The High Cost Of Death



Part 5, Wednesday, February 29 2012 

“It’s hard to prepare for the end of life. It’s hard to look at the issues. It’s hard to say goodbye to the people you love. And it’s hard to prepare for someone that you love to die.” 

There are costs associated with every decision at life’s end. But both the emotional and the financial are eased to some degree – sometimes a lot – when advance planning is done, whether it’s designating a spokesperson should you be unable to direct your care to specifying the funeral arrangements you want. 

Medical technology can now prolong life even when a patient has a terminal disease. That raises questions of where you want to die, how you may want to spend your final days and at what cost. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the price tag for Medicare will increase to more than $900 billion from $555 billion within the next eight years. In that Medicare spending, between one-fourth and one-third goes to medical bills for a patient’s final year of life, most of it in the last 30 days. The high costs of medical care is a point of contention in the national healthcare debate. 

But experts warn that making health care decisions on cost can be tricky. Dartmouth Medical School released an oft-cited study in 2008 of health care costs at life’s end that showed big disparities exist among hospitals in different regions of the U.S. For example, UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles averaged $93,842 per capita, while those at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., cost $53,432. The implication is the money was wasted. But they only looked at cases where the patients died. Critics argue that sometimes you don’t know if someone will live until you see if they do, in fact, live. 

Nationwide, more families are asking their county governments for help with low-cost or indigent burials. The average cost of a very basic funeral package is around $5,000. Cremations, less expensive than burial, are soaring. 

Americans became planners, briefly, after Princess Diana died. The image of the little princes, William and Harry, walking behind their mother’s casket left spectators heartsick and determined. If it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone. Estate, health care, and funeral preplanning surged. 

But making your own decisions, preplanning and communicating your wishes is still the best way to get what you want, on your terms, when circumstances are no longer in your control. 


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