Would Congress Ration Citizens' Health Care?

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WASHINGTON -- When Canadian doctors diagnosed that Shona Holmes had a brain tumor, she was told it would be months before a neurologist could see her.
So instead of waiting, she went to the U.S. for lifesaving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

"I've been very fortunate that I was able to come over here," Holmes said.

Holmes' story and others like it are repeated over and over in countries with nationalized health care.

Click play to watch the CBN News report followed by an interview wtih Rosemary Jenks of Numbers U.S.A. about how many experts believe President Obama's health care plan will afffect immigration.
In Great Britain, the decision-making power lies with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, or NICE.

"Some people actually call it NASTY," joked Dr. Karol Sikora of Cancer Partners U.K. "That's the favorite joke in England."

Sikora said it often takes NICE three years to decide on cancer drugs already being used in the U.S.

"It is a nightmare that ends up with delays," she added. "And for many patients and their families, (there's) a huge emotional sort of waiting area where they're not sure whether they're going to get or not get the drug."

It is known as the rationing of care but some call it playing God, because governments are making decisions on the cost effectiveness of treatments. 

In Britain, the determining factor is a patient's quality adjusted life year, which is the calculation of the cost of a procedure against the amount of time a person has left to live.

"They take quality of life assessments," said Jennifer Popik, legislative counsel of the National Right to Life Committee. "They take disability, age, terminal illness, for example, is another one and they will say that that person's life is less worth living than a healthy person."

This is what would happen in the U.S. under under health care legislation moving through Congress.  A White House advisory committee would set up a standardized benefit package.
The secretary of health would then have the power to dictate what services are covered and how often a patient could receive them.

"A lot of seniors are saying, 'Who's going to make that decision?'" said Amy Menefee, spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity. "Is that going to be the precedent? Is that going to be a bureaucrat or one of these medical boards that they're creating?"

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said seniors denied care would have no where to appeal. But one group of Americans will not have to worry.

"Congress is excluded from that," he said. "Well, why exclude Congress from that? If you think it's good for everybody else shouldn't it be there?"

Dr. Dale Matthews, a private practitioner, said it is a question of ethics.

"I think we as doctors and certainly most patients do not want decisions made about their health care being made by impersonal bureaucrats in Washington, who don't know subtlety of the clinical situation," he said.

Now groups like the National Right to Life Committee are focused on those they say have the most to lose under the plan.

"We're talking the elderly will be most at risk," the committee's legislative counsel Jennifer Popik said. "Those with terminal conditions and they're not going to be given life sustaining treatment."

The health care legislation still has lots of hoops to jump through.
Perhaps the most challenging hurdle will be the ones lawmakers must jump next month, when they are back home answering tough questions about how their actions would fundamentally change the way health care is delivered in America.

*Originally aired July 24, 2009.

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CBN News
Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.