How Much Are You Worth?

By Noah Graff

There is a famous quote in the Talmud, the revered Jewish commentary, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Our society puts a great value on human life, but the life preserving business is a complicated expensive challenge for patients, doctors, insurance companies and governments.

I want to share with you some fascinating insights on this topic brought up in a podcast of NPR’s show Radiolab.

Sovaldi (Sofosbuvir) is a drug for treating Hepatitis C that was released in December of 2013. In the U.S. it costs $1,000 per pill, which you take once a day. To cure the disease it costs about $84,000 over 12 weeks. It costs significantly less in other countries where governments regularly negotiate discounts with drug companies. In the first half of 2014, Gilead Sciences Inc., the company that owns Sovaldi, reported $5.8 billion in sales for the U.S. and Europe.

One thousand dollars a day is a ton of money, but unlike many expensive drugs, which often just attempt to prolong life, Sovaldi actually cures people and has a 95% success rate. Gilead argues that the steep $84,000 cost is justified because the treatment usually saves the patient’s life, and when the treatment ends he or she is no longer a burden to society. The company also justifies the high price based on the R&D cost such a powerful drug requires to develop.

The drug expense debate becomes more complicated with drugs that cannot be classified as a cure. For instance, Zaltrap is a cancer drug that costs $11,000 per month, and when the results are averaged out among patients it adds 42 days to a person’s life. It can prolong someone’s life three days or grant a person several more years.

How much money should 42 more days of life be worth? Eventually, the health care system, be it private or public, will not be able to support the number of sick people who have been promised whatever means necessary to preserve life. So where do you finally draw the line and say a person has already received the share of care they are entitled to in order to live longer? Many countries around the world have openly debated this question, but the discussion has remained fairly low key in the U.S. because when it was brought up a few years ago while Obamacare was conceived, Americans began ranting about “Death Panels.”

Believe it or not, the World Health Organization has an equation for this value. It recommends that for one additional year of a person’s life, countries should spend 1 to 3 times per capita income. With this standard, one more year of life for a U.S. citizen should be worth $50,000 to $150,000.

In the NPR story, a reporter asked people in Times Square what they believed was the right amount for society to pay for one more year of a person’s life. She was surprised that most people didn’t freak out or get angry at her. The responses ranged from under $1000 to $10 million. People often asked her questions such as, “What would the quality of life be?” “Would the person be emotionally happy during the year?” “Would other people also be trying to get the money at the same time?”

Listen to the Radiolab podcast here.

Question: How much money do you think one more year of your life should be worth?

Noah Graff writes for Today’s Machining World and sells machines for Graff-Pinkert & Co.

Share this post

23 thoughts on “How Much Are You Worth?

  1. Eric

    Interesting topic. I can think of so many examples of people who get a terminal illness or disease/experience a terrible accident and 100’s of thousands of dollars are spent to keep them alive for a short period of time, often in a vegetable state. If that happens to me I would not want my family to endure the financial, emotional and physical burdens. For example, if I were to have a late stage, aggressive cancer I would want to be made as comfortable as possible and let nature take its course. I don’t believe assisted suicide is morally acceptable though.

    1. Josh

      That’s interesting, are you Catholic? What is it that you find morally disagreeable with assisted suicide? I find needless human suffering to be far less morally acceptable than assisted suicide personally.

      1. Eric

        No Josh, I’m not Catholic. I’m a Protestant christian. I believe suicide is a sin. Thou shalt not murder. Human suffering because of a disease is not a moral issue. It’s how you handle it that is the moral issue. I don’t want my last act of free will to be a sin against God.

      2. Josh

        I respect your opinion, but it’s hard for me to take seriously a person who says human suffering isn’t a moral issue, regardless of cause. In fact the objective definition of morality is very much guided by the principle of minimizing human suffering.

        I would also argue that if you’re worried about it, you’re not committing suicide or murder, the person assisting you is. You’ve got nothing to worry about.

