What Would You Pay For A Week Of Life?

I was at an Oncology meeting earlier today, and there was a brief discussion about pharmaceutical costs which is certainly one factor in overall healthcare costs.  (See article on the 11 most expensive drugs ranging from $200-$410K / year)  Ultimately, this always brings you back (at some point) to the topic of Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) or (a new term to me) “futile care” meaning care done essentially with a very low probability of working. 

Of course, like the lottery, we all like to believe that we’ll be the 1% for which this effort pays off.  (see Prospect Theory or a broader article on use of incentives in healthcare).  This can often be a very cost effective way to get people excited.  This is especially true for poorer people who spend as much as 3% of their income on lotteries which have a very low return

But, the question at the center of this is what you would pay for a week of life?

  • $100
  • $1,000
  • $10,000
  • $50,000

And, would that answer change based on timing?  I believe so.  If asked today, when you were healthy, would you agree to spend $50,000 to gain one week of life?  Perhaps not.  When you’re on your death bed and realize that you still want to see a few more people, your answer may change.  And, your family’s answer might change.  If you had to make that decision for your parent, it might be tough to make at the hospital, but if you sat down with them when they were healthy and asked them whether they would like you to spend your kid’s college savings account on gaining them a week of life, the answer might change.

But, what about when the money’s not yours.  We all know the infamous diner’s dilemna where we’re likely to spend more money when your splitting the bill with everyone.  When you’re covered by insurance or by the government, it’s not always your money being spent.  So, what if it was positioned differently?  If you knew that spending $50,000 for that one week of life meant that there wouldn’t be money to fund a shelter for 3-months that provided 20 homeless families with a place to sleep.  Would that change your answer?

It’s a tough question.  No one like to put a financial value on life.  I don’t have an easy answer other than having the discussions earlier with the patient and framing them the right way. 

Never mind the question about quality of life…Would you rather die in 2 days at home or would you rather live 8 days in the hospital where your throwing up all the time?

I don’t know the economic tradeoff of these treatments or drugs so this isn’t specific to any scenario, but is a situation which come up and everyone runs away from.  I understand why.

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