The politics of preventive health care have changed dramatically in the last fifteen years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, prevention was the motherhood issue of health care reform. With only the slightest glimmer of controversy, vaccination, promotion of lifestyle changes, mass screening, and safety regulation all became widely accepted strategies for improving health and reducing medical expenditures. By the mid-1980s, the dark side of each strategy became visible. Vaccinations can cause serious and permanent injuries; lifestyle factors are being used to raise insurance premiums, to deny eligibility for disability insurance benefits, and to deny employment. Screening is similarly used to deny employment, and new technologies for prenatal screening have raised fears of stigma and selective abortion among racial, handicapped, and antiabortion groups. Occupational safety regulation is increasingly focused on excluding the “high-risk” individual from jobs. In the absence of social protections from these economic and social harms, citizens have used tort and civil rights litigation to resist preventive health measures.

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