No Neurosurgery for Elderly “Units” Under ObamaCare

Opinion   |   Bob Laird   |   Dec 21, 2011   |   6:29PM   |   Washington, DC

A neurologist is called to the hospital in the middle of the night to treat an elderly patient who arrives with a brain aneurysm. The normal procedure would be immediate surgery to relieve the pressure on the brain.

Time is of the essence. Then, however, the surgeon realizes that the patient has insurance through one of the new government exchanges set up under ObamaCare and rethinks his treatment plan. The only prescribed treatment for which he will be reimbursed for this “unit” is “comfort care.”

This scenario was presented recently during a call to The Mark Levin Show on the topic of rationing health care. One of the fundamentals of health care expenditures is that most health care costs are usually amassed during the first and last six months of one’s life. Economically, the “low hanging fruit” of cost reduction in health care is to minimize costs at these two ends of the life spectrum. President Obama echoed this sentiment when he said:

The chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here … there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place.

Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, one of the architects of ObamaCare, advocates a “complete lives system” for rationing health care. Focusing on reducing end of life costs, he asserts that some groups of people will see reduced medical care based on cost, quality of life and age. His system presumes that the worth of an individual human being is based on the contribution made by the individual to society rather than the individual’s intrinsic dignity as a human person. He wrote:

Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination; every person lives through different life stages rather than being a single age. Even if 25-year-olds receive priority over 65-year-olds, everyone who is 65 years now was previously 25 years. Treating 65-year olds differently because of stereotypes or falsehoods would be ageist; treating them differently because they have already had more life-years is not. (emphasis added)


The caller to The Mark Levin Show (who identified himself as a brain surgeon) had recently attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. where the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) presented its proposal for treating neurological patients under various scenarios. The caller made two very important points. First, he noted that HHS used the term “units” when speaking about patients. Second, he provided the example above which demonstrated that the standard “treatment” for a 70-year-old patient who arrives in an emergency room for a brain aneurysm is “comfort care” unless more comprehensive care is authorized by a medical review board. The verbally-engineered HHS proposal makes it much easier to limit or refuse treatment to elderly persons under the guise of “comfort” to “units.” The doctor noted that when he gets a call to treat a brain aneurysm in the middle of the night, he is not going to wait for a medical board from an insurance organization to review his decision; rather, he will do what is right to save a life—something that will no longer be the standard of care.

Most of the HHS plans for the implementation of ObamaCare are yet to be published, and will not be forthcoming for at least another year because the volume of policies needing to be implemented is monumental. Make no mistake: time is on the side of HHS as they keep the insidious elements of the legislation under wraps for as long as possible.

“Universal health care for all” has been the rallying cry of the Obama administration as it implements ObamaCare. While this slogan may sound good, what has actually been concocted is not universal health care at all, but rather health care for the “units” that can still contribute to American society. This Achilles heel of ObamaCare will soon become a reality unless it is stopped.

As is often the case, prevention is the best medicine. The atrocity of ObamaCare can and must be prevented via the ballot box in November 2012. Only then can the current political leadership of HHS be replaced by individuals who understand that patients are people—not “units”—and that “comfort care” is not an acceptable treatment for those whose age determines that they have already had a “complete life” and who are deemed no longer able to contribute to the good of society. Note: Bob Laird is a fellow at HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International, and is the former Director of Tepeyac Family Center.  He writes from Lorton, Virginia.