22 May 2009

11th Circuit: Regulators Not Doctors Should Decide Health Care

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Jeff Emmanuel, at Pajamas Media, warns that a recent federal appeals court decision affirming the right of state bureaucrats in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama to overrule physicians and deny care to patients covered by Medicaid prefigures the federal rationing of health care nationwide.

Earlier this month, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of three states that filed suit to have final medical decision-making authority transferred from doctors to state bureaucrats.

In March, as reported here at Pajamas Media, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama appealed U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash’s ruling that physicians, not government bureaucrats, were qualified — both legally and medically — to decide what was “medically necessary” for their patients, regardless of bureaucrats’ opinions.

The thrust of the states’ argument in Moore was summed up in the amicus brief filed by the state of Florida, which said, “Treating physicians … cannot be trusted with this sort of decision. When left to their own devices, they advocate for their patients, and deem all manner of unproven, dangerous, ineffective, cosmetic, unnecessary, bizarre, and controversial treatments as ‘medically necessary.’”

The “final arbiter” of medical decisions is and should be “the state,” said attorney Robert Highsmith in March 24 oral arguments — and the panel of the 11th Circuit agreed.

As a result of this ruling, doctors within the 11th Circuit’s jurisdiction will no longer be “left to their own devices” to treat Medicaid patients under their care. However, current events suggest the relegation of medical professionals’ recommendations to the status of mere suggestions pending review by state bureaucrats isn’t likely to be limited to Medicaid cases alone for long.

As taxpayer-funded and bureaucrat-run health care programs like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) are expanded to include more middle-class Americans, and as the federal government’s control over the health care market grows astronomically under the guise of “health care reform,” the issue of government encroachment on doctor-patient decisions will only increase.

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Moore v. Medows

The District Court held that “[t]he state must provide for the amount of skilled nursing care which the Plaintiff’s treating physician deems necessary to correct or ameliorate her condition.” … While it is true that, after the 1989 amendments to the Medicaid Act, the state must fund any medically necessary treatment that Anna C. Moore requires…, it does not follow that the state is wholly excluded from the process of determining what treatment is necessary. Instead, both the state and Moore’s physician have roles in determining what medical measures are necessary to “correct or ameliorate” Moore’s medical conditions…. The agency may place appropriate limits on a service based on such criteria as medical necessity or on utilization control procedures.” (Citations omitted, emphasis added.)

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