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The Future Of Health Insurance – The Medical Futurist


In countries with socialized medicine, where
everyone has access to basic care, innovations are hard to roll out nationwide as the system
as a whole cannot afford it. In countries with private health insurance,
certain treatments such as cancer care are so expensive that only the privileged with
good insurance plans can afford them. And where politicians actively work to throw
millions off of their coverage and insurers deny service to people with pre-existing conditions,
it’s a whole new level of horror. The insurance business has to change. But it’s also bound to change. Let’s see what the future of health insurance
will look like. Artificial intelligence and new technologies
such as wearable sensors will change the status quo and insurance companies will certainly
try to implement these into practice. The spread of electronic medical records and
big data analytics will make it possible to move from reactive care to preventive and
personalized care. Why is it important? Because health insurance is a risky business. From the insurers’ side, they can’t get
enough information to make fully informed investments in a person’s future health. Companies can obtain information on a patient’s
gender, age and some basic details about lifestyle, but if they cannot measure any health parameters,
the value of the investment remains questionable. From the insured’s side, you simply don’t
want to pay for someone else’s healthcare who chooses to live an unhealthy life. So how does digital health change this? First of all, it will motivate you to live
a healthy life. It’s a key problem that today’s insurance
market is one-sided. Companies don’t reward you for staying healthy
and most people don’t take care of their health the way they should. They simply pay up, and when a symptom arises,
they’ll hope their doctors can fix the problem. But imagine to get reduced premiums if you
keep a healthy lifestyle. An American insurance company, Oscar Health,
is testing those waters. Their patients get Amazon gift cards as rewards
for achieving their daily goals as measured by a FitBit activity tracker. It’s a small start, but a start nevertheless. And much more can be done. Even today, patients can measure sleep quality,
physical activity, stress and blood pressure, and many other parameters at home. But big data can go so much further than that. An Iceland based company, DeCode Genetics,
says it has collected full DNA sequences of over 10,000 individuals. And because people in Iceland are closely
related, DeCode says it can now also extrapolate to accurately guess the DNA makeup of nearly
all other 320,000 citizens of the country, including those who never participated in
its studies. What does it mean? According to their CEO, they are able to identify
everyone from the country who has a deadly cancer risk. The only problem, they are unable to yet warn
those people because of the ethical rules of their research. But it’s inevitable that these amazing data
sets about our health and our lifestyle will change healthcare as we know it. So is the future all bright and shiny? Well, not exactly. It is no question that this immense amount
of health data will be utilized by health insurance companies. The question is rather how they will do it. What if companies will only provide patients
with insurance if they are allowed to access all of their data, including data coming from
sleep and fitness trackers, the blood pressure and ECG they store and the gadgets they use
to assess their general well-being. What if companies will leverage on that data
to make premiums higher for high-risk patients? What about predominantly genetic and not lifestyle-related
problems? What if insurers take pre-existing conditions
one step further and require genetic tests to provide a personalized plan? That’s why regulators must be at the forefront
of innovation. Only they can ensure to avoid the creation
of a Dr. Big Brother who watches us, has access to every detail of our lives and thus impacts
our personal decisions. We must at all costs avoid a scenario where
someone would control what we eat, when we exercise and when we lay down to sleep. But if I need to share my fitness tracker’s
data with my health insurance company to enjoy the rewards of living a healthy life and to
have an equally compensated healthcare system, I’m happy to do that. As long as I’m the sole authority over my
health data, and I can decide what and who I choose to share it with, it’s a small
price to pay for a cheaper, sustainable, and ultimately, a more effective health insurance
system.

About Bill McCormick

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