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'Internet of Bodies,' COVID-19 as a Preexisting Condition, Preventive Health Care: RAND Weekly Recap

November 6, 2020

We discuss the risks and benefits of a potential "Internet of Bodies" revolution; what happens if the ACA is struck down and COVID-19 is considered a preexisting condition; a drop in the use of preventive care; schools' pandemic preparedness; how much Americans value their health during the pandemic; and why the election won't affect U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.

Graphic depicting a man surrounded by potential Internet of Bodies health devices, graphic by Alyson Youngblood/RAND Corporation

Design by Alyson Youngblood/RAND Corporation

The Internet of Bodies Will Change Everything, for Better or Worse

Digital pills that tell your doctor when you've taken your medicine. Artificial pancreases that automate insulin dosing for diabetics. Smart diapers that alert parents when their baby needs to be changed. We're approaching an explosion of devices that monitor the human body, collect personal information, and transmit that data over the internet. This “Internet of Bodies” could transform everything. In a new study, RAND researchers examine the potential benefits and risks of an IoB revolution. They also identify how to address the looming privacy, security, and ethical concerns.

Health insurance form with model of COVID-19 virus and pen, photo by ajaykampani/Getty Images

Photo by ajaykampani/Getty Images

COVID-19: Preexisting Condition in a Post-ACA World?

Next week, the Supreme Court will consider another legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. If the ACA is struck down, then protections for preexisting conditions will go with it. And according to RAND experts, insurance companies could consider COVID-19 a preexisting condition. Because there are chronic problems associated with some COVID-19 cases, insurers might put restrictions on anyone who had a confirmed case. If the ACA is ruled unconstitutional, then policymakers will need to consider the implications for millions of COVID-19 survivors.

Empty medical office waiting room, photo by creativeneko/Getty Images

Photo by creativeneko/Getty Images

Use of Preventive Health Care Has Dropped Significantly

During the first two months of the COVID-19 lockdown, Americans dramatically reduced their use of preventive and elective health care. That's according to a new RAND study. This reduction came despite an enormous increase in the use of telemedicine. But of course, many diagnostic procedures can't take place online. For example, the number of mammograms and colonoscopies dropped by more than 65 percent. Delaying such procedures for a few months likely won't cause harm, but skipping them entirely could lead to negative health consequences.

The principal at Phoebe A. Hearst Elementary School hands a laptop to a student's parent in Sacramento, Calif., April 10, 2020, photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The principal at Phoebe A. Hearst Elementary School hands a laptop to a student's parent in Sacramento, California, April 10, 2020

Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Schools Need to Better Prepare for the Next Crisis

This past spring, nearly every school in America had to quickly shift to distance learning. A recent RAND survey asked principals how prepared they were for this challenge. Two-thirds said that they had already provided students in need with laptops or other devices. But less than half had trained teachers in online instruction. Overall, the results point to a need to better prepare for future crises that could shut down schools. Fortunately, principals are already focused on planning for such disruptions.

Customers are served at the Destiny USA mall during the reopening as COVID-19 restrictions are eased in Syracuse, New York, July 10, 2020, photo by Maranie Staab/Reuters

Customers are served at the Destiny USA mall after COVID-19 restrictions were eased in Syracuse, New York, July 10, 2020

Photo by Maranie Staab/Reuters

How Much Do Americans Value Their Health?

Do Americans believe that limiting the spread of COVID-19 justifies the social and economic costs of physical-distancing measures? To find out, RAND researchers conducted a survey designed to emphasize the perspectives of poor, non-white populations—those disproportionately shouldering the social and economic burdens of the pandemic. Overall, respondents placed a high priority on health, even when limits to individual liberties and the economy were implied. But it's worth noting that there were major differences between white and non-white respondents.

U.S. and China flags crossed on a table, photo by studiocasper/Getty Images

Photo by studiocasper/Getty Images

Why the Election Won't Change U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy

The outcome of the U.S. presidential election will be consequential in many ways. But no matter who wins, America's Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to ensure that the region stays “free and open,” will likely remain unchanged. “Trump and Biden's positions are virtually indistinguishable,” says RAND's Derek Grossman. What's more, there's bipartisan agreement on countering Beijing's assertiveness.

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