Will genomics kill the insurance industry?

BOSTON — Will genomics kill the insurance industry? It’s a credible scenario. And even biotechnology executives are beginning to buy into it.

BOSTON — Will genomics kill the insurance industry? It’s a credible scenario. And even biotechnology executives are beginning to buy into it.

Last week, during an industry conference held here in Boston, senior executives from several of the world’s leading genomics concerns agreed that genomics, with its promise of being able to show who will be predisposed to what disease, would eventually give rise to universal healthcare in the United States.

“This could happen especially if the defects in our genomes make us all uninsurable,” said panelist Craig Venter, uber-geneticist of human genome renown.

Indeed, you had to admire the panel for their candidness. They saw the writing on the wall. Genetic testing and genomic analysis would obviously turn the private payer system on its head, making it virtually impossible to run profitably without intense public outcry.

The good news about genomics is that we could soon be able to catch deadly diseases in their earliest stages, when many are still treatable and even curable. And genomics also holds the promise of being able to deliver a bold new generation of drugs that will work more effectively with our individual genetic quirks. The bad news is that everyone will learn they are a walking time bomb, in one way, shape or form.

So how will insurers be able to survive in this new “post-genome” world?

Not well. Actuarial tables will be turned to salt. The definition of “preexisting illness” will become hopelessly skewed. Those denied coverage because they carry, say, a breast cancer or Type II diabetes gene will invariably unite to lodge massive lawsuits against insurers. Eventually, public outcry would force Congress to pass such restrictive legislation that it will become impossible for health insurers to fulfill their primary corporate mission: to turn a profit.

And Big Tobacco thought it had problems.

Obviously, the demise of the health insurance industry would exact a toll on drug-makers as well. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries have been adamant in their position that drug price controls, an invariable part of universal healthcare, would bankrupt the world’s research budgets. As the US is now the last major stronghold of open market drug pricing, drug companies maintain that it is U.S. profits that are largely funding private sector medical research these days. Some even go so far as to insinuate that without being able to charge big bucks for their pills in the U.S., global biomedical research would come to a screeching halt.

But enough of the corporate rhetoric and back to the reality of the situation. With an uninsurable population, what will our health options be in this brave new post-genome world?

There are no easy answers to that question. But one thing is certain: With another presidential election year upon us, the debate over insurability will once again be pushed to the forefront.

Author: VAL BRICKATES

News Service: BridgeNews

URL: http://www.mercurycenter.com/svtech/news/breaking/merc/docs/043915.htm

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