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Obama Appoints Berwick: Health Care Rationing Around the Corner for Americans?

Last week, President Obama took advantage of the July 4th Recess to appoint Dr. Donald Berwick to the position of Administrator for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS is the agency that runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs).

Dr. Berwick is not only an outspoken advocate for government-controlled health care, but also a strong proponent of rationing health care. He commented on Britain’s healthcare system: “Cynics beware, I am romantic about the National Health Service; I love it.” Berwick loves the National Health Service because of its rationing system. In 2009, Dr. Berwick told Biotechnology Healthcare: “The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is extremely effective and a conscientious and valuable knowledge-building system… The decision is not whether or not we will ration care—the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”

The NICE is Britain’s rationing body for its National Health Service. It recently determined that a drug that would help to fight a British woman’s bowel cancer was not cost-effective, and, therefore, would not be paid for by the government. When she tried to pay for it out-of-pocket, NHS rules prohibited her. Linda O’Boyle was denied treatment, and died within months.

As socialized medicine and infanticide advocate Peter Singer has argued in The New York Times, the NICE bureaucrats must ration care, or else free government health care would bankrupt the British economy. “NICE had set a general limit on the cost of extending life for a year,” Singer writes.

As a result of this, and many other rationing decisions, Britain has one of the lowest cancer survival rates in the Western world. While 60.3% of men and 61.7% of women in Sweden survive a cancer diagnosis, in Britain the figure ranges from 40.2% to 48.1% for men and 48% to 54.1% for women.

NICE’s rationing has not just affected cancer patients. Under Britain’s government-run health care system, you can only spend a designated amount of money to extend a life beyond six months. The Government determines the medical treatment you will receive instead of you, your doctor, and your family.
Doctors have warned that patients with terminal illnesses are being made to die prematurely under the NHS rationing scheme as well.

Rationing health care, as evidenced by Britain’s health system, negatively impacts people’s lives. In particular, it necessarily affects those people with terminal illnesses and those nearing the end of their lives.

During the health care debate, Obama assured Americans that there would be no rationing of health care under the new health care plan. Obama’s appointment of Berwick—an ardent supporter of health care rationing—suggests Obama’s assurances were false. As administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, how will Berwick decide to allocate care? What criteria will he use? Whom will it affect?

With evidence of Berwick’s unabashed approval of Britain’s rationing system, Americans have every reason to be concerned about the direction U.S. health care is going.