Senate Committee Defeats Pro-Life Amendment to Stop Health Care Rationing

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 22, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Committee Defeats Pro-Life Amendment to Stop Health Care Rationing

by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 22
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — The Senate HELP Committee on Monday defeated a pro-life amendment that would help stop the rationing of health care in the Kennedy restructuring bill. The amendment concerned the section on comparative effectiveness research, which pro-life advocates say prompt euthanasia concerns.

Critics say the section would allow the government to create an arbitrary means to determining when medical treatments are allowed or could receive government funding.

Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, sponsored a pair of amendments to curb the problem but they were defeated during the HELP Committee markup of the Kennedy bill by a party-line vote.

"President Obama promised that under his health reform proposal, every American who had coverage that they liked could keep it. This bill fails to deliver on that promise," Enzi said.

Enzi said the provisions in the bill "provide the government with an unprecedented role in the doctor-patient relationship. Government bureaucracy will end up dictating the treatment that we can and cannot have, and the result will be a delay and a denial of health care services."

Prior to the debate, Sen. Tom Coburn, expressed his support for such an amendment.

He said using the research to decide reimbursements could erode the physician-patient relationship because "government bureaucrats" would be in charge of determining what treatments a patient can receive based solely on cost.

"Medicine is individual, it’s personal, it doesn’t fit in a box," said Dr. Coburn, a physician.

Burke Balch, the medical ethics director for the National Right to Life Committee talked with last week about the problems with comparative effectiveness research. Balch says the Kennedy bill would lead to the cutting off of certain treatments that the government doesn’t consider cost effective.

He says the bill would employ a system similar to the “quality of life years” system, or QALY, in England where payment for treatment is only authorized if it extends the quality of life not the length of life. Under such a system someone in a wheelchair is determined to have a lower quality of life compared with an able-bodied person.

National Right to Life asked lawmakers to support the Enzi amendment, which would have said the government can’t use that system to deny treatment to people on the basis of a disability or degree of medical dependency or quality of life.

Balch says National Right to Life is working with senators on the Senate Finance committee, including pro-life Sen. Charles Grassley, for a similar amendment to the companion bill that panel is crafting.

Amendments on the rationing issue could also come from Enzi or other lawmakers on the Senate floor.

The group is also working to ensure that the health care plan that comes out of Congress doesn’t fund abortions or force insurance companies to cover abortions.

NRLC executive director David O’Steen told last week that the plan will likely cover abortions and not be “up front” about it and that the pro-abortion nature of the plan would be a part of it unless an “overt” amendment is included making it abortion neutral.

ACTION: Go to to see if either of your senators are on the committee and thank them or complain about their vote for or against the Enzi amendment.

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