Theresa Agovino writes in an Associated Press article
that Medicare is prepared to approve a price of $55,000 for an implantable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that costs hospitals $150-200,000. Most hospitals will be reluctant to cover the shortfall from other operating revenues. But if Medicare paid full price for the device and if there were enough devices to meet the demand, the price tag could top $15-20 billion a year. All this for a device that gives the average patient an average of 8.5 months of life after it is implanted and a 23% chance of surviving 2 years (compared to an 8% chance for those treated medically). All of this foretells a looming problem:
HeartMate's evolution illustrates the nexus of a health care system beset by an aging population, rising costs and limited resources and the longing for lifesaving technology often made by companies seeking to maximize profits. The conflict is expected to become more heated as more expensive technologies and procedures are developed, and at least in their infancy are not overwhelmingly effective. It will be especially difficult for Medicare, facing the baby boomer retirement wave and already searching for a way to finance a prescription drug benefit.
"Technology is being created faster than our ability to put in any kind of a financial, ethical and moral framework," said Dr. Allen Korn, chief medical officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which issued a report saying the device qualified for reimbursement.
"Nobody wants to hear they are going to die. But somewhere there needs to be a bottom line," Korn said.
Adds Art Caplan, chairman of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, "We are headed for a big political debate about rationing health care - a debate no one wants to have."
Welcome to the tip of the rationing iceberg . . . .