Oklahoma end-of-life law could boost hospital costs

A new law in Oklahoma could complicate already costly end-of-life issues for hospitals.

StateLine Health has reported that the law, which was approved by Gov. Mary Fallin in April, is based on guidelines promulgated by the National Right to Life Committee. It would bar providers from denying life-prolonging care to disabled, elderly or terminally ill patients if either themselves or their healthcare proxies want it administered. Hospitals would have no say in such medical decisions, which would be made the equivalent of such decisions to care for younger and healthier people, according to StateLine.

End-of-life care is among the costliest to render. Nearly one-third of overall Medicare costs are tied to care for the 5 percent of program enrollees who expire every year, according to researchers at UCLA.

"This phenomenon has become more prevalent, with people saying they want life-preserving care being overridden by providers who, I guess, feel they know best," Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life, which sponsored the legislation, told StateLine. He added that the sentiment is being picked up in other parts of the country.

Although hospice care is on the rise, a study concluded that end-of-life stays in pricey hospital intensive care units are also up in recent years.

Providers in Oklahoma are also concerned that hospitals will be forced to perform expensive procedures that would be completely futile, and that providers will be cut out of productive discussions with patients and their families regarding their final wishes.

"There are situations where we cannot take that person to surgery because we think it's certain death, but under this law, we'd have no choice," Jennifer Clark, palliative care director at the University of Oklahoma's School of Community Medicine, told StateLine. "It asks us to violate our primary oath which is first to do no harm."

The StateLine article noted that Idaho is the only other state with a law similar to Oklahoma's that is on the books, but did not discuss efforts to introduce such laws to other states.

To learn more:
- read the StateLine article
- see the UCLA announcement