Insurance Companies Denied Patients Life-Saving Treatments But Would Pay for Assisted Suicide

National   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   May 31, 2017   |   4:34PM   |   Washington, DC

A Nevada doctor recently decided to go public after learning insurance companies denied two of his patients life-saving medical treatment coverage and offered to pay for them to commit suicide instead.

In a new video by the Patients Rights Action Fund, Dr. Brian Callister, a physician and professor at the University of Nevada Medical School, explained what happened when he requested coverage for two patients’ medical care.

On two separate occasions, Callister said he was treating patients who both needed life-saving treatments, but his hospital did not perform the treatments. He said he made several phone calls to request transfers to hospitals in the patients’ home states of Oregon and California. Doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in both states.

When he called the patients’ insurance companies, Callister said both refused to cover the patients’ treatments. He said neither patient was terminally ill, but without the treatment, they could have become so.

What happened during those phone calls left Callister shocked.

After denying the coverage, he said both insurance reps suggested that the patients consider doctor-prescribed suicide instead. He said the insurance reps offered the deadly option unprompted.

“Quite frankly, I was stunned,” Callister said. “It’s a lot cheaper to grab a couple drugs, kill you, than it is to provide you life-sustaining therapy. It’s as simple as that.”

Doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in Oregon and California, as well as Washington state, Vermont, Colorado and, most recently, Washington, D.C. This is not the first time patient have reported being denied health care and offered assisted suicide instead.

Anne Sommers of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, told the Washington Times that many people with disabilities are concerned about the profit-driven motives of insurance companies coupled with assisted suicide laws. She said when doctor-prescribed suicide is the cheapest option, people may be pressured to kill themselves rather than provided with the treatments they deserve.

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Compassion & Choices, a euthanasia advocacy group that is pushing states to legalize assisted suicide, expressed skepticism about Callister’s experiences.

The Washington Times reports Kat West, a spokeswoman for the group, attacked the video because it does not name the insurance companies.

“I’m not a HIPAA lawyer, but that sounds really — it sounds like someone who does not want to share information,” West said. “That’s what it sounds like to me.”

The Patients Rights Action Fund said its lawyers recommended not naming the insurance companies because of potential HIPAA violations. And Callister said the insurance companies’ reps made the suggestions over the phone.

“Now was this in writing? Of course not,” Callister said. “This was on the phone. They’re too smart to put that in writing.”

There are other confirmed stories of patients being denied medical insurance coverage and offered drugs to kill themselves instead.

Stephanie Packer, a young, terminally ill mother of four, is one of them. The California mother said her state Medicare plan initially refused to pay for her medical treatment but offered to pay for assisted suicide drugs instead.

In separate incidents, Oregon cancer patients Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup also were denied treatment in their state health insurance plans and offered doctor-prescribed suicide instead.

Family members also have witnessed their loved ones being pressured to consider killing themselves, rather than continue treatment. Oregon resident Kathryn Judson said doctors tried to pitch assisted suicide to her sick husband while she was out of the room one day. Judson said they switched doctors, and her husband lived for five more years.