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What is the price of life? (Aug-03)

Do you think that your life is worth more than the amount that the government usually uses as the maximum to spend to provide one year of life?

Imagine that you are a member of a government panel that is trying to decide how cost-effective a medical treatment must be in order for the government to cover the costs of the treatment. Suppose that a certain treatment could provide one additional year of life to an otherwise healthy person. What is the highest amount the government should be willing to pay per person for this treatment?

How do your answers compare?

For the past twenty years, the figure most often used as the maximum amount to spend to provide one year of life has been $50,000. This figure was originally proposed since it was the cost of a year of kidney dialysis, a lifesaving treatment that the U.S. government funds in Medicare.

Should the number be higher or lower than the current standard?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the number be higher to take into account the inflation that has occurred in the years since the standard was developed. Current practices such as annual Pap smear screening for women with low risk for cervical cancer, which has a cost of $700,000 per year of life gained, also suggest that society is willing to pay more than the current standard for a year of life. The authors of the cited article recommend, based on current treatment practices and surveys of the general public, that the cost-effectiveness threshold should be revised to be around $200,000.

Should the number increase, decrease, or stay the same over time?

Again, it seems that the threshold amount should increase over time due to inflation. However, other factors come in to play that affect the value.

Since new technologies are emerging all the time, some of which will be deemed cost-effective, there will be more and more treatments to be offered in the future. Also, the rate of use of treatments is an important consideration, because even if a new treatment is more cost-effective than an old one, if it is used more often it will end up costing more to society overall. With more treatments becoming available and more people being given treatments, the threshold cost will probably have to decrease so that insurance companies and the government can keep up with the increasing availability and demand.

Why is this important?

Insurance companies and government health care entities face a continuing struggle when trying to determine which medical treatments to cover. Health care costs are increasing rapidly, so these groups will be facing even tougher decisions in the future. Establishing cost-effectiveness guidelines would be extremely helpful as an aid to making the decisions about treatment coverage. Evidence shows that the current threshold is probably not an accurate reflection of the desires of society or actual prescribing practices. It needs to be adjusted to become useful once again, and must be reevaluated periodically to make sure the value keeps up with trends in the health care market, rather than being left alone without question for two decades as is the current situation.

For more information see:

Ubel PA, Hirth RA, Chernew ME, Fendrick AM. What is the price of life and why doesn't it increase at the rate of inflation? Archives of Internal Medicine. 163:1637-1641, 2003.

Kathryn Moseley served as one of the judges at "The Big Ethical Question Slam 5" hosted by a2ethics.org. In addition, Naomi Laventhal, Michele Gornick, Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Lauren Wancata served as judges at the "Michigan Highschool Ethics Bowl 2."

Thanks to all the CBSSM folks who contributed their time!

For more information about these events and other great ethics-related activites, go to a2ethics.org.

A short video about the Highschool Ethics Bowl can be found here.

Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, MA

Faculty

I serve as Professor of Family Medicine, Director of Japanese Family Health Program, and Co-Director of the Michigan Mixed Methods Research and Scholarship Program at the University of Michigan. In addition to being a family/general doctor fluent in Japanese, I have long been interested in the influence of culture on medical decision making and ethics, and have conducted numerous health research projects, and published numerous papers in English and Japanese.

Research Interests: 
Last Name: 
Fetters

Kayte Spector-Bagdady, JD, MBioethics

Faculty

Kayte Spector-Bagdady is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Service Chief of the Research Ethics Service in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM). Her current research explores informed consent to emerging technologies with a focus on reproduction and genetics. Prof. Spector received her J.D. and M.Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and School of Medicine respectively after graduating from Middlebury College.

Last Name: 
Spector-Bagdady

Ken Langa, MD, PhD

Faculty

Dr. Langa is the Cyrus Sturgis Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Institute for Social Research, a Research Scientist in the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research, and an Associate Director of the Institute of Gerontology, all at the University of Michigan. He is also Associate Director of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a National Institute on Aging funded longitudinal study of 20,000 adults in the United States ( http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu ).

Last Name: 
Langa

Joel Howell, MD, PhD

Faculty

Joel D. Howell is a Professor at the University of Michigan in the departments of Internal Medicine (Medical School), Health Management and Policy (School of Public Health), and History (College of Literature, Science, and the Arts), as well as the Victor C. Vaughan Professor of the History of Medicine. He received his M.D. at the University of Chicago, and stayed at that institution for his internship and residency in internal medicine. At the University of Pennsylvania, he was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, and received his Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science.

Research Interests: 
Last Name: 
Howell

Raymond De Vries, PhD

Associate Director

Raymond De Vries PhD is Associate Director at the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan and is a Professor in the Department of Learning Health Sciences and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is also visiting professor at CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Last Name: 
De Vries

Dr. Jeremy Sussman spoke at the Michigan Center for Diabetes Translational Research (MCDTR) Symposium. The MCDTR held its annual symposium on May 6, featuring a keynote presentation by Dr. Elbert Huang. This year the symposium was held at NCRC, Building 10 Auditorium (presentations) and building 18, lower level dining area (for poster session and buffet lunch). There was a poster presentation area where one can view the displays during and after lunch. RSVP to Pam Campbell at pamcamp@umich.edu.

Fri, May 08, 2015

Ken Langa discusses how brain crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other brain games are not an evidence-based way to maintain mental sharpness and there is a lack of research in this area.

Research Topics: 

Registration is now open for the April 25, 2017 CBSSM Research Colloquium & Bishop Lecture in Bioethics. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged, as it will help us to estimate numbers for catering and lunch. Please RSVP by April 18th.

The keynote address is the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics, an endowed lectureship made possible by a gift from the estate of Ronald C. and Nancy V. Bishop.  Norman Daniels, PhD will present the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: “Universal Access vs Universal Coverage: Two models of what we should aim for."

Norman Daniels, PhD is Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Location: Great Lakes Room, Palmer Commons, 100 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
 
Click here to register for the Colloquium!

Click here for the Colloquium Schedule and Presentation Abstracts.

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