2011-09-21 "Death Panel Machine" by Bruce Joffe
The world's most powerful computer was given a friendly name, "Watson." Sherlock Holmes' assistant, Alexander Graham Bell's assistant, it's a helpful name.
Watson was introduced to the public as a friendly entertainment. It beat the best human player in "Jeopardy," a friendlier game than chess. Friendly. Helpful. Entertaining.
Now, the Watson computer is being used by the WellPoint health insurance company to determine how much health care to grant to each of its customers. This machine will determine who gets medical coverage, how much, and who doesn't. Who lives and who dies.
So how does this machine work? It is programmed to consider a host of factors to diagnose patients' disease, then it can determine which patients will be covered. Factors like cost and probability of recovery will be calculated, and balanced against the imperative that WellPoint makes a profit. The owners of the company can have the computer reduce the amount of coverage and thereby guarantee increased profit for themselves. If the reduction is done gradually, no one will know, no one will object. A few more people will die a bit younger than before. The average age for life expectancy drops a little. Some people live longer, so its not a hard-line execution. But gradually, this machine will enable a few to become very, very rich by reducing the health and life of everyone else. It's one more weapon in the billionaires' class warfare.
We've heard Sarah Palin and other Republican hyenas scream against imaginary "death panels" to discredit President Obama's health insurance reform. Now a private company has a machine that is programmed to run a death panel. Where are the screamers now? Bought off by the company? Will selected beneficiaries get health coverage no matter what happens?
Watson is a death panel machine, being used by a profit making company to harvest the health of its customers. Soon, every health insurance company will be using a Watson. We need health insurance regulation now, more than ever.
* 2011-09-12 "WellPoint's New Hire. What Is Watson?" from "Wall Street Journal"
* 2011-09-13 "WellPoint to use famed IBM supercomputer" from "Los Angeles Times"