Making the Case for Talking to Patients about the Costs of End-of-Life Care



Costs at the end of life disproportionately contribute to health care costs in the United States. Addressing these costs will therefore be an important component in making the U.S. health care system more financially sustainable. In this paper, we explore the moral justifications for having discussions of end-of-life costs in the doctor-patient encounter as part of an effort to control costs. As health care costs are partly shared through pooled resources, such as insurance and taxation, and partly borne by individuals through out-of-pocket expenses, we separate our defense for, and approach to, discussing both pooled and individual aspects of cost. We argue that there needs to be a shift away from formulating the options as a dichotomous choice of paying attention to end-of-life costs versus ignoring such costs. The question should be how personal costs will be managed and how societal expenditures should be allocated. These are issues that we believe patients care about and need to have addressed in a manner with which they are comfortable. Conversations about how money will be spent at the end of life should begin before the end is near. We propose discussing costs from the onset of chronic illness and incorporating financial issues in advance care planning. Through these approaches one can avoid abruptly and insensitively introducing financial issues at the very conclusion of a person's life when one would prefer to address the painful and important issues of spiritual and existential loss that are appropriately the focus when a person is dying.