        Besides, if you aren’t Catholic there are no mortal sins. I would hope you believe in a God who would forgive you for alleviating your suffering if necessary.

      3. Jack

        I would also argue that if you’re worried about it, you’re not committing suicide or murder, the person assisting you is. You’ve got nothing to worry about.


  2. Josh

    Noah how fantastic! Always nice to find another Radiolab fan! I can’t get enough of Jad and Robert. To those of you who frequent this board and may be quick to scoff at the show simply because NPR has been mentioned I encourage you to take the time to actually listen to the show before drawing on your biases to make judgement upon it. I really hope this discussion doesn’t devolve into the standard “Obamacare” bashing and rabble rabble about government healthcare. This is a much larger issue and like it or not will come to effect all of us at one point.

    I found this episode to be incredibly interesting because on one hand how can you put a value on human life or even days or weeks of that life. On the other hand the healthcare industry forces us to ascribe a monetary relationship to the human life. It’s an incredible conundrum.

    One of the points in the article I found especially interesting was the discussion about a drug being used to treat a relatively rare condition, I don’t recall the exact condition but it was something covered by medicare I believe. Anyway, the point they drew was how expensive this drug was and the fact that it’s currently covered but not many people have to have the drug. They then compared this drug to a potential drug for Diabetes, a disease which has a much much larger number of people suffering from the condition. A similarly priced drug to treat diabetes would have come to a total that was greater than our national GDP if I recall correctly? I mean that’s just mind boggling, when you consider that in order to treat these people with that drug one would have to come up with the GDP of the USA! Imagine what that means on an individual scale!

    The bottom line is pricing controls. We need to do something to bring down the cost of healthcare in this country. We pay more for the same procedures in the US than almost anywhere else in the world, for the same quality of care. This is the biggest failure of the ACA, that it didn’t address this issue. Without a way to bring down healthcare costs in this country everyone is going to end up bankrupt.

  3. mike

    Does anyone read the Bible anymore? I think Lloyd once stated “Man plans . . . God laughs”.

    How much am i worth? Did she leave me because i am drinking . . . or am i drinking because she left me”?

    Every beginning has an end, right? If i am good with God, what is there to fear?

    It is a dumb question without an answer . . . the # is “zero” . . .

  4. Marvin

    I would give $11,321.32 for one year… if my quality of life was okay. Any more than that and I would say goodbye and leave the money to my family.

  5. Mike S

    In this world, your worth is correlated to a combination of the size of your bank account, your social status and who you know.

    In God’s world, everyone is of infinite value. After all, He sent His Son as a ransom for us all.

    You can’t put a price on a person’s worth.

  6. Randy

    Unfortunately the cost of healthcare is often used as an excuse to not accept our own responsibility for healthy living choices. Myself included, I’ve been told for years that I had high cholestoral and I’ve been good at times with dietary choices, but last summer following a routine test the doctor had me do a stress test and eventually led to a stent being put in during an angioplasty. So now I take a bunch of pills everyday and what I realized after a while was that the pills for cholestoral are so effective that I can stray from the dietary and still fall way below the levels considered “healthy”. So now I cheat the diet on occasion, but stick with the gym, at least for now. My life is worth what I am willing to “invest in it” and just like with any other investment there are “opportunity costs” to consider. I am not afraid to die, but I’d like to stick around long enough to see my kids reach their 30’s and possibly 40’s, but like others have said quality versus quantity will always be my choice. I’ve seen losses for my parents and in laws and regretted the extra things done for my father that prolonged his life only months, but they were spent in a desperate and lonely situation of a nursing home because we could provide the level of care needed.

    From a perspective of “cost control” then have the governments fund the research the drug companies do now and the decisions of profitability will not be the only decision about which are primary.

    1. Eric

      Government funding comes from taxes. Guess who pays the taxes?? The government is just a bloated, greedy middleman that will make it even more expensive and inefficient. Which is exactly what is happening with ACA.

