The following comes from a March 24 California Catholic Conference news release:
Without fanfare or announcement, Governor Brown’s proposed 2016 Budget recommends $2.3 million dollars to allow California to purchase lethal drugs for Medi-Cal patients who want their physician to help them commit suicide.
California would pay an estimated $5,400 per patient just for the drugs yet Medi-Cal patients still have no access to palliative care (designed to improve the quality of life for patients and their family facing serious illnesses.) Even more incredibly, a recent study has shown that Medi-Cal recipients have only a one in three chance of even getting cancer treatments under the system and often cannot obtain second opinions.
Proponents of the assisted-suicide law insisted during last year’s debate that the lethal dose of drugs was not intended to save Medi-Cal costs yet lawmakers passed the legislation in a special session called specifically to address a Medi-Cal deficit.
The California Department of Health Care Services (DCHS) proposes spending $2.3 million to help an estimated 443 Medi-Cal patients end their own life with the cooperation of a doctor. That’s compared to only $4.6 million spent by the State for 10 suicide-prevention hotlines in California.
Just in case the costs somehow do not make it into the final budget, Assembly Member Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) – the principal author of the assisted-suicide legislation – has introduced AB 2810 which would also authorize the funds.
Additionally, proponents are asking for almost $250,000 to hire staff to clarify regulations on the assisted-suicide law. Those rules will not be completed until after the law goes into effect on June 9. That means doctors can start prescribing life-ending drugs before the final regulations are even written. Finally, the DHCS are requesting $323,000 for creation of a secure database.
New drug concocted by “Death with Dignity”
The following comes from an April 2 Seattle Times article by JoNel Aleccia:
Washington state Death with Dignity advocates have found a way to thwart a drug company that abruptly doubled the price — to more than $3,000 — of the lethal medication some terminally ill patients use to end their lives.
They’ve come up with a new mix of medications that induces death for about $500, said Dr. Robert Wood, a longtime University of Washington HIV/AIDS researcher who now volunteers with End of Life Washington, an advocacy group.
Now doctors in Oregon have adopted the drug mix, too, as a way to ensure that cost doesn’t prevent terminally ill patients from making the choice they want under the state’s right-to-die law. And in California, where a similar law takes effect later this year, officials are considering it as well.
“We’ve always had the belief that no matter who you are, whether you’re rich or poor, you should have access to a lethal dose of medicine that does what you want: to end your life in a peaceful and dignified manner,” said George Eighmey, president of the board of the Death with Dignity National Center, based in Portland.
The issue arose last year, when Valeant Pharmaceuticals International of Quebec acquired the rights to Seconal, the trade name of secobarbital sodium, the most commonly prescribed drug for aid-in-dying patients. The firm quickly doubled the cost, from $1,500 to more than $3,000 — and up to $5,000. That’s on top of previous retail price increases for the nearly 90-year-old sedative that once sold for $150 for a lethal 10-gram dose.
The impact on patients considering using the drugs was immediate, said Beth Glennon, a client-support coordinator for End of Life Washington. Some patients were worried about burdening their families with the extra expense of the medication, she said.
Health insurance often doesn’t pay for aid-in-dying drugs and they are not covered under Medicare. In Washington, the drugs aren’t covered under the state Medicaid plan or by several Catholic health systems that prohibit doctor-aided death based on religious objections.
So Wood and other doctors in the state decided to seek an alternative to the high-priced drug sold by Valeant, which is among firms under fire by Congress for hiking prices on desperately needed drugs.
They turned to a compounding pharmacist, who doesn’t have access to the exact ingredients included in secobarbital. The result was a less-expensive mix of three medications: phenobarbital, chloral hydrate and morphine sulfate, all in powdered form to be mixed with water, alcohol, applesauce or juice.
News reports last month suggested that Valeant increased the price as a reaction to California’s assisted suicide law, a contention rejected by company officials.