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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.

Geoffrey Barnes, MD, MSc


Geoff Barnes is a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System. He completed his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (2003) followed by medical school at the University of Michigan (2007).  He then completed a residency (2010), chief residency (2011) in internal medicine, cardiology fellowship (2014) and vascular medicine fellowship (2014) at the University of Michigan.  His areas of research interest include anticoagulation, venous thromboembolism, quality improvement and shared decision making.

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Wed, February 03, 2016

Beth Tarini, MD, MS and colleagues are back in the news regarding their 2013 article in Pediatrics entitled, “Blindness in Walnut Grove: How Did Mary Ingalls Lose Her Sight?” Their article was cited in CNNCBS NewsNew York and many others. 

Citation: Allexan SS,  Byington CL, Finkelstein JI, Tarini  BA (2013 ). "Blindness in Walnut Grove: How Did Mary Ingalls Lose Her Sight?" Pediatrics; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-1438 [Epub ahead of print]

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Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA

Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, MA


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.

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Joel Howell, MD, PhD


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.

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PIHCD: Cancelled

Thu, March 17, 2016, 4:00pm
B004E NCRC Building 16


Sun, October 17, 2010

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, PhD, was featured in an interview by the U-M News Service on September 29, 2010.  Dr. Zikmund-Fisher served as the featured guest editor for a special supplement to Medical Decision Making, Sept/Oct 2010, that focused on the DECISIONS study. In the interview, Dr. Zikmund-Fisher highlighted the need for health care providers to do a better job of educating patients about the medical decisions they face.  A video highlights the findings of the study and can be found at:  CBSSM faculty also involved in the DECISIONS study included Angela Fagerlin, PhD, and Mick Couper, PhD

CBSSM's Co-Director Raymond De Vries' article, "Giving (Bits of) Your Self to Medicine" was published in Medicine at Michigan. In this article, Dr. De Vries discusses biobank consent and moral concerns related to biobank research.

Click here for the full article.

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