Posts Tagged ‘palliative’

Making Sense of Tucson

January 11th, 2011

It was 1991 when one of  my professors at Carnegie Mellon University began discussing health policy in the United States.  He told us about Arizona, where the state government had decided to stop paying for transplants.  Then he went on to explain that desperate families were moving from Arizona to Pittsburgh, just so they could establish residency in Pennsylvania, and their loved one could receive a transplant.

At around that same time, an outspoken politician from Colorado, former Governor Richard Lamm, who ran for President of the United States on the Reform Party, described the travesty of Medicare vs. Medicaid.   He described the older generation as committing “generational murder” because, even though many times there was no hope  for their survival, for extending their life or for having any quality to their life, we, as a nation, spend 60% of our Medicare dollars on the last  30 or so days of life.  He advocated being honest and allowing people to decide if they wanted palliative care.

What he also pointed out was that, as a country, we continue to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrial world. The reason, he theorized, was because the seniors voted and the young mothers didn’t and no politician would dare vote against that senior coalition.  (This is not about death panels, it is about honesty in healthcare. It is about transparency and explaining the facts to the families so that they could make rational decisions.) None of his words were well received, but nevertheless, they were filled with candor and embraced very difficult ethical views.

Giffords Tucson tragedy - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals

The bottom line?  It is a very sad situation when we have to, in effect, sentence people to death at any age because resources are not available to save them, but this is emphatically not about rationing of care, because rationing infers giving everyone a little less.  This is about making a government decision to take away everything. So, this is about making rational  resource allocation, not based upon the number of votes needed to get re-elected, but based on the value of a life at any and all ages.

Finally, the elephant in the room?  Those people killed and wounded in Arizona were killed and wounded because of a man who is most likely mentally ill.  We, as a country, must begin to address this mental health issue with parity, with commitment and without judgment.  No family is without some member who is suffering from some mental health issue, but  this discussion is still ignored, hidden or buried.

So, when the pundits ask if it is about the rhetoric? We don’t know. When they ask if it is about the availability of weapons and ammunition?  The answer seems to fall under that same category. BUT, when the question is properly directed toward mental health?  The answer seems to be absolutely, yes without a doubt.

During this time of reflection, let’s get serious about the very real and very big challenges that this nation faces. We must, as a nation, take these challenges head-on and deal with “problem solving,” and if this Congress does not begin to take action and begin to solve problems, then we must vote again in May and November to continue to make our voices heard.

Unless we can begin to talk with each other with dignity and respect, we will not make progress.  Until we begin to respect the other person’s point of view and understand that debates are healthy again, we will not make progress. Our leaders need to debate, but at the end of that debate, it is essential that they walk out of the room together and agree that they are all here to do a job, and that job is to solve problems.

My heart goes out to all of those families who were impacted by this awful tragedy.


Healthcare Reform. . . It’s only just begun

March 10th, 2010

This week’s Bloomberg Business Week magazine featured a phenomenal and very personal story of healthcare that actually captures many of the challenges around healthcare reform.  The author, Amanda Bennett, takes us on a journey that she has titled, “Lessons of a $618,616 Death.”  The true title, however, should have been, “How Do You Put A Price on 17 Months?”  In this article, Ms. Bennett takes us on the step-by-step, blow-by-blow journey that ended with her husband’s death.  She and a friend painfully reconstructed every page of his medical records, every dollar paid by her insurance companies, and every charge made by the various doctors and hospitals that treated him during the last years of his life.

Business Week end-of-life issue - Nick Jacobs -
Amanda Bennett and Terence Foley

She showed 1.) the grand total of charges, $618,616, 2.) the actual monies paid by the insurance companies to the hospitals after contractual negotiations, $254,176, and 3.) the total paid by her family, $9,468. In the article, she described the 30% overhead/administration costs, the costs of experimental drugs inside and outside of trials, and the 4,750 pages of medical records that were amassed during this time. For those of us who have “spent our time” trying to live within, cope with, and better understand America’s healthcare system, there were no surprises.  For those of us who have watched a loved one take this cancer journey with all of its mysterious unknowns, there were also no surprises. Ms. Bennett’s quote, “The system has a strong bias toward action,” was, I believe, the most poignant in the entire piece.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a very healthcare-savvy individual who, when I jokingly referred to death panels, almost came across the table at me.  She did not believe it was funny.  To say that she was passionate would miss the point.  Only the day before, I had spoken with another very intelligent healthcare reform advocate who indicated that the entire concept of death panels emanated from a payment code that reimbursed physicians for simply (or in some cases finally) talking to patients about their alternatives.  I had heard other explanations, but neither mattered.  What matters is that, in many instances, we are not discussing appropriate alternatives or revealing the quality-of-life issues often overlooked before beginning long courses of experimental drugs, or oncology drugs that may not have any positive impact on the health outcome of the individual.

Interestingly, Ms. Bennett did indicate that for all of the time, money, and pain invested in this journey, no one could confirm that her husband’s life was actually extended by these medical experiences.

Someone once described America’s healthcare system to me like this:  You walk into Nordstrom, order several three-thousand-dollar suits, a dozen shirts and some handmade, silk Italian ties, then turn to the person beside you and say to the clerk, ‘”He is paying for this.”  Our heroine Ms. Bennett did mention the fact that her husband would probably have questioned the use of all of these funds in this manner and the relationship that these expenditures might have had on all of the other people in the world who might have been helped by these dollars.

Taking the Hell Out of Healthcare by Nick JacobsWhen healthcare reform is discussed, it is personal.  It is also deep, and it is costly, but the bottom line always comes back to this: “How do you put a price on 17 months?”  In my book Taking the Hell out of Healthcare, I discuss the journey that my father and our neighbor took together over about a 17 month period.  Both diagnosed with lung cancer, my father decided to go for it all.  He had surgery, chemo, radiation, more radiation, and more chemo.  My neighbor, a man without significant health insurance coverage, decided to spend his time with his family.  They both died on the same day.  My father died in a cold, tertiary care hospital where no clergy was present, his family members were not all able to be there with him, and it was over.  In contrast, our neighbor died peacefully in his home, surrounded by his entire family.

Ms. Bennett did say that she was glad that she was not a bureaucrat having to deal with these issues.  Frankly, I wish that she was!


In Their Own Words: Patients, staff and physicians on their experiences at Nick’s Planetree hospital

October 5th, 2008

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: hospital medical)