To contend with ever-escalating healthcare costs, Americans will need to come to grips with the cost of end-of-life care. Right now, it’s my reality. I am seeing, first hand, rampant and seemingly uncontrollable costs of sustaining life in a system that lacks any semblance of common sense.
My mother is 90 years old and, other than some spending on five healthy sons, has expended very limited healthcare dollars in her lifetime. That is, until now. Suffering mild dementia, she is a resident in a very pleasant assisted-living facility on Long Island. The facility takes good care of her creature comforts, but, medically, she appears to be a case study in why we are all facing a cost crisis. Two of my brothers are medical professionals, and we have a concerned, knowledgeable, family that oversees her care, but we are not with her all the time to manage treatment, and that’s where things break down.
At the first sign of an issue, the facility phones an ambulance and ships her off to the nearest emergency room — three times in the past few months. The first was because of the flu. She weathered the illness but, because of scarcity of resources, was bedridden for a week. As a result, she needed more than a month of inpatient rehabilitation to restore her ambulatory skills. I am guessing that this episode cost in excess of $50,000. The doctor believes that the next two episodes – which occurred in the past 10 days – relate to an allergic reaction, and he has been trying to rule out possible culprits. He took her off Prilosec, and soon thereafter she complained of chest pains, which turned out to be indigestion. So the hospital sent her home. She burned through about $3,000 in costs to figure that one out. Then, after some tinkering with her medication, her blood pressure spiked to 200/113. This has resulted in another in-patient stay. We are planning to keep her moving to avoid another costly rehabilitation; so, for this one, Medicare and her supplemental insurance will probably spend less than $20,000.
The medical expenses she has experienced could have easily been reduced. The problem is that our Medicare system pays for services rendered and not for care management. Care management would have resulted in a much better outcome for my mother, for our family and for U.S. taxpayers.
I am convinced that the Affordable Care Act is not the answer to solve the healthcare crisis, which can only be fixed if we change the way we deliver care at the end of life. And those who lobby for Medicare for all can consider my mother’s experiences. That’s certainly not the answer.