U health ethicist

Jeremy Taff

From the possibility of human cloning to the popularity of Viagra, health insurance companies are being forced to decide what new technologies their plans will cover.
Jeffrey Kahn, program director for the University’s Center for Bioethics, recently began writing a semimonthly column for CNN Interactive, the online version of the cable television network. He was named contributing health columnist for CNN.com/HEALTH, the network’s online health page.
The key phrase in health sciences for the future is “lifestyle-enhancing drugs,” Kahn said.
“This will be a big issue because we’re going to live longer,” Kahn said.
Drugs to enhance memory and battle impotence are on their way or already here, Kahn said. Now insurance companies will have to decide whether to pay for these pills and treatments, he said.
“A pill to temporarily cure’ paralysis would be a miracle to those who would use it, but their numbers would be thankfully small,” Kahn said in his most recent online article. “That Viagra is beneficial for so many men is exactly why (insurance companies) are reluctant to cover it.”
Marilyn Joseph, director for Boynton Health Services, said insurance companies should either cover only treatments that prolong life or prevent death, or continue as they have in the past and pay for treatments such as prescription pain relievers for headaches.
She said headaches and impotence are nonlife-threatening ailments, and since insurance companies cover prescription pain reliever for headaches, they should follow suit with Viagra.
“Sexuality is very important to a person’s physical and mental health,” Joseph said. “Health insurance companies should pay for it like they pay for anything, as long as they set the same rules for other drugs.”
While Viagra currently is the only drug of its kind on the market, others of different chemical compounds are well on their way, Kahn said. The pill patented by Pfizer costs $10 a dose and lasts about four hours.
Another of Kahn’s articles covers a law passed last month in the New York Legislature that requires positive HIV test results to be reported to the state health department — similar to Minnesota’s policy. The law also states that people possibly exposed to infected individuals must be contacted, a policy Joseph said Minnesota also has.
If a student at Boynton tests positive for HIV, Boynton officials must report it to the state. The state will contact a student to find out who he or she might have infected, a practice Kahn shot down in the article.
“The public’s health is not served by driving underground potentially infected individuals for fear of their HIV status being made public,” Kahn said in the article. “The public’s health depends on the public’s trust, and while HIV test reporting serves collective interests, contact tracing of HIV infected individuals can only serve to undermine them.”