OUR VIEW: The costs of delaying death

Sep 18 2012 - 2:07pm

Using the term "death panel" is not fair, however as we move into the implementation of health care reform, we'll need to have a serious debate over the costs of delaying death.

Newsweek magazine tackled this issue. Their reporting shows an irony between the advancements in medicine and preventative health. The costs are astounding, the returns low. Many of these hyper-expensive later-term cancer drugs prolong lives a few months. Consider these examples:

* A new breast cancer drug costs $188,000 and delays the cancer's growth by six months.

* A skin cancer drug costs $120,000 and extends life by four months.

* A prostrate cancer drug costs $93,000 and extends life by four months.

* To add two months to the lives of advanced-stage lung cancer patients, it costs $10,000 a month.

* To gain 14 to 16 more days of life, a pancreatic cancer drug costs $15,000.

* To add five months to the lives of colon cancer patients, a drug costs $10,000 a month.

It doesn't make fiscal sense for those kinds of expenses to be incurred by a health care insurance plan to extend lives for a week or months. It also directly contradicts the theme and goals of the new health care law, which is that America needs a leaner health care system that can ultimately produce better quality for all Americans.

In fact, the Institute of Medicine, in a report provided to Congress, says that $750 billion each year is wasted in the U.S. health care system. Such factors add too much bureaucracy and an over-emphasis on repeated health tests, such as colonoscopies, brain scans and early imaging for back pain.

Trimming these now-normal procedures cannot be enacted by the government in a fiat manner. If Obamacare attempts to restrict tests or access to drugs by fiat, in a cold, impersonal manner, health care reform will fail. In order to save money, and trim unnecessary tests and late-term drugs, doctors, health care providers, and patients will need to have close patient-provider relationships that are honest and filled with trust.

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