Skip to comments.Sen. Warner calls for discussion of end-of-life treatment
Posted on 03/07/2009 5:54:40 AM PST by csvset
Two months into his term, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner has marched into the policy thicket that is health-care reform, urging a national discussion on the touchy question of how best to treat terminally ill people.
In a speech to hospital executives this week, Warner called for intensified efforts to educate individuals and families in advance about end-of-life care. With better information, many people would forgo expensive and almost-always-futile treatment for patients near death, he said.
Such measures account for more than one-fourth of Medicare payments and 10 to 12 percent of all health costs, studies suggest.
"We leave it to families to resolve these extraordinarily difficult decisions with little guidance," Warner said. "Other industrialized nations have dealt with the end-of-life issue. It's time we did as well."
Warner also backed a wide range of more conventional health-care reforms, including some that are part - at least in concept - of President Barack Obama's evolving health-care initiative.
The Obama plan was the subject of a White House forum Thursday. Warner did not attend - most invitations went to more senior lawmakers - but the former Virginia governor said he hopes to be part of the health-reform debate Obama has demanded that Congress undertake this year.
Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said Warner's remarks put the freshman lawmaker at "a very volatile intersection" in the health-care debate.
Caplan praised Warner for tackling a subject most political leaders try to avoid. When politicians talk about curtailing care in the context of controlling medical costs, he said, many Americans worry that "they're just trying to get me to die faster."
Warner said how and when treatment should be limited or ended as a patient approaches death is "an issue that makes us all uncomfortable." He stressed that he is not advocating a system that denies care to patients and families that want it.
Instead, he said, he wants lawyers, doctors, medical ethicists and religious leaders to collaborate on reforms that would ensure patients have thought through decisions about when and how long to pursue extraordinary treatments.
Warner's "point is well-taken. These things ought to be planned," said Laurens Sartoris, president of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.
But the line between futile end-of-life treatments and care that can significantly extend life often is hard to discern, he said. Patients and doctors alike are understandably wary of deciding too soon to curtail treatment.
Patients and families also are often influenced by cultural factors, he added. Rural residents are more likely to expect to die at home, while those who live in urban areas routinely expect to go to a hospital and receive aggressive care to the end.
Warner, 54, acknowledged that personal experience has helped shape his thinking on the issue. His mother, who now requires hospice care, has had a long and difficult struggle with Alzheimer's disease.
Caplan predicted it will take more than voluntary efforts by the medical, legal and religious communities to get most Americans to make better decisions about end-of-life care.
Most states now have provisions for living wills, and it's routine for doctors to encourage patients and families to provide detailed directives for terminal care, Caplan said. But relatively few people agree to limit life-prolonging treatments, and many change their minds when a hopeless illness or injury occurs.
When a loved one is dying, "family and friends want to feel like they did every-thing" and the health-care system encourages them to pursue every available treatment, Caplan said. Such treatments often are very profitable for hospitals, and doctors fear they'll face malpractice lawsuits if they hold back, he added.
Steffie Woolhandler, a Harvard Medical School professor and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, argued that there's no evidence the end-of-life planning Warner advocated would reduce health-care costs.
Everyone should plan for end-of-life care, she said, but the key to reducing costs is replacing the private insurance plans that pay for most U.S. health care with a government-run "single-payer" health system.
"There's a tremendous amount of waste" associated with private insurance, Woolhandler said, with companies overcharging by about 13 percent nationally.
Warner co-founded the Virginia Health Care Foundation in the mid-1990s to channel private funds to boost care for uninsured Virginians. He made clear Tuesday that he wants to retain private insurers while cutting costs.
"We must ensure affordable coverage choices for all Americans not just because it is morally right, but because it is essential to making the system work," he asserted.
Warner also said he wants substantial federal investments in computerized record-keeping for doctors and hospitals. Once better record s systems are in place, the medical community must develop national standards "on what works and what does not " in caring for patients, he said.
Doctors and hospitals who follow those standards should get at least some protection from malpractice suits, Warner argued.
"I'll get whacked" by some fellow Democrats for that suggestion, he predicted. "But if you're asking the health-care system to make these dramatic changes... you've got to have the incentives in place to drive that."
Warner said he understands that the public is focused on the $600 billion price tag that Obama has put on the health-reform effort included in the federal budget unveiled last week.
But with annual health-care costs expected to nearly double, to $4.3 trillion, over the next decade, "The direction in which we are headed is simply not sustainable - either for the public sector or for private industry," Warner said.
"Failing to act will still mean cuts in health-care spending."
Dale Eisman, (703) 913-9872, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorry, but ObamaCare says you have to die.
When we take over the health care industry we want to be able to kill those pesky old people or anyone else for that matter who will threaten to bust the budget.
First kill all the unwanted babies and when that is accomplished kill all those nasty old folks.
Change! Ain’t it grand!
Warner will be sending folks to the ovens or the "showers". Change. Be very afraid.
At the risk of being unfeeling.. shouldn’t Teddy Kennedy be at the front of the line volunteering. It would set such a good example.
Do I get the feeling Mark “Horseface” Warner is tired of paying for Momma’s care, and would love to have some way of helping her shuffle off the mortal coil?
What a despicable POS.
Pizza face liberal killer.
If enough of you choose to die without aggressive care it will leave enough healthcare dollars for those of us who want aggressive care.
