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Taxpayers Asked to Pay for Assisted Suicide of Medi-Cal Patients

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March 24, 2016

Expansion Begins Before New Law Takes Effect

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.

Analysts arrived at the projected number of Medi-Cal lethal drug prescriptions by using the assisted suicide rate in Oregon as a basis.  The validity of the comparison is somewhat questionable.  For instance, our northern neighbor has a far less diversified population and the number of Medi-Cal recipients in California is three times larger than the entire population of Oregon.

(In addition, legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide will have negative consequences on public health – generating a “copy-cat phenomenon.”  According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates in Oregon have increased by 49 percent between 1999 and 2010 - compared to 28 percent nationally.) 

The cost estimate also suggest the State will pay for the two required doctor visits to obtain the lethal drugs but that only nine of the expected 443 cases will be sent for mental health evaluations since none is required by the new law.

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.

Advocates have publically proclaimed that they will do everything they can to ensure access to assisted suicide. 

For instance, one of the original authors of the bill, Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), has proposed a toll-free number for the public to find out how to arrange suicide with the help of a doctor. No estimate of the costs for what many in the Capital are calling a suicide assistance hotline has been provided even though its first hearing is only a week away.

Speak out against SB 1002 and other assisted-suicide expansion efforts on our Action Alert page.