Did anyone catch "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Nov. 22? The report looked into how the last two months of terminally ill people's lives will someday "bankrupt" America, because hospitals run so many expensive, unnecessary tests and procedures with little chance of patient recovery.

Two of the medical experts consulted suggested it's a uniquely American fear of death that fuels this. One actually said people going through an elderly loved one's final days should just "get over it" and realize death is an unavoidable consequence of LIVING. That's a cold, heartless assessment, but sometimes it takes that to make a rational decision about the unavoidable.....like seeing a beloved elderly relative vegetating with no chance of recovery.

It was suggested that there's a worse thing than death...and it's "dying badly". That was defined as having your life artificially extended for the sole purpose of avoiding the inevitable...and at an average Medicare expense of $10,000 per day per patient, and continued emotional turmoil for those living in denial.

One Medicare case paid $45,000 for a chemotherapy treatment that was expected to keep the person alive less than two months. Another was a surgically inserted heart pacemaker that cost $50,000...for a 93-year-old dying of cancer.

As the boomers --- always the largest chunk of the population --- continue to age and to need more and more health care, it will be our adult children and their children who assume the tax burden of our aging and frailty, as we personally endure the effects of old age.

Nobody ever wants to get into a situation of "pulling the plug on Granny", as political pundits put it regarding health care legislation, but it would be healthy for us all to think about, as the "60 Minutes" report suggests, the one thing in life that we'll never avoid, and how we can take steps to assure it won't be as traumatic as it is when we deny its cold reality.

David J. Fone djfone@msn.com

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My husband was hospitalized three times this year (2009); the last time was for a week, during which, the first three days, he was in Intensive Care. Even now, I feel a degree of ambivalence, because I don't think the doctors were straight with me - one told me he had 'alcholic hepatitis', another 'cirrhosis', others mentioned different things.
The liver specialist had said he had a 50-50 chance, but it was my _sister_, a Critical Care Nurse (thank God for her!) that told me the straight deal (I told her all the terms, the medications, everything that was being done) - that he _was_ going to die (and he did, four days after they sent him home).

I am just now seeing the bills come in for the latest hospitalization - and, even though we had health insurance, I had to use up my Healthcare Savings Account to pay for all the other things the insurance WOULD NOT COVER - doctors' fees, laboratory tests, the ambulance that the HOSPITAL sent him home in, the caregiver I had to hire because the hospice didn't cover that.
The bill for the seven days he was in the hospital was _$52,000_, JUST FOR ROOM AND BOARD - NOTHING ELSE!

I heard a program on National Public Radio where an insurance company representative actually admitted that it is a cat-and-mouse game the insurers play with doctors and hospitals - they will bill a certain amount, just to see how much they will actually get - I don't know why medical procedures have to be like _airline seats_ - one person pays $200, another $1500....

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