, including overdraft fees and inaccuracies in credit reports­—concerns that we at Consumer Reports have raised for years.

The CFPB’s complaint database is a crucial tool that helps track and tackle troubling trends. If you find that you’re experiencing a problem like those mentioned with your own banking services, we encourage you to report the problem at cfpb.gov/complaint.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.