Supreme Court Won’t Hear Lawsuit Challenging Death Panels in Obamacare

National   Steven Ertelt   Mar 30, 2015   |   10:16AM    Washington, DC

The Supreme Court today decided it will not hear a lawsuit challenging the death panels in Obamacare that pro-life groups strongly opposed because they involve rationing health care and potentially denying lifesaving medical treatment — putting patients’ right to life at risk.

Previously, one of the leading national pro-life groups called for legislation to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board established by the controversial Obamacare legislation because of pro-life concerns about it.

“Repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is critical to prevent the rationing of life-saving medical treatment,” said Burke Balch, J.D., director of National Right to Life’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics. “The IPAB would recommend drastic limits for the Department of Health and Human Services to impose on what Americans are allowed to spend out of their own funds to save their own lives and the lives of their families.”

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A lawsuit filed against the IPAB eventually reached a liberal federal appeals court, which threw out the lawsuit. Today, the Supreme Court said it would not take the case.

The high court left intact a ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out the lawsuit.

The court’s action in an unsigned order was a victory for Obama administration, which has faced a barrage of legal challenges to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The court is currently weighing a separate case challenging health insurance subsidies that are key to Obamacare’s implementation. A ruling is due by the end of June.

In the case that the justices rejected on Monday, Arizona-based business owner Nick Coons and Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon, sued in 2011 in litigation backed by a conservative legal group.

Among other things, they challenged the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, a 15-member government panel dubbed by some Republicans as a “death panel” because of its intended role in trimming costs within Medicare, the government healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.

Lower courts threw out the lawsuit. In its August 2014 ruling, the appeals court said that the plaintiffs had not shown they had suffered any harm that they could sue over.

In a letter to members of the Subcommittee on Health, National Right to Life noted that  “[t]he Obama law directs the Board to issue recommendations to limit what ordinary citizens and their health insurance coverage can pay for medical treatment so as to prevent it from keeping up with the rate of medical inflation.”

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The letter also noted that in order to “implement these recommendations, the Department of Health and Human Services is empowered to impose so-called ‘quality’ and ‘efficiency’ measures on health care providers. Doctors who violate a ‘quality’ standard by prescribing more life-saving medical treatment than it permits will be disqualified from contracting with any of the health insurance plans that individual Americans, under the Obama Health Care Law, will be mandated to purchase.”

“Simply put, the IPAB is bad medicine,” added Balch. “It is outrageous that a government entity would be allowed to dictate and limit what Americans could spend – of their own money – to save their own lives.”

The IPAB has come under question before and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faced questions from members of Congress over the board last year before she resigned from the office.

“The Independent Patient Advisory Board makes recommendations to Congress,” Sebelius said. “It is forbidden by law to do exactly what the Republican budget plan does. They may not shift costs to seniors. They may not change benefits.”

Rep. Joe Pitts, a pro-life Pennsylvania Republican, said there is “widespread opposition” to IPAB.

“This is not surprising, since the decisions of the board will become law by a fast track process that will bypass the usual legislative procedures, in effect superseding the customary jurisdiction of committees like this one,” said Pitts.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has said the IPAB “could lead–not only to the death of patients, but also to the death of innovation.”

“This Board, made up of 15 unelected members of the President’s choosing, will be the sole authority over what kind of care–if any–we receive,” he explained. “Starting in 2015, IPAB will be tasked with bringing down medical costs–and unless Congress can find a super-majority to oppose them, IPAB’s recommendations will carry the force of law.”

“The Board could deny payment for certain care or medications, change the service options doctors have, and drive expensive, life-saving treatments out. Instead of discussing the options with your doctor, IPAB will be sitting at the controls in Washington making health decisions for you,” Perkins explained.

“What should control health care isn’t IPAB. It isn’t even Congress. What should control health care is the relationship between doctors and patients. Injecting more government into the equation only punishes patients and squeezes out the cutting-edge science that could treat them. This is just one more reason to contact your congressmen and tell them to not rest until ObamaCare is laid to rest,” Perkins said.

Balch said one of the big pro-life concerns with Obamacare is that it “requires the Independent Payment Advisory Board to make recommendations, which the federal Department of Health and Human Services is given coercive power to implement, effectively to limit what private nongovernmental resources Americans are allowed to devote to health care for their family so that they cannot even keep up with the rate of medical inflation.”

“In short, the Board will play a crucial role in limiting the ability of Americans of all ages to spend their own money to save their own lives,” Balch said. “While public attention seems focused on the Board’s impact on Medicare, too many overlook how it is charged with crafting measures that will result in the denial of life-saving medical treatment – rationing– for people of any age.”