Ask Yourself, ‘How Valuable Is My Health?’

Death Panels: Let Me Explain
By Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog / August 19, 2009

As regular readers of these pages are aware, we seek to be a resource for information about the health care debate from an industry perspective. So let me begin with a current hot topic: “Death Panels.”

Let me explain.

It should come as no surprise that here we recognize, to borrow Al Gore’s convenient term, “an inconvenient truth”: which is to say that, despite our best efforts, we have yet to achieve the goal of universal immortality for any of our citizens.

The rumored reappearances of Elvis notwithstanding, we must accept that at some point each of us will one day finally “leave the building.”

This is a difficult moment, not merely for the deceased, but for family and friends, among whom we, of course — as providers of primary or secondary health care coverage — count ourselves.

Of course, as in any family, differences arise about priorities in such a close relationship. Which helps to explain why we find it necessary on occasion to take a “tough love” approach when the loved one seeks an experimental treatment, an expensive joint replacement, or more than one night’s hospital stay after surgery.

All of which leads us to this so-called “death panel” option. Predictably, there has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what the industry is actually advocating here. It’s often said that no one can place a premium on human life. Indeed, our critics would have you believe that premiums are our entire life. Absurd! Premiums are in fact merely a society’s mechanism for keeping score in the game of who lives and who dies.

Ask yourself, how valuable is my health? Answer: simply check your monthly insurance statement. Nowhere in the Western world are insurance premiums as high as in this country. Which is as good a gauge as any of the value we place on your well being.

Of course, we would like to say that your life (and our premiums) could go on forever. But they can’t. Which is why we think it prudent from time to time to let us help you review your options.

Let me explain.

Remember that beloved goldfish your parents bought you for your sixth birthday which somehow survived until after you went away to college? Now, remember when it suddenly hit you: a teenage goldfish is a biological impossibility!? And remember how at that moment the crushing realization of mortality descended upon you? How many stand-ins were there for the original “Goldilocks,” you wondered? How could you ever trust your parents — or anyone else for that matter — ever again?

The idea of a “death panel” is in no way meant to balance the scales for that injury as you come to consider the circumstances of your parents’ passing. At least not on a conscious level. No, rather it is merely an attempt to lift that awesome responsibility from you and place it in the hands of a bureaucrat — and I might point out — not an insurance company bureaucrat but a government bureaucrat! That should satisfy the reformers — and help you deal with an empty “family fish bowl.”

Of course, the whole idea is bound to create yet another firestorm of criticism from the other opposite side of the… grave site, so to speak. And we’ll have to accept strict regulation of everything, naturally.

For example, we’ll need special treatment for the few still able to pay for coverage, as distinct from the unfortunately underinsured many. No need to hurry anyone along if they can afford to be made comfortable in a first-class nursing home. And there should also be a sensitivity for facilities that maintain an around-the-clock medical team. Reducing the number of patients in such settings can only increase costs for those not yet at death’s door. Controlling costs must be a priority!

Clearly, we stand on the threshold of change for the living — or as our actuarial specialists prefer, the dying.

Let me explain.

The “inconvenient” question: “when will I die?” would now be determined by an efficient cost-benefit formula: which is to say — whenever the “death panel” says so.

The Rag Blog

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