Yesterday I clicked a link from @pharmaguy: End-of-Life Warning at $618,616 Makes Me Wonder Was It Worth It, an article in Bloomberg by Amanda Bennett. Don’t read it unless you have 5-10 minutes of quiet time—this is a powerful story.
This story, the story of Amanda Bennett, Terrence Bennett, and their children and doctors and the U.S. healthcare system and drugs and drug companies and life and death raises several issues. It questions whether medical cost spending, much of which occurs in the finals days and weeks of life, is worth it. Ms. Bennett calculates that his seven-year medical bill was $618,616, discounted to $254,176. She notes that:
Would I do it all again? Absolutely. I couldn’t not do it again. But I think had he known the costs, Terence would have fought the insurers spending enough, at roughly $200,000, to vaccinate almost a quarter-million children in developing countries. That’s how he would have thought about it.
The last four days of Mr. Bennett’s life cost his insurance company $43,711. My mom, a respiratory therapist in Colorado, says that extraordinary measures and costs in the last days of life are the norms. My review of medical records and bills in my own clients’ catastrophic cases confirms it.
The story also brings this to mind: though the focus of this blog is on defective drugs and medical devices, it goes without saying that drug companies and medical device manufacturers do great things. They develop products that frequently do help people to live better (if not longer), lives. Of course, our focus is on the negative 5-10% of their behavior and products (I’m just making numbers up, here. You get the idea). The majority of the time, the products are good, and the decisions are responsible. Genetech Inc. and Bayer AG paid for experimental medications for Mr. Bennett. That’s a responsible and noteworthy thing to do.
As Dr. Ross notes in his editorial from yesterday’s post, there is a cost-benefit analysis to bringing new drugs to market and approving them. Everyone agrees to that. And, when we decide where the line is that allows some drugs and excludes others, someone will be unhappy. But the line has to be drawn somewhere, and we need to do it with the best information possible.