499: One More Year

How much would you be willing to pay to live for an additional year?

Full episode script

When you start digging into discussions of the price and value of life, you’ll likely run to the QALY standard – quality-adjusted life year. Created initially in 1956 by two economists, the system is a mathematical calculation. One year of perfect health is worth 1. One year of about 50 percent health is worth .5. That formula is then applied to what the dollar value put on a year of good health would be worth. The UK National Health Service put that dollar value at $30,000 to $45,000 or so in 2015. Time Magazine claimed in 2008 that the internal number for the US government and insurance companies at $50,000.

Yet do the math backwards, and you arrive at some very different numbers. The Globalist reported that, quote:

As of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a human life at $9.1 million. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration put it at $7.9 million — and the Department of Transportation figure was around $6 million.

With around 80 years average lifespan, that means that the value of a year ranges from $113,750 to $75,000.

Where answers start to change is when you ask people directly about the end of life, rather than the cost of extending life. A study in 2015 in Singapore found that, quote:

On average, the participants would pay $7,500 for a treatment to extend life by a year. But they were willing to pay about twice that amount – $15,000 – on better palliative care, such as better nursing that would allow them to die in the relative comfort of their homes, rather than a hospital.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.