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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.

Is your well-being influenced by the guy sitting next to you? (Nov-03)

Rating your satisfaction with your life may not be a completely personal decision. See how your satisfaction rating may be influenced by others.

When answering this question, imagine that there is someone in a wheelchair sitting next to you. They will also be answering this question, but you will not have to share your answers with each other.

How satisfied are you with your life in general?

Extremely satisfied 1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10 Not at all satisfied

How do you compare to the people surveyed?

You gave your life satisfaction a rating of 1, which means that you are extremely satisfied with your life. In a study done where people with a disabled person sitting next to them wrote down their life satisfaction on a questionnaire, they gave an average life satisfaction rating of 2.4, which means they were very satisfied with their lives.

What if you'd had to report your well-being to another person instead of writing it down?

In the study, half the people had to report their well-being in an interview with a confederate (a member of the research team who was posing as another participant). When the participants had to report in this way, and the confederate was not disabled, the participants rated their well-being as significantly better than those who reported by writing it on the questionnaire in the presence of a non-disabled confederate (2.0 vs. 3.4, lower score means higher well-being). The scores given when reporting to a disabled confederate elicited a well-being score that was no different than that when completing the questionnaire in the presence of a disabled confederate (2.3 vs. 2.4).

Mean life satisfaction ratings, lower score means higher satisfaction
Mode of rating well-being Disabled confederate Non-disabled Confederate
Interview (public) 2.3 2.0
Questionnaire (private) 2.4 3.4
What caused the difference in well-being scores?

When making judgments of well-being, people (at least in this study) tend to compare themselves to those around them. This effect is seen more when well-being was reported in an interview than when the score was privately written down, due to self-presentation concerns. A higher rating was given in public so as to appear to be better off than one may truly feel. Note that the effect was only seen in the case where the confederate was not disabled. While well-being ratings were better overall with a disabled confederate, there was no difference between the private and public ratings. Social comparison led to a better well-being judgment, but it appears that the participants were hesitant to rate themselves too highly in front of the disabled person for fear of making the disabled person feel worse.

Why is this important?

Subjective well-being is a commonly used measure in many areas of research. For example, it is used as one way to look at the effectiveness new surgeries or medications. The above studies show that SWB scores can vary depending on the conditions under which they are given. Someone may give a response of fairly high SWB if they are interviewed before leaving the hospital, surrounded by people more sick than they are. From this, it would appear as though their treatment worked great. But suppose that they are asked to complete a follow-up internet survey a week later. Since they do not have to respond to an actual person face-to-face, and without being surrounded by sick people, they may give a lower rating than previously. Is this because the treatment actually made their SWB worse over the longer term, or simply because a different method was used to get their response? The only way to really know would be to use the same methodology to get all their responses, which might not always be feasible. These are important considerations for researchers to keep in mind when analyzing results of their studies. Are the results they got the true SWB of their participants, or is it an artifact of how the study was done? And is there a way to know which measure is right, or are they both right which would lead to the conclusion that SWB is purely a momentary judgment based on a social context?

For more information see:

Strack F, Schwarz N, Chassein B, Kern D, Wagner D. Salience of comparison standards and the activation of social norms: Consequences for judgements of happiness and their communication. British Journal of Social Psychology. 29:303-314, 1990.

Please visit the events page of the CBSSM website to view the video of the February 1, 2012, talk and panel discussion, "Ethical Imperialism: The Case Against IRB Review of the Social Sciences," featuring Dr. Zachary Schrag of George Mason University; Dr. Cleo Caldwell of U-M's School of Public Health; Dr. Alford Young, Jr., of U-M's College of Literature, Science, & Arts; and Carl Schneider of U-M's Law School.

Reshma Jagsi will be a Keynote Speaker at “Strategies to Empower Women to Achieve Academic Success," which will be held June 7th (8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m., A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building). The event is sponsored by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

Click here for more details.

Research Topics: 

CBSSM's Elias Baumgarten, Raymond De Vries, Kayte Spector-Bagdady, Michele Gornick, & Adam Marks (no pictured) were judges at the 2017 A2Ethics High School Ethics Bowl January 28-29th. Click here for more details about this event.


Research Topics: 

Andrew Shuman and Christian Vercler are both contributors to the January issue of the American Medical Association's Journal of Ethics. Drs. Shuman and Vercler both provide commentaries related to challenging ethical cases.


The link to the issue can be found here.

Sun, November 14, 2010

Raymond De Vries, Professor in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine and the Departments of Medical Education and Obstetrics and Gynecology, authored a commentary in a Dutch national newspaper examining media misrepresentation of a recent article in the British Medical Journal about perinatal death in the Netherlands.  Dr. De Vries and colleague Lisa Kane Low, Director of Midwifery Education, will present at a conference, Knowledge in Business, sponsored by the Zuyd University in Maastricht.

Along with Ted A. Skolarus, M.D., M.P.H., CBSSM Co-Director, Angela Fagerlin authored a Viewpoint article titled "Rethinking Patient-Physician Communication of Biopsy Results -- The Waiting Game." In the article, they conclude, "Telemedicine approaches can potentially relieve much of the anxiety associated with in-person consultations while delivering bad news in a timely, compassionate, and patient-centered manner."

Lisa Szymecko, JD, PhD

Alumni

Lisa Szymecko joined CBSSM in May 2012 as a Research Area Specialist Intermediate, working as the study coordinator for Susan Goold on the DECIDERS and PCORI projects.


Lisa earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University, her Juris Doctorate from Detroit College of Law, and her PhD in Resource Development from Michigan State University.

Last Name: 
Syzmecko

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