The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Brian Gongol

Today's weather word: Effervescent. It was breezy outside and scorching hot inside the WHO Radio studios today. "Effervescent" seems like just the word for such a day.

Brian Dean got to see UNI's Lang Hall in all its glory this past week for the Iowa High School Speech Association's All-State Festival. The building underwent massive renovations while I was attending Northern Iowa. They were badly needed: I have a photo of a gap between the vertical supports in one railing in an open stairwell that a full-sized adult could've fallen through.

A complete map of your genes could become a regular part of your medical care before the London Summer Olympics. In other words, it's right around the corner. And it could revolutionize health care in virtually every way. Not every disease or malady is genetic, of course, but a huge share of them at least have a genetic connection. And the more we know about the things we're likely to face, the more important things like our lifestyle choices and behaviors will become.

Take, for instance, the case of heart disease. For now, your health insurance application might ask whether anyone in your immediate family has had high blood pressure or some kind of heart disease. When you answer "yes" or "no," you're giving them information that they in turn use to decide how likely you are to require expensive treatment later on. But if we can take a simple blood draw and use it to figure out everything that's in your entire set of genes, that might enable us to tell whether you're carrying certain genes that make you much more likely to have, say, a heart attack.

That knowledge, of course, could be used for lots of good purposes. If you can tell at age 10 or 15 that you're at high risk for heart disease as an adult, then you can learn to make dietary and exercise choices that will lower your risk of having that heart attack later. If your parents know that your young arteries are already collecting cholesterol that could kill you later, they might stop taking you for burgers and fries and might spend more time taking you to the swimming pool. And then as you get older, you could use that genetic knowledge to help you make informed choices about how often to get cholesterol screenings or ultrasound tests on your carotid arteries.

But that same knowledge could also be used to hurt you. If, for instance, it turns out that you're genetically predisposed to get something complicated, chronic, and expensive like multiple sclerosis, then you would certainly not want insurance companies to be able to deny you coverage preemptively.

Genetic screening, which seems almost certain to become a common part of reality in the very near future, is likely to take a lot of things that look like they happen at random today and turn them into things we can predict and prepare for. That totally overturns the whole nature of health insurance, which is based on placing large numbers of people into risk pools from which any individual is assumed to have a roughly equal chance of needing expensive care. But if things that appeared to happen purely by chance become predictable, then huge numbers of people may find themselves being labeled "uninsurable," which may force them into state-managed health-insurance plans. But that same information that could make a person appear uninsurable could also be precisely the information that allows them to make decisions that could allow them to cheat Mother Nature by taking smart precautions -- which could lead to much greater life expectancies.

Fundamentally, the changes could be quite radical: If we can perform surveillance on serious chronic diseases before they emerge, and promote lifestyle choices that will delay (or even prevent altogether) their onset, we could be adding not just years, but even decades, to life expectancy. But that could, in turn, completely change our expectations about how long we'll spend in retirement. Sadly, with all the potential this knowledge could give us, many Americans don't seem ready to use it. And that's important, because we're going to the ballot box in November to decide who's making choices in the White House and in Congress...and the technology could easily become reality while they're in office.

Moreover, consider this: If better surveillance and better treatment could allow us to routinely make it to age 100 or 110 -- or perhaps 125 or 150 -- then you could be in a career for 50 or even 100 years. And paying taxes on all the debt we've been building up.

That brings us to comments that former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers made the other day: He says the government needs to be encouraging banks to build up capital. That sounds like a pretty strong confirmation of my earlier suspicions that the 2008 "economic stimulus" package was really a bank bailout package.

Amazing news: It's finally legal to buy a microwave oven in Cuba. (In case you don't read Spanish, try using the Babelfish translation service.

Some long-overdue updates to the Future Scale are up.

Should you butter your steaks? Brian Gongol and Brian Dean exchanged some thoughts on the matter on Twitter during the show.

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