Friday, March 14, 2008

Insurance and Incentives: Private or Public?

[Sam Beasley, a law and bioethics student here at Indiana University, is a new member of the PredictER team. I asked him, as a way of introducing himself to PredictER's readers and friends, to share his thoughts on any topic relevant to the future of predictive health and personalized medicine. I think this is a good post and I hope that we will see more of Sam's contributions to PredictER Blog in the weeks to come. – Jere Odell]

Now, before I begin, I need to state upfront that this is the first blog post I have ever written and I am in no way an expert in politics, public policy, health care provision, insurance. I am also new to the PredictER project, and will be working with Jennifer Girod to investigate the legal and policy implications of predictive medicine. I hope that this experience will broaden and deepen my understanding of health care and public policy. Jere asked me to share what's on my mind, so here it is:

Following the publication of "Insurance Fears Lead Many to Shun DNA Tests" in The New York Times (24 February 2008), the blogosphere lit up with comments on the need to protect people from discrimination—protection that would be, presumably, provided by S. 358, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). A few, like David Dooling of PolITiGenomics, observed that the status-quo of insurance provision in the United States may seriously discourage the progress of medical research and personalized medicine. I'd like to take this discussion and move it an inch or two away from the worthy topic of discrimination. Let's think about the research and health care climate:

Which insurance system provides the most incentive to pursue predictive and preventative forms of medicine: a public-funded system or the current private system—one, in which private companies sell insurance to individuals?

As I said, I am certainly not an expert on these issues, but it seems to me that the major means of preventing chronic disease are, in large measure, socially, culturally and politically influenced (think food subsidies, health education in public schools, etc.). If eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting scheduled medical exams, and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and drug abuse are indeed foundational in the pursuit of life-long health, then public ownership would seem to be the way to go.

Public is superior to private because by spreading the bill for health care over the entire population, you would provide increased incentive for voters to support public programs that promote preventative health measures. In private systems where like-situated individuals are pooled together, the healthy will remain concerned about their own health, and not the health of their neighbors. Only when the health of all affects the individual, will the individual begin to care. And if we’ve learned anything in America, the quickest way to get people to care is through their wallet.

I am not arguing here that this is the “fairest” way to do things, (although my liberal leaning makes me inclined to think that basic health care for all is a social good worth our investment) to the contrary; some may abuse the system and choose not to pursue healthy living practices simply because they know that the cost to them will be subsidized by everyone else. I merely intend to say that if we want to stem the tide of deteriorating health in this country, we have got to find a way to make healthy living a social value. Broad-reaching social programs can do a lot to influence individual practices. If we can teach people to live in a way conducive to health, provide incentives for doing so, and get them the care that they need before minor problems turn into major ones [note: emergency room care will never be the most cost-effective means of providing basic health care needs], then we might be able to turn things around. Of course, this is just one piece in a complicated puzzle, but we have got to do better by ourselves, and if a public health care system is a step in the right direction, then we should pursue it. – Sam Beasley

1 comment:

drmichael00 said...

FYI: Coburn just lifted his hold on GINA.