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Behavioral Scientist Offers New View of Healthcare

<st Friday, Carleton alum Peter Ubel ‘84, behavioral scientist and Duke University professor, explored the issue of American healthcare.

In his presentation titled “Battling Over Healthcare”, Ubel focused on “the weird clash of morality and psychology that threatens to bankrupt us.” By examining American politics and its effect on decision-making, he emphasized how poorly we view the world objectively.

Ubel argued that controlling health care costs is intricately tied to other major goals, such as a strong military, good public schooling, and “your favorite government program.”

According to him, internal biases can greatly affect decision-making. He noted the example of ambiguous voting ballots and the way seemingly objective decisions are affected by subjective political biases. As a result, Ubel emphasized that people can be highly biased by their strong beliefs.

He also referred to a study comparing people with little political knowledge and those with more. The findings were surprising, as it showed that those with more knowledge actually “hung onto their strong beliefs even more tightly when their worldviews were threatened.”

The implications are unsettling, because they go against the usual assumption that the more political awareness one has, the more open-minded they are expected to be.

With regards to health care policy, he lamented how many issues are becoming increasingly politicized. He referred to mammogram examinations for breast cancer, and how medical experts suggest some women should get screened at a younger age.

With the high possibility of positive negatives, many of these screenings end up being counter-productive, requiring women to return for more tests, inflicting them with high levels of anxiety.

Ubel illustrated that any resistance against encouraging women to get screened earlier becomes associated with cheapening life to save money.

This, he argued, becomes “an example of how the non-political is quickly becoming political.”

He also illustrated how important loss aversion is, arguing that “trying to control health care costs means that places lose money and a lot of people are very against this.” Recognizing and then trying to overcome this issue remains a crucial element.

In addition he emphasized that for years doctors “balance the interests of their patients with societal interests” and refrain from distributing more potent drugs too frequently so that they would be reduced in efficiency later on.

Ubel highlighted the many health care policy mandates that are identified with political ideology, which he argued is a problem we need to overcome.

“Many times we get into the debate thinking we know the answer,” said Ubel, which then limits the extent of our learning and understanding of one another and often leads to politicization of events.

“There is wisdom in not knowing – we need to be humble and come to these debates willing to learn something, instead of thinking we already know the answer.”

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