Friday, May 06, 2005

Do Living Wills Save the Government Money?

The Washington Post ran a follow-up on the story of how US Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt appeared to be encouraging people to sign living wills in order to save Medicare money. (See our previous post here.)
The follow-up includes comments from several experts, including the National Institutes of Health Bioethics Chair Ezekiel Emanuel, denying that living wills in fact would save much money. Ezekiel said, "I'm a big advocate of living wills because they give people the power to make decisions." However, "I am not a big advocate of living wills because they save money." (We have mentioned Emanuel before, in his role as an advocate for relaxing the proposed NIH conflict of interest rules.)
Leavitt appeared to retreat a bit too. A spokesperson said that he "regrets if the comment was inaccurate. He did not intend to link living wills to the issue of costs."
Fair enough. There may be little evidence that living wills save money.
What is lacking in these responses is any concern that the highest ranking US health official apparently urged the elderly to accept less health care because he thought it would save the US government money. One editorialist did allow that Leavitt's speech sounded "ghoulish." Worse, it seems on the slippery slope towards the government labeling certain citizens as undeserving of health care.

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