Monday, April 26, 2010

Limited Means, Unlimited Wants

Mr. Robert Collison, the patient who underwent a 43 hour operation to remove a large abdominal tumor, has passed away.  As I said in an earlier blog, the surgery was estimated to cost $300,000.  The New York Times today has a more exact figure, $295,264, not counting anesthesiologists' and surgeons' fees.  The insurance company so far has come up with $156,477.  While it is hard to put a price tag on life, especially in this country of unlimited wants and expectations, the patient saddled his family with $150,000 of debt for an extra four months of life.  Even those extra four months were not truly vital.  He didn't leave the hospital in New York until February of this year and spent the last few weeks in a hospital in Wisconsin.  So at most he only had about one extra month of productive life at home.

Yes this line of reasoning can be considered brutal and inhumane.  But the money the insurance company spent for his treatment will have to come from someone, probably in the form of increased premiums on everybody else.  Insurance companies don't usually like to absorb the costs of their medical expenditures--bad for shareholder morale.  In essence we will all be paying more for this man's extra one month of life.  When we are running trillions of dollars in debt and everybody will soon be forced to buy health insurance, this expenditure needs to be reconsidered for its soundness, the way Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) rations money for proven efficacy, not experimental "but my father wants everything done and the surgeons promised us a 10% chance of survival" procedure.

As for the anesthesiologists fees that were not detailed in the article, is it any different than the lack of recognition in the original NYT article that only pictured a single arm representing the anesthesiologist in the surgical team?  At least we can say the anesthesia was well worth the money.

1 comment:

  1. Not knowing the details of the insurance company's contract or other arrangements the hospital and providers may have made with them or with the family, it's possible that the family won't be saddled with the $139K balance.

    But, of course, that's not the point. Even if the true cost (including a fair profit margin) to the hospital was the $156K paid by the insurance company, that money doesn't just appear out of thin air. The other customers of the insurance company will take the hit. This was a waste of effort and resources.