As parents grow older, it is traditional for their children to care for them by providing resources to maintain their health. However, many ailments that afflict the elderly are costly to treat and result in exorbitant medical bills.
Rather than providing care that aims to enhance patients’ lives as they near the end of their life, healthcare teams often opt for expensive treatment plans that will only marginally extend, but likely not improve, their patients’ lives.
Hospitals are often flooded with patients who don’t have much wrong with them except for age-derived issues, but these patients find themselves in hospitals on a more regular basis than the general healthy, young population. Their family members typically pay for their stay because they are able to work and have savings and insurance.
Also, regular illnesses that would usually be easy to treat for younger people tend to become exacerbated and require more extensive treatment in elderly patients.
Unfortunately, devoting a significant portion of one’s income to elderly parents does not bode well when attempting to plan for future events such as sending children to college or one’s own retirement.
The situation is worsened when insurance providers and healthcare companies seek payment from families with an inability to pay. This can result in family members taking out large loans on the behalf of their elderly relation who has no real prospects of paying off the loan themselves.
Even worse, due to the high demand for end-of-life care, a market of “cheap” care has arisen—families who can’t afford high-end care may inadvertently select a negligent or perhaps abusive “care” provider because the cost is significantly less. In Oklahoma alone, more than 15,000 cases of suspected elder abuse were investigated last year; those were only the reported situations.
If family members elect to undertake aggressive treatment in the hopes of curing their elderly loved one of whatever is ailing them, it may be very expensive, and may prolong their lives slightly, but overall will probably not improve their quality of life past that point.
The Medicare system puts a quarter of its funds towards end-of-life treatments that ultimately don’t merit that large of a portion; extending but not enhancing patients’ lives should not comprise such a large part of our health system.
It’s common for tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills to accumulate during the last five or so years of someone’s life. Usually these are in excess of that person’s financial assets, and they may actually be assessed for procedures that cause more harm than provide care.
Also, these bills typically don’t disappear after the individual passes away, so family and other people who would otherwise be inheriting the deceased’s assets end up becoming responsible for the repayment of medical debts.
Especially when it comes to terminal illnesses, palliative care is often the better route to take when given months or weeks to live; it provides comfort during one’s final days rather than further invasive and harsh medical treatments. However, medical facilities and the overall healthcare system push to extend lives rather than improve them, so a change in philosophy is really what needs to happen.
Systematic denial of death results in financial exploitation of families by the medical system.
If both families and doctors would acknowledge that it’s better to pursue palliative care options instead of intense treatments that are likely to reduce the patient’s quality of life in their last months or weeks, then we would see fewer skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs being assessed to elderly individuals and their families.