Healthcare in America is in a crisis. By 1996, more than 43 million Americans were uninsured. By 2010, the number is expected to rise to 57 million. These figures are already shocking, but they are even more so considering that the healthcare costs of the US total $1.2 trillion or 15% of the gross national product (GNP) – the highest in the world.
The rise in healthcare costs has been the result of a multitude of factors: aging of the population, skyrocketing prescription drug costs, and stricter healthcare legislation. But perhaps the greatest contributor to increased costs has been the development of new biomedical technologies and the greater use of sophisticated medical procedures.
The development of such technologies has not lead to increased costs as much as our dependence upon such technologies has. They have greatly improved our ability to diagnose and treat illnesses but we continue to use them excessively. As a result, we must find a way to reduce our use of such technologies and therefore reduce our overall health care expenditures. If we do not, healthcare costs will rise to $2.18 trillion by 2008.
Therefore, the answer to reducing costs is to adopt a healthcare system based upon preventive medicine. With the rapid advances in medical science in the past half century, the healthcare system now has a new “molecular toolkit” at its disposal. Specifically, the availability of genetic testing has made it feasible to diagnose and determine the risk of disease before the actual onset, and therefore reduce our dependence upon costly medical procedures. Thus, to address our concerns of spiraling healthcare costs and inequity in healthcare distribution, I propose the widespread use of genetic testing in the US healthcare system.
What is Genetic Testing?
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, “Genetic testing is the analysis of human DNA, RNA, chromosomes, protein, and certain metabolites in order to detect heritable disease-related genotypes, mutations, phenotypes, or karyotypes for clinical purposes. Prenatal, newborn and carrier screening, as well as testing in high risk families, are included. Tests for metabolites are covered only when they are undertaken with high probability that an excess or deficiency of the metabolite indicates the presence of heritable mutations in single genes.” As of now, nearly 400 genetic tests are currently being offered to the public.
The Promise of Genetic Testing
Increased information about genetics and disease susceptibility has led to an interest in genetic testing. Initially, medical genetics was devoted largely to the study of
relatively rare single-gene or chromosomal disorders. But as result of advances in molecular medicine, genetics is now able to provide information about more common and accordingly more costly diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and coronary artery disease. It is the predictive ability of genetic tests for...