The Cost of Dying

A front-page article in Sunday’s (6/24/12) St. Louis Post-Dispatch told the shocking story of a local woman who spent six months in and out of hospitals and care facilities, obtaining treatments for the various maladies that led to her eventual death. The story pointed out the total bill for her medical care was $1.16 million dollars!

Shouldn’t there have been some mention of hospice as a less costly alternative to in-patient hospital care?

The article was timed to run just before the expected Supreme Court decision on “Obamacare.” The article contained a good deal of timely, important information. And the writer, Jim Doyle, may have wanted to focus primarily on the specific issue of spiraling costs of hospital stays and services.

As “Sixty Minutes” pointed out in a segment titled “The Cost of Dying” that aired in 2009, huge amounts are spent on treatments that are often unsuccessful.

We are blessed in St. Louis with some of the best medical personnel and facilities in the US and we applaud their great work. But, as the Post-Dispatch story and the “60 Minutes” piece point out, the costs of care for elderly patients are skyrocketing. Should there be more discussion of hospice care in doctors’ offices AND in media coverage of the healthcare? We think so.

Many patients and families have found hospice care preferable to going in and out of the hospital, with cost not even considered as a factor in those feelings. But the truth is hospice care is less costly than hospital stays.

Had the woman in the Post-Dispatch story been in hospice care, her final months may have been more comfortable for her than described in the article. The story mentions that she spent only 22 nights at home during her six months of treatment. Had she been a hospice patient, she could have, presumably, spent every night in her own home.

The real value of hospice care to the patient is the pain management that hospice provides. The real value of hospice care to those of us who fund Medicare is the efficiency and less costly expense of hospice care.












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