(July 31, 2008) Barbara Wagner has one wish - for more time. "I'm not ready, I'm not ready to die," the Springfield woman said. "I've got things I'd still like to do."
Her doctor offered hope in the new chemotherapy drug Tarceva, but the Oregon Health Plan sent her a letter telling her the cancer treatment was not approved.
Instead, the letter said, the plan would pay for comfort care, including "physician aid in dying," better known as assisted suicide.
"I told them, I said, 'Who do you guys think you are?' You know, to say that you'll pay for my dying, but you won't pay to help me possibly live longer?' " Wagner said.
Dr. Som Saha, chairman of the commission that sets policy for the Oregon Health Plan, said Wagner is making an "unfortunate interpretation" of the letter and that no one is telling her the health plan will only pay for her to die.
Saha said state health officials do not consider whether it is cheaper for someone in the health plan to die than live. However, he admitted they must consider the state's limited dollars when dealing with a case such as Wagner's.
"If we invest thousands and thousands of dollars in one person's days to weeks, we are taking away those dollars from someone," Saha said. (emphasis added)
According to Oregon Health and Science University, the Oregon Health Plan (administered by the State of Oregon) "will not cover the cost of surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy for patients with a less than 5% expected 5-year-survival. However such patients are eligible to receive comfort/palliative care, which includes 'services under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act' (physician-assisted suicide), 'to include but not be limited to the attending physician visits, consulting physician confirmation, mental health evaluation and counseling, and prescription medications'."
Barbara Wagner had been diagnosed with lung cancer two years earlier, and the cancer had gone into remission after chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When the cancer returned in May 2008, her physician prescribed Tarceva because the drug has been shown to significantly extend the life expectancy of patients with inoperable cancer. It turns out that chemotherapy with Tarceva would have cost the state of Oregon around $4000 a month, while the cost of drugs for "comfort care" would only be around $100 a month. Fortunately for Barbara Wagner, Genentech, the company that markets Tarceva in the United States, agreed to cover the cost of Wagner's medication.
It seems increasingly more clear that under a state-run single-payer health care system, where there are few real choices and no alternative treatment options, we will see an explosion of cost/benefit analysis programs designed solely to put a dollar value on human life. Undoubtedly the government will, in many cases, determine that it will be cheaper to deny treatment and then settle wrongful death claims in court, than to pay for expensive or experimental medical treatments during the last months of a claimant's life. This is essentially the same decision made by Ford Motor Co. when they opted to pay for wrongful death or injury lawsuits, rather than to fix the Ford Pinto's gas tank.
(h/t Protein Wisdom)
ADDED: A sobering point made several years ago by Steve Sailer, writing then about the imminent death of Terri Schiavo:
... [M]illions of Blue State Baby Boomers are in line to inherit a bundle ... but not if Mom or Dad lives forever or, especially, if his or her slowly declining health requires a fortune in expensive care. A nice quick fatal heart attack would do the trick, but with Lipitor and the like these days, oldsters are going slower.
So, when you wonder why a lot of people, especially Democrats, are okay with starving Terri Schiavo to death instead of having her kept expensively alive, follow the money.
It's hardly the only reason, but it's out there, and part of a big topic that almost nobody wants to talk about in 21st Century America.