NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 12, 2009

It's a myth that investing in preventive care now will save you money in the long run, says Philip Klein, a columnist with the American Spectator.

The idea that by preventing illnesses we can avoid costly treatments down the road sounds intuitive but while the costs of treating an individual for a given illness may be exorbitant, the costs for testing, screening and providing early treatment for millions of other people is often much higher, says Klein.

For instance:

  • H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, wrote in the New York Times last year, "increasing the amount of testing for an ever-expanding list of problems always identifies many more people as having disease and still more as being 'at risk'."
  • Over-diagnosis, in addition to incurring unnecessary costs, results in treatment such as surgery or prescription medication, both which have risks and potential side effects.
  • Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine argued that preventive care can save money in certain instances, but it depends on the type of illness and who is being targeted.
  • The authors concluded that their findings suggest that the broad generalizations made by many presidential candidates can be misleading and although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not.

Again, there are arguments to be made in favor of such measures, and no price can be put on a person's peace of mind if they test negative for a devastating illness, but it is misleading to speak of preventive care as a magic bullet that will substantially reduce our nation's health care costs, says Klein.

Source: Philip Klein, "The Matter With Myths," American Spectator, July/August 2009.

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