      1. Josh

        The government is not responsible for driving up costs of healthcare and equipment. In fact the government has been one of the only effective measures against rising healthcare costs through the medicare program. While healthcare costs are indeed rising after the passage of the ACA, they were already rising at astronomical rates. I agree that a major failure of the ACA is its complete lack of cost controls but your statement is uniformed and disingenuous.

  7. Jeff

    My Dad always said I wasn’t worth the powder it would take to blow me up.
    But that was before Obama.

    1. Jack

      Are you having a bad day.
      I always try and stay positive and remember there is a cold beer waiting for me at home.

  8. Robert

    “Americans began ranting about “Death Panels.” I wouldn’t classify most people that object to a bureaucrat deciding one’s fate as a ranter. Death panels are known as medical review boards in Canada and they are responsible for allocating medical treatment resources based on a patient’s age, diagnosis and co-morbid medical problems. If you are above a certain age, you do not get treatment and if you have the money you would go to the US for medical treatment and pay out of pocket, as many are forced to do. This is a reality when there is 1 pie that can only be cut into so many pieces. My objection with Obamacare is that Obama refuses to call a spade a spade for political reasons. Death panels by any other name are a reality with government run health care.

    1. Josh

      Why does every one ignore the existence of private insurance in discussions about government healthcare? First of all death panels is an incendiary hyperbole. Secondly, you act as if you weren’t approved health care funding it’s a death sentence. How is that any different than the way it is today where there are no “death panels” and people have no chance at all to receive treatment? At least with so called “death panels” they have a chance. The current system with no healthcare is an automatic “death panel.”

      Secondly, even if you don’t get government health care you can still get private health insurance or pay out of pocket if you have the money. This is why the term “death panel” is ridiculous and inappropriate. The only one refusing to recognize a spade for what it is is you while you march around calling a spade a scythe.

  9. Jack

    Eventually it won’t matter what I think, it will be determined by the powers that be.
    Maybe I shouldn’t lead such a boring life.
    Time to go out and have some fun.
    Work, work, work where is it going to get me.

  10. Dave

    This is why the AMA and big pharma cannot possibly function as is. A basic characteristic of the free-market system is that prices always rise until supply equals demand. When human life is at stake, demand is virtually infinite. Therefore, prices will continue to rise until they, too, are virtually infinite, turning the rest of our economy into chaos. As much as I despise socialism, this might be the only exception, for a very simple and obvious reason.

  11. Gordy

    I believe we went wrong right about the time healthcare became a right and not an option. I found great motivation starting with absolutely nothing and building a shop with a team working to help people. Any welfare (like health insurance I didn’t pay for with my dollars) would have changed my history and the hundreds of people I have helped along the way.

    Welfare and socialism simply don’t work, and we are surrounded with evidence everywhere.

    One thing welfare does do is to make it easier for those of us who are willing to work to get ahead. Lazy people don’t compete well, and anything unearned has always reduced both my personal motivation and that of pretty much every person I have ever met.

    Anybody ever meet a welfare recipient working 3 jobs trying to make enough money to rent a building and meet peoples salaries during a startup while taking next to nothing for themselves. I didn’t think so.

    1. Emily

      I always get frustrated with stories such as yours. What you’re basically saying is if people can’t or don’t know how to work hard, they deserve no help in life and should suffer. You’re lucky you have the brain that you do and were raised the way you were raised. Without those two things you’d probably be in the line on the 15th of each month too. I wish people would stop talking like their fortune is something they did, instead of the truth, that is was something that came to them because of the circumstances they found themselves in. And that includes your ability to work hard. You think everyone was taught that? You’re acting like we all started life on an even playing field, and it’s BS. We didn’t. Congratulations for knowing how to make stuff happen in life. Try having a little compassion for those who weren’t taught how to do that.


Comments are closed.