KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Medical Miracles More Likely, But At What Cost?

The Fiscal Times reports on medical miracles and their place in the national health care reform debate with a likely subheading: high health care costs.

"The idea of foregoing heroic efforts and new technologies to save dying patients is anathema for most Americans. It contradicts a core national conviction that innovation coupled with a can-do attitude can accomplish virtually anything" but "(h)ealth care in America will cost nearly $2.7 trillion this year-$9,000 per person-a $200 billion increase over last year. $763 billion of this is for Medicare and Medicaid alone, which is over eight times the federal spending for education." Care that makes people as healthy as possible for as long as possible is the aim of the system, but "this experiment has been conducted at an extraordinary cost given the increasingly marginal benefits in terms of outcomes and quality of life as death approaches. … Finding the right balance between too much and too little care is excruciating and highly personal for physicians, patients and families -which is one reason that we don't talk about this at a national level. This reluctance is mirrored by a political reluctance to have a meaningful debate among our elected leaders" (Duncan, 3/9).

Business Week/MSN reports, in a first-person article, on the cost to one spouse after her husband's battle with cancer: $618,000. "Health care costs represent 17% of today's U.S. gross domestic product. Medicare devotes about a quarter of its budget to care in the last year of life, according to the policy journal Health Affairs. Yet as I fought to buy my husband more time (during his battle with kidney cancer), it didn't matter to me that the hospital charged more than 12 times what Medicare then reimbursed for a chest scan. … And I didn't have time to be thankful that the insurers negotiated the rates with the hospital so neither my employers nor I actually paid the difference between the sticker and discounted prices." A stack of paperwork also revealed inaccuracies in how billers and payers dealt with costs (Bennett, 3/9). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.