11.8.09

"DEATH PANEL" IS LOADED TERMINOLOGY. Perhaps so, but where scarce resources have to be allocated among competing uses, somebody has to make the tough decisions. Because there is no medical college at Northern Illinois University, some of the medical journals are not available through our library, which limits me to the abstracts. Consider first Jennifer Stanton, "The cost of living: kidney dialysis, rationing and health economics in Britain, 1965–1996," Social Science and Medicine 49, 9, (November 1999): 1169-1182.
Paradoxically, the most effective covert rationing was achieved under the British NHS which ostensibly provides free care for all, while the uncentralised market system in the US gave way, on this issue, to almost universal state-subsidised provision. Under the British system, the most cost-effective options for renal care tended to flourish, but some patients were turned away. Physicians have been held responsible for complying with covert rationing: this paper suggests that early gearing towards socially-useful survival filtered back to selection at primary level, possibly continuing long after specialists wished to expand. Public outcry, though muted, reached parliament and caused minor shifts in policy; the main aim of the voluntary pressure campaign, to release more organs for transplant through ‘opt-out’, remained unrealised in the UK. Yet dialysis was targetted for expansion in the 1980s just at the point when health economists were presenting evidence for its low cost-effectiveness compared with other expensive interventions. According to the main strand of argument in this paper, comparisons with other countries and between regions were most influential in breaking the hold of covert rationing: policy making by embarrassment.
Intriguing. Somebody had to do the "gearing towards socially-useful survival."

Also consider David Mechanic, "Dilemmas in rationing health care services: the case for implicit rationing," BMJ Education and Debate, 1995, 310 (24 June 1995): 1655-1659.
With tension between the demand for health services and the cost of providing them, rationing is increasingly evident in all medical systems. Until recently, rationing was primarily through the ability to pay or achieved implicitly by doctors working within fixed budgets. Such forms of rationing are commonly alleged to be inequitable and inefficient and explicit rationing is advocated as more appropriate. Utilisation management in the United States and quasimarkets separating purchasing from provision in the United Kingdom are seen as ways of using resources more efficiently and are increasingly explicit. There is also advocacy to ration explicitly at the point of service.
Ration explicitly at the point of service. Somebody has to say no. Put it to a committee and do it by secret ballot, so that no one wise expert is put on the spot.

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