Death Panels Work

Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yesterday morning, NPR covered a story about the state-run health care plan in Oregon. The reporter covered the rationing of health care and the efficiency approach taken by Oregon. To over simplify, a board creates standards for what will and won't be covered weighing cost and effectiveness. So, if something costs $10,000 but is 100% effective in curing what's wrong with you, it's more than likely covered. If something costs $1 and is 5% effective in treating you, it might be covered, too. But if something costs $10,000 and is only 5% effective, it's not covered.

This policy came under fire in the media--I know, I know, the media never jumps on a non-story and blows it out of proportion without considering all sources--when a woman dying of cancer was denied coverage for an expensive, long-shot treatment.

She received a letter from the Oregon Health Plan denying her cancer treatment because it had less than a 5 percent chance of success. The same letter offered payment for the state's physician-assisted suicide program.

The radio story includes a quote from the woman asking, "Who do you think you are?" to the officials who've offered to pay for her death, but not for her chance to keep living. Unfortunately, the next line is delivered in a passing, inconsequential tone when it is the most important point of the piece.

The drugmaker eventually gave Wagner the medication for free, but she died a few months later.

So the state health care board--or DEATH PANEL!!!! if you prefer--was right! Fortunately, the drug company took the financial hit instead of the health care plan, though this bitch makes me feel sorry even for the big corporation that would probably crush a puppy's skull in front of toddlers if there was a dollar to be made in it.

What's not discussed is what would have been sacrificed if Oregon had opted to sink thousands of dollars into the chance that this woman might overcome her cancer--a chance that was only slightly greater than if they'd dropped those same thousands on any given number on a roulette wheel. How many children wouldn't get vaccinated? How many prenatal screenings would have been foregone? How many regular yearly checkups wouldn't be done?

Health care plans, public or private, government or corporate run, have finite resources. Every dollar spent on one treatment comes at the expense of another (or several others). The main benefit of a government run option is transparency in how the decisions about which treatment will win out will be made.

Unlike Aetna, Blue Cross, and others, a government run option would be accountable to the people it covers instead of to its shareholders. The money being shifted from craps-table-odd cancer treatments won't be paying investors dividends or redecorating CEO bathrooms or buying corporate jets. It will be paying for treatments that are more effective and will save more lives in the long run.

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