The Seattle Times article, “The Dialysis Dilemma: Urgent Need vs. Overtaxed System,” gives an excellent historical account of the development, impact, and moral hazards involved in treatment of kidney failure.
In the early 1960s, dialysis became a long-term treatment option for select few. At $20,000 per patient, the three machines could treat nine patients. But money wasn’t the only issue.
Because of the limited number of machines available, a committee dubbed “The God Committee” or “The Life or Death Committee” was formed to decide who would be treated.
The committee members — a surgeon, a pastor, a lawyer, a banker, a state government official, a labor leader and a “housewife,” plus two physician advisers — were white. All but one were male.
Most patients they picked were well-off, white and male. Patients had to be able to pay for the treatment — $30,000 for three years, about $229,000 in today’s dollars. The committee also considered net worth, number of dependents, education and ‘future potential.’
Patients less than 25 or older than 45 generally weren’t eligible, nor were those with other illnesses.
Though our nation has seen significant progress in treating end-stage kidney disease since the “The Life or Death Committee, ” roughly 600,000 U.S. patients are affected by the disease and the costs are high.
In 2010, for each patient with end-stage renal disease on hemodialysis — the most common dialysis method — Medicare paid $87,561 on average, counting medications and other medical expenses. For those who dialyze at home, it was $66,751 per year, and for those who received a transplant, $32,914. Read more…
This once fatal disease has become survivable with dialysis and transplants. But the costs are high for society and the human lives involved very real.