Measuring Up to Health Reform
Nobody knows exactly how changing Americans’ health insurance options will change our national bottom line, but a new philanthropic project is trying to measure the bottom-line effects to our health of the big budgetary decisions government makes when it’s not wrestling with medical reform.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced last week that it’s teaming with the Pew Charitable Trusts to divvy $7.2 million in grants for 15 projects that show how capital investment in transportation and other big-ticket items affect peoples’ health. Health impact assessments (which I’ll refuse to acronymize) put dollar values on chronic or morbid conditions that researchers can trace to policies (siting power plants, let’s say, or closing factories) and highlight “subgroups” that need special attention.
In an economy that will devote ever-huger chunks to managing climate change, knowing early about who gets especially sick from changes in temperature or atmosphere can help employers and governments manage their workforces and contingencies. And isolating vulnerable populations can lead to identifying market niches. If we’d tracked health impacts more vigorously, perhaps, we’d have fostered senior-citizen demand for the Wii or rejiggered the tax-incentive menu to encourage production of H1N1 vaccine.
It’s way too early and too chaotic to tell what the plink of $7.2 million in grants to nonprofits will mean to the roar of health reform. But with changes in health insurance coming this year and changes in our atmosphere following in waves over the coming decades, we’d be smart to start measuring every economic strategy in sick days, hospital stays and shots.
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