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May 23, 2005

The potential effect of the human genome on health insurance

HealthInsurance.gifDoctor and author Robin Cook has re-evaluated his view on universal health insurance based on advances in academic understanding of the human genome. In this NY Times op-ed, Dr. Cook notes the following:

In this dawning era of genomic medicine, the result may be that the concept of private health insurance, which is based on actuarially pooling risk within specified, fragmented groups, will become obsolete since risk cannot be pooled if it can be determined for individual policyholders. Genetically determined predilection for disease will become the modern equivalent of the "pre-existing condition" that private insurers have stringently avoided.

As a doctor I have always been against health insurance except for catastrophic care and for the very poor. It has been my experience that the doctor-patient relationship is the most personal and rewarding for both the patient and the doctor when a clear, direct fiduciary relationship exists. In such a circumstance, both individuals value the encounter more, which invariably leads to more time, more attention to potentially important details, and a higher level of patient compliance and satisfaction - all of which invariably result in a better outcome.

But with the end of pooling risk within defined groups, there is only one solution to the problem of paying for health care in the United States: to pool risk for the entire nation. (Under the rubric of health care I mean a comprehensive package that includes preventive care, acute care and catastrophic care.) Although I never thought I'd advocate a government-sponsored, obviously non-profit, tax-supported, universal access, single-payer plan, I've changed my mind: the sooner we move to such a system, the better off we will be. Only with universal health care will we be able to pool risk for the entire country and share what nature has dealt us; only then will there be no motivation for anyone or any organization to ferret out an individual's confidential, genetic makeup.

Hat tip to the HealthLawProf Blog for the link.

Posted by Tom at May 23, 2005 5:29 AM |


And the Federal Government has such a great track record handling these sorts of things too don't they.....

What a crock of (expletive deleted)!

Posted by: rorschach at May 25, 2005 9:43 AM

R, as you note in the prior posts in the "Health Care Finance" category of my blog, I'm no fan of government-controlled single payor health insurance. But I do believe that the writer's point about the effect that human genome research will have on health insurance underwriting is a valid one to consider.

Stated another way, I believe his point is that a government-sponsored national health care insurance that covers both healthy and unhealthy people is less costly than the same insurance that would cover only unhealthy people (in the case where private insurance would cover only healthy people). I'm not sure his theory is correct as a matter of insurance underwriting, but it's an interesting point to ponder.

Posted by: Tom at May 25, 2005 10:57 AM

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