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Breathtaking advances in medical science have paved the way for this kind of healthcare insurance. Unlike traditional coverage that is paid out to cover or reduce the treatment cost, stem cell insurance is designed to maximize the chance of surviving diseases and prolong the lives of policyholders. In the event that the policyholder needs a stem cell transplantation, the cost-saving of this benefit offering is compelling: Autologous (one´s own) stem-cell transplantation is one-tenth the cost of allogeneic transplantation, which involves cells donated by other people - and all the attendant costs and complications that follow from cells of foreign origin.
The most provocative and exciting stem cell treatment to emerge in the last six months is the use of autologous stem cells to repair damaged heart muscle. Heart disease is the number one killer of both males and females; each year in the United States almost 8 million individuals suffer from heart attacks. Repairing a damaged heart is an important achievement because heart muscle cells do not repair themselves. Instead, scar tissue is formed. The damage was once thought to be irreversible, eventually leading to heart failure. Now, after a number of recent human trials in Europe, Asia and the Americas, there is strong and persuasive evidence that autologous stem cells may offer an exceptionally effective therapy that restores function to damaged heart muscle.
Human resource departments soon will play a pivotal role in making available to employees the chance to finance the collection, and storage of their own stem cells. The option, which is expected in both individual and group insurance markets sometime next year, could be offered through payroll deduction and delivered as part of a cafeteria-style or flexible benefit plan.
Adult stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells, which have been the source of so much controversy. Obtaining these stem cells does not involve embryos or fetuses and, more importantly, adult stem cell transplantation is an established medical procedure for many diseases, without ethical or religious taint. Far from being limited, the supply of adult stem cells that can prolong life is virtually limitless.
Demand for autologous adult stem cell banking surely will grow as regenerative medicine revolutionizes treatment options in the 21st Century. Given the rate of new therapeutic treatments, stem cell insurance could become a common elective group health plan option and collective-bargaining chip within the next few years.
For human resource professionals who are involved with at-risk populations, they should evaluate this new form of insurance immediately, since adult stem cell therapy is curative in high percentage of cases for radiation sickness. Under the arrangement, each employee can be given a choice to insure that his or her own non-irradiated cells would be available for hematopoetic rescue following a lethal dose of radiation. This, together with the availability of potassium iodide tablets, offers a readily achievable defense against many of the consequences of what might otherwise be lethal exposure to radiation. Particularly important for at-risk workers such as miners, radiologists, or military personnel who may be exposed to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons fallout would have the option of banking their own healthy stem cells for later use in potentially life-saving medical procedures.
As with traditional health insurance, policyholders would pay a premium for the collection and annual storage of an individual´s own stem cells. It offers better value than supplemental cancer insurance or special health-event insurance because storing one´s own stem cells improves the chance of treating a serious illness as well as extending life.
Over the past several decades, adult stem cells have been used to treat and cure a wide range of diseases; to date in excess of 70 conditions, including leukemia and lymphoma, have been established as receptive to stem-cell transplantation. The promise of stem cell therapies is an exciting one, the development of new clinical applications is certain and imminent. Using one´s own stem cells to treat cardiovascular disease is an example of important latest clinical therapeutic development. In the future, adult stem cells are likely to be used in the treatment for diabetes II, spiral cord injuries, as well as ALS, Parkinson´s and Alzheimer´s disease.
With the use of adult stem cells becoming a cornerstone of medicine in the coming decades, we believe that most people who store their own stem cells today will, in fact, use them during their lifetime. The role of adult stem-cell insurance in the group insurance market will become common optional health insurance as the concept gains acceptance among consumers, physicians, insurance underwriters, third-party administrators, and both fully and self-insured employers.
In 2000, the National Institutes of Health noted that "given the enormous promise of stem cells to the development of new therapies for the most devastating diseases, when a readily available source of stem cells is identified, it is not unrealistic to say that this research will revolutionize the practice of medicine and improve the quality and length of life." That readily available source is one´s own stem cells. The concept of using natural human cells to restore function and to heal tissues and organs damaged by trauma, disease or aging is quite literally just around the corner. The advent of stem cell insurance is one harbinger of this new era in regenerative medicine.