Rationing Has Arrived

President Obama’s legacy legislation — the new health overhaul law — is no more popular today than it was when it passed Congress last spring.

In the latest survey from Rasmussen Reports, a full 55 percent of voters favor repealing the law.

Their disapproval shows they understand the dangers of this new law. Many Americans correctly worry that, as government controls more and more of the health sector, treatment will become increasingly centralized, and patients will wind up with fewer choices and compromised care. These fears are now being realized. Consider:

— Medicare recently initiated a competitive bidding program for medical equipment that will dry up competition and drive out suppliers. In nine metropolitan areas, this program will restrict the number of companies allowed to supply complex medical devices as well as more routine equipment such as power wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen, respiratory assistance devices, hospital beds, and mail-order diabetic supplies.

Money might be saved, but the program could drive out suppliers that offer better quality products and that provide competition in pricing.

— In mid-December, the FDA revoked approval for Avastin for late-stage breast cancer. This biological drug slows the progression of cancer by cutting off the tumor’s blood supply, and it has improved the quality and length of life for thousands of breast cancer patients. Avastin is costly — about $88,000 annually, partly because it’s very expensive to make. FDA officials have pointed out that without approval, Avastin could still be prescribed “off-label.”

But such treatments generally aren’t covered by Medicare and private insurers, meaning thousands of women who could benefit from Avastin would be denied access.

— In November, a Medicare advisory panel reviewed findings from an investigation into Provenge, a cutting-edge but costly vaccine approved to treat prostate cancer. Shown to extend life by an average of four months in clinical trials with very few side effects, the fact that Provenge is being scrutinized at all surely is because of its $93,000 price tag for a full regimen of treatment.

This is a pioneering medicine that uses cells from the patient’s own body to boost its ability to fight the cancer. This new generation of drugs could show the way to much more effective cancer care in the future, but only if patients are allowed to get it.

— The health law grants sweeping authority to the new Independent Payment Advisory Board and Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute over payments and access. Appointed, not elected, these government officials will have enormous control over Medicare’s budget — which Congress will hardly be able to stop. In nations with government-run health systems, bodies like these are the ones that have the power to institute explicit rationing.

These examples shouldn’t come as a surprise. ObamaCare’s 2,801 pages of legislation and insidious regulatory structure give the Secretary of Health and Human Services almost unlimited authority to rule over every corner of our health sector.

Unless this law is repealed and replaced, average citizens will find themselves with fewer treatment options as bureaucrats gain more and more control over medical decisions.

Published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, January 22, 2011.

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