What This Means
The powerful story of Barbara Wagner demonstrates why the discussion of who controls the personal and complex process of medical decision-making is of utmost importance.
When Barbara’s lung cancer reappeared during the spring of 2008 her oncologist recommended aggressive treatment with Tarceva, a new chemotherapy. However, Oregon’s state run health plan denied the potentially life altering drug because they did not feel it was “cost-effective.” Instead, the State plan offered to pay for either hospice care or physician-assisted suicide.
In stunned disbelief you may ask, “How can this be? This happens in Europe. I’ve heard stories of Britain’s National Health Service delaying intervention until the patient dies or reports of physician-assisted suicide in the Netherlands. But in America?”
The answer is simple. Oregon state officials controlled the process of healthcare decision-making—not Barbara and her physician. Chemotherapy would cost the state $4,000 every month she remained alive; the drugs for physician-assisted suicide held a one-time expense of less than $100. Barbara’s treatment plan boiled down to accounting. To cover chemotherapy state policy demanded a five percent patient survival rate at five years. As a new drug, Tarceva did not meet this dispassionate criterion. To Oregon, Barbara was no longer a patient; she had become a “negative economic unit.”
In 1994 Barbara’s state established the Oregon Health Plan to give its working poor access to basic healthcare while limiting costs by “prioritizing care.” In 1997 Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide to offer “death with dignity” to patients who chose to die without further medical treatment. In the end, the State secured the power to ration healthcare in order to control its financial risk, even if that meant replacing a patient’s chance to live with the choice of how to die.
When queried about withholding Barbara’s treatment, Dr. Walter Shaffer, a spokesman for Oregon’s Division of Medical Assistance Programs, explained the policy this way, "We can't cover everything for everyone. Taxpayer dollars are limited for publicly funded programs. We try to come up with policies that provide the most good for the most people."
Dr. Som Saha, chairman of the commission that sets policy for the Oregon Health Plan, echoed Shaffer, "If we invest thousands and thousands of dollars in one person's days to weeks, we are taking away those dollars from someone [else]."
Twice Barbara appealed the ruling. Twice Oregon denied her treatment.
Government compassion sounds so noble when first introduced. In fact, this well-intentioned motive fueled the creation of the State-sponsored health plan that now denied Barbara’s treatment. As We the People become more and more reliant on the government, inch by precious inch, liberty slips away. Citizens become powerless in dependency. Seduced by sweet words of compassion, the welfare of the State silently usurps the wellbeing of the individual citizen. Secure in the belief that government will care for them, many Americans slumber in complacency until one day, We the People awake to find liberty lost.
Learn more about Barbara's story HERE