Today, students handed in their final work (except for the final exam) of this semester--a research paper. I really like their final project--it's a collaborative one, with students working in groups of 3 or 4. They have to select a developing country, then identify a problem in that country, and present an oral report the background on the country and problem, then argue whether or not the developed countries, especially the U.S., have an obligation to help solve the problem. Then each student writes her own research paper on the group topic. For example, one group selected Cambodia and the problem of human trafficking.
What I especially enjoy about this project is helping students to expand their research capabilities. Research is one of those things I do best. In fact, before I returned to teaching five years ago, I was engaged in research--sort of. Of course, there's a back story.
I have written about some of the various jobs I have held through my 40 + years of working, but I don't think I have written much about working at the health insurance company--my last full time job.
I was hired to do health policy research in a newly established institute. This institute was housed entirely within the health insurance company and was really something of a p.r. outreach arm. In other words, the folks at this company weren't really interested in doing true health research studies.
And how, you might wonder, did I learn about this? When I first joined the health insurance company, I had high hopes for doing some interesting health policy research and analysis. I enjoy figuring out why things are the way they are, so I envisioned pursuing some challenging health questions, for their own sake. When I first arrived at this new job, one study had already been completed, and another two were in publishing stages. So I set about to work with these works in progress.
Then I got my rude awakening. The completed study was on the health costs of violence--a very interesting subject. But the researchers were a small group from Princeton, NJ (not affiliated with the university) who had a preconceived notion of what they wanted the research to show--namely that the costs that result from violence are not really health costs, so health insurance shouldn't pay for them. Huh? I argued for awhile about that conclusion--I said what difference does it make which pocket you take the money from. If someone is injured by gunshot, the medical procedures needed to make him whole again have to be done, and someone will pay for the care. Clue # 1.
Then I had one of the doctors at the health insurance company come to me and say--why don't you do a research study that shows the terrible consequences of women having abortions. What do you mean, I asked. Well, they all suffer from guilt, and need psychiatric care--he answered. Huh again? See, when you do a research study you don't normally start out with the conclusion and then bend the data to produce the result you want. I nixed that "research." Clue # 2.
Another member of senior management came to me and said--let's research the health costs of caring for people in the last year of life. OK, I said--and then what? Well, then we (meaning the health insurance company) could decline to pay for really high cost medicine in the last year of life since it won't help the person anyway. Well, I noted, you don't know when a person's last year of life begins. So, I pointed out that such a study can only be done retrospectively and can never be applied prospectively. Oh. Another research study not done. Clue # 3.
Finally, another doctor asked if I could give some grant money to a company that had developed cancer treatments that could target specific cancer types. Sounded good. I asked how the researchers would identify which patients to use the treatments on. Then he said--we'll give them the patient information so they know who to contact. Huh? I suggested (gently) that it might not be a good idea to give to a third party confidential patient information. Oh. Clue # 4.
Well, my health research days were--shall we say--not long at that company. And my little health institute is no more. Truth be told--I am MUCH happier being "retired" and teaching college freshmen how to think clearly--I only hope their research efforts are less thwarted.