Friday, July 25, 2008

Treating a Captive Audience

Remember Charles Manson? The Helter Skelter killer and his gang made infamous for the slaying of Sharon Tate and others in 1969.

Most of his "family" are still in jail, including Susan Atkins.

Her story has taken a different twist of late. Seems she has brain cancer which has paralyzed her right side and led to the amputation of a limb.

So how much has her treatment cost so far?

About $1.4 million.

That's $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars.

"I dare say that apart from the president and the members of Congress, the people with the best health care in this country are inmates," said Dr. Joshua Atiba, the medical director and CEO of Newport Oncology and Healthcare, which delivers cancer treatment to inmates in prisons in California.

I can't say if that is a subjective comment or not. Regardless, this situation is eye opening.

Atiba said that much of the cost can be attributed to the $10,000 daily cost of a bed in the intensive care unit, along with the money needed for guards. According to Thornton, two guards are with Atkins at all time to prevent family members from helping her escape and to keep her from being harmed by members of the public.

The woman is paralyzed and missing a leg. She is 60 years old. How much of a threat is she if she does escape?

No, I am not minimizing her crime. But rather I am simply stating a fact based on the economics of the situation.

Now here is an oddity.

While all of Atkins' health-care costs are paid for by the state, she cannot receive any experimental treatments while in custody, says Atiba. As a prisoner, she cannot give consent.

"They have no autonomy," he said.

Brain cancer patients in the general public, on the other hand, may have the option to receive such experimental treatments.

Probably some kind of prisoner's rights thing.

But there is a positive.

According to the UCLA Hospital System, the total medical bill for a person in the general population who had a diagnosis of brain cancer would be $2.2 million over the same time period.

I'm sure the California taxpayers are relieved to hear that.

Caplan also noted that while many speculate that some people will commit crimes to get better health care, he hasn't seen any evidence that this is the case.

"People are interested in health care, but they're not interested in getting it as a prisoner," he said.

They are not interested in becoming a prisoner to receive health care, but they are willing to become a prisoner of a government run, universal health care system.

What is wrong with this picture?

Caplan predicts the problems we now confront about prisoners may eventually become discussed more widely as health care costs rise.

"We have a hard time saying no, even with prisoners," he said, noting that the questions applied to them will become more widespread with time.

"Why are we doing things that are basically hopeless when they cost a lot of money? We don't spend much on prevention, but boy, do we spend money to rescue people."

And so it goes . . .
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