Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Real Death Panels

There's a disturbing story in the NYTimes today about how Wall Street is now buying and repackaging life insurance policies the way it did mortgages over the last decade. The author, Jenny Anderson, explores whether such financial products would similarly put investors at risk, and whether having such a market might entice the ailing and elderly to part with their potential payouts for too little in return.

But unseemly as the notion of Wall Street, fresh off its bailout, reprising a disastrous business model by again enticing the foolhardy to make bad financial decisions (buying a house you can't afford, or taking 40 cents on the dollar for your life insurance payout when you're likely to die soon), the author glosses over the far more sinister aspect:

Wall Street (and all its investors from pension funds to companies to individuals) will have an interest in seeing the sickly die.

This is because death triggers the payout, while extended life requires investors who bought the policy to pay in indefinitely. Anderson even touches on this peripherally in the piece:

A bond made up of life settlements would ideally have policies from people with a range of diseases — leukemia, lung cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. That is because if too many people with leukemia are in the securitization portfolio, and a cure is developed, the value of the bond would plummet.

So that means that hundreds of millions of dollars will be lost if cures for particular diseases are developed, thereby enabling people to live longer. Once an interest like that gets entrenched, it's lobbyists will do whatever they can to discourage medical innovation, healthy lifestyles and anything else that will devalue the investment. They will quite literally be profiting off of disease and death. And like our current health care industry (which helps create the world's 37th best outcomes at by far the greatest cost), it will fight and lie and do whatever it takes to perpetuate itself.

These are the real death panels - and they come not from the government but from a free market that's permitted to operate beyond the scope of its expertise and usefulness. In matters of sickness and health - and life and death - conscience rather than greed, should inform our policy.

Even if Wall Street hadn't destroyed our economy and profited from the bailout with such a similar scheme, this idea would be monstrous. That it's happening in the current environment is beyond nihilistic - it borders on a concept that one should not throw around loosely when talking about other human beings: evil.

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