Sunday, November 21, 2010

Can't Trust Health Insurers or Government With Private Data: The Irony of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act & Airport Security Pat Downs

At a conference last spring, a Pennsylvania Congressman repeated the tiresome political canard that health insurers' collection of their customers' genetic data would lead to systematic discrimination. The Disease Management Care Blog raised its hand and pointed out that the evidence of such bias was largely anecdotal. What's more, it said, insurers have a duty to underwriting accuracy in the individual market. Wouldn't it be better, said the DMCB, if Congress developed policy in concert with the supporting State regulations that reconciled the small risk of abuse against the greater good of insurers finding and helping patients who could benefit from early intervention and treatment?

The bombastic reply was telling: that makes no difference, he said, because the federal government can't "trust" insurers to do the right thing.

Round over, Congressman 1, DMCB 0.

Which is why the DMCB appreciates the irony of the "you touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested" pickle that the Transportation Security Administration finds itself in. Courtesy of its government, U.S. air travelers are undergoing humiliating and upsetting "assaults." Has it really come down to this? Really?

The acerbic Charles Krauthammer, representing the conservatives in this matter, has a solution. Writing in a recent column in Washington Post, he points out that the Feds should pursue another approach: they can profile passengers and focus screening on persons that represent a measurably higher level of risk. Of course, that would involve computerized "strip searches" of our personal data, leading to the kind of analytics that are not only politically incorrect and but potentially invasive, discriminatory and unconstitutional. In response to Americans' frustrations, the President says he's feeling our pain, but isn't about to tell the TSA to stand down.

So the DMCB has to hand it to the government: at least they're being consistent. If health insurers can't profile their enrollees and use their data against them, the government shouldn't be able to profile travelers and use that information either. Health insurance enrollees are giving up genetic screening programs, counseling, additional testing and treatment in exchange for their genetic privacy. Air travelers are trading radiation, virtual nudity and some groping in exchange for their religious, national, family and personal anonymity.

It appears we've concluded that neither the government or the health insurers can be trusted. And for that decision, we'll all be treated equally crummy.

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