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Health Costs, Medicine and Society

Is $618,616 too much to (try to) save a life?

Bloomberg writer Amanda Bennett today puts a very personal spin on the debate over health reform and our country’s ballooning health-care costs. In this piece she talks about her late husband’s cancer and the price of the (ultimately futile) attempts to save him:

The bills totaled $618,616, almost two-thirds of it for the final 24 months, much of it for treatments that no one can say for sure helped extend his life.

In just the last four days of trying to keep him alive — two in intensive care, two in a cancer ward — our insurance was charged $43,711 for doctors, medicines, monitors, X-rays and scans. Two years later, the only thing I know for certain that money bought was confirmation that he was dying.

Some of the drugs probably did Terence no good at all. At least one helped fewer than 10 percent of all those who took it. Pharmaceutical companies and insurers will have to sort out the economics of treatments that end up working for only a small subset. Should everyone have the right to try them? Terence and I answered yes. Each drug potentially added life. Yet that too led me to a question I can’t answer. When is it time to quit?

Bennett’s lengthy, emotional piece produces more questions than answers – but it’s very much worth a read.

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