Saturday night’s New Hampshire debates were among the more substantive of the campaign.
Health care got a fair bit of discussion, and along the way moderator Charlie Gibson asked a crucial question. Isn’t it true, he wanted to know, that significantly controlling health care costs will ultimately require limiting Americans’ access to some kinds of treatment?
He didn’t get any candid answers. But during a separate portion of the debate, John Edwards invoked a story that illustrates the hard choices Gibson’s question alluded to.
By way of (what else?) denouncing corporate greed, Edwards cited the death last month of 17-year old Nataline Sarkisyan, a California teenager. Suffering from leukemia, Sarkisyan needed a liver transplant after complications from a bone marrow transplant. Her insurance company refused to pay for what it considered, in her condition, an experimental procedure.
The company changed its mind in the face of protest and publicity, but the teen died before the procedure could be performed.
One can find a great deal of red-faced commentary on this case echoing the family’s view that the insurance company murdered the sick girl. Here, though, is a thoughtful report from the LA Times business section.
The essence of the situation appears to be that the transplant promised Sarkisyan a two-out-of-three chance of living six more months. The experts quoted by the Times seem to view its merits as a close call.
This website puts the cost of a liver transplant at between $100,000 and $400,000.
Is it perfectly clear that under these circumstances the costs of a liver transplant are justified?
What are the prospects for controlling the growth of health care spending if questions about the reasonableness of this kind of expenditure cannot be raised?