If enough of you do not choose to die, we will just have to only provide agressive care to those deemed ‘worthy’ by a special panel consisting of former politicians.
“Such measures account for more than one-fourth of Medicare payments and 10 to 12 percent of all health...”
Yeah, it’s not about compassion or caring for loved ones in their final hours, it’s about Government money. There is absolutely no doubt that when socialized medicine is foisted on us a doctor will come in to a dying person’s hospital room and tell the family, “well, you’ve used up more than your share, time to pull the plug.”
For the moment, let’s pretend this is valid: that we need to be more accepting of the changes that age brings to us rather than treating them all. I say, let’s start by eliminating Viagra and Cialis. That’s just treating one of the things that can happen as we age. AND we could avoid those awful commercials on tv. I’m sure no one in Congress would oppose that, now, would they?
(no sound but crickets.....)
The problem with this attitude is that it ignores that there actually *are* limited resources. Regardless of who is paying for it (public or private insurer), does it make sense to spend $200,000 to extend a dying person’s life by a week? How about a day?
With a little bit of critical thinking skills, it’s not difficult to transform that question: Is it worth it to extend a dying person’s life by a week at the expense of treating a hundred people with otherwise easily-curable health problems?
When my grandpa was dying, they tried like 3 different emergency surgeries, none of which had any real effect, and it left him covered in tubes and bandages. He was 88 years old and in poor health, though. Is that really better than just dying 2-3 days earlier with your family by your side? And was it worth it to spend $100,000 on that rather than converting that $100,000 into 1000 free trips to the doctor for random people?
These are questions that are worth legitimately discussing, instead of just saying “OMG, the gov’t wants to kill old people since they don’t care!!!”
That would be a good question for Senator Warner to tackle: Is Senator Kennedy at a point where the expense of further treatment is no longer justified?
Why do waste any more money on the Swimmer ?shalom b'SHEM Yah'shua HaMashiach Adonai
Or are there rules for the overlords
and other rules for the peasants ?
Economics covers all areas of life(and death)'many people have irrational expectations of doctors.
OTOH there are some elderly who could benefit from surgical interventions but they don’t get it because of their age.
This is what we are paying for? Steal the money from our checks and then don’t pay it back. That kind of action would get your legs broken in South Philly. And yet we put up with it? How insane is this?
No more, I REFUSE! I am not going to continue this insane charade. I will resist with every fiber of my being.
Ok - lets give 500 million dollars to study the affects of this. Now we need some volunteers to do this.
I propose let’s start with the Congress and the Senate. Kennedy comes to mind, Mr. Warner has outlived his usefulness if he ever was useful.
I propose the Congress should have to try out every law they force down our throats. Lets start putting them into the unemployment line. See how they like standing in line instead of working.
“These are questions that are worth legitimately discussing, instead of just saying OMG, the govt wants to kill old people since they dont care!!!
I completely agree with you. My point wasn’t that we should extend people’s lives regardless of cost or quality of life, but that if we turn this decision over to the government the only basis for the decision will be the cost factor. I think the fallacy of your argument is that by spending 200,000 to extend one person’s life we are robbing other people of health care, and such is not the case. How would you convert the money you saved by letting someone die into the “100 free trips to to doctor for random people?” It’s not as if there is a pot of money from which we all draw till it runs out.
It seems to me we could come up with a better strategy involving the family, the doctor and the insurance company. The problem we have today is that as soon as you turn 65 your insurance company pretty much turns you over to Medicaid so there is no entity which can truly control the spending. Government has no incentive or ability to deal with individuals, and ends up making rules which try to fit everyone into a single box. Your Grandpa was 88, but what if he was 75 or 70, would the surgeries have been worth while? That’s a question no one can answer, except the family and their doctor. My only point is that we need to keep the government out of the decision process.
When my father was dying the doctor told us he could keep him alive for a month or so in the hospital, but if we took him home he would last only a week. We took him home and kept him comfortable with hospice care. It had nothing to do with money and everything to do with our family’s decision about quality of life.
My biggest problem with healthcare is that we have a service that someone else pays for. Anytime you can get a good or service with someone else’s money you will always demand more and better. This is why we have such high health care costs, because the demand is totally out of control. I had back problems a few years ago and went to a specialist who gave me an MRI and sent me to physical therapy. It cost my insurance company about 10K. None of those things helped and eventually the pain went away when I got a new bed. Had I been required to pay the 10K I probably would have waited till the pain became bad enough to affect my quality of life, and then decided if the 10K was a worthwhile expense, then I might have shopped around for a doctor who would keep my costs down. I don’t know what the answer is, but there are lot of systems being tried in the private sector that make it worthwhile for people to shop around and make decisions about cost versus gain with healthcare. All we are doing with socialized medicine is throwing gasoline on an already out of control fire.
All of us who are retired, or who are about to retire, have lost huge amounts of our money in the stock market and now our 401K retirement accounts. Many of us saved money for our retirement, paid off our mortgages a long time ago, and we worked hard for 30 plus years. We were charitable and we paid more than our fair share of taxes into the system. We are a large demographic in America and our healthcare is not inexepensive. Don’t think for a minute that the long range plan is to deny more and more healthcare to the elderly, even before they are near death. Look at the cost of our healthcare as compared to that of any other demographic group. Obama’s long range plan is nothing short of GERIATRIC GENOCIDE, period.