Another editorial - this one in the Houston Chronicle - blasts the new Texas law that mandates insurance coverage of two screening tests for heart disease. The editorial concludes:
Texans should know there is no such thing as a free lunch. Healthy people who choose to be screened with a CT scan will be exposed to a hefty dose of radiation, a concern for the later development of cancer. Positive tests may lead to more testing and treatments, each with their own potential harmful effects. Some may additionally be harmed by ambiguous or inaccurate test results that classify people as sick when they are healthy or healthy when they are sick.
Texans may also feel the cost in their wallets. Though supporters of this law estimate that they can save 1.6 billion dollars in health care costs annually by preventing heart attacks, this is a guess. The increased use of these tests and the subsequent treatments that result will certainly drive up insurance payments in the short-term. Will health insurers eat these costs, seeing the potential for long-term savings? Or will they pass along the bill to patients in the form of more expensive health policies or higher premiums and co-payments? Will they now deny coverage of other tests or treatments?
While health insurance companies in Texas have been dealt their hand, the people of Texas still have a choice. Adults will need to consider whether to be screened or whether to consider alternative, scientifically supported strategies for preventing heart attacks, such as eating healthier, exercising, quitting smoking and getting screened for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
As for the rest of our country, we need to focus our energies on laws that will increase access to high quality, effective medical care that is supported by objective, rigorous scientific evidence. We also need to encourage policy makers to support research, so that we can advance and improve upon our existing strategies for preventing heart disease.
Until then, this new law promises nothing more than a blind poker hand. Place your bets.
(Thanks to Marilyn Mann for the tip.)