Life expectancy in the United States has increased by 30 years in the last century. Despite our longer lives, many Americans continue to fight death's inevitability in ways that are costly socially, economically and spiritually. Our over-reliance on medical "miracles" is causing us to throw more and more money at the final year of life rather than grapple with the difficult – but ultimately more gratifying – work of approaching death more willfully by removing the sense of crisis and making the most of the moments that remain.
Defying and delaying death often remains the focus of many care providers even when patients reach their 80s, 90s and 100s. These individual decisions add up to the single greatest expenditure in the national health system: Care in the last 12 months of life accounts for over 25 percent of total expenditures for both Medicare and Medicaid. And while some studies have argued for cost savings associated with hospice care, others show cost neutral effects of engaging hospice in the last months of life, depending on how cost is measured and over what period of life. Meanwhile, a number of states are passing aid-in-dying laws, which will have moral, social and economic impacts, but the bills are simply directed at ending suffering; the changes in dying made possible by such laws (notably in Oregon) have not been the subject of economic analysis to date.
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