MADISON, Wis. — Should life-saving Covid-19 drugs be prioritized based on a patient’s race? The Biden administration thinks so. And now healthcare systems reportedly are beginning to follow such “equitable” guidance to the letter, making race and ethnicity a primary factor in determining who receives life-saving Covid-19 treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and oral antiviral drugs.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on Friday sent a letter warning St. Louis-based SSM Health that its risk scoring calculator that prioritizes treatments for “non-white or Hispanic” Covid patients is wrong on many counts.
“The approach taken by your calculator is not only profoundly unethical and immoral, it is illegal,” Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Milwaukee-based civil rights law firm, and WILL Deputy Counsel Daniel Lennington advise SSM administrators in the warning letter.
SSM, which operates 23 hospitals and more than 300 health clinics in four states, sent an email in late December to its Wisconsin physicians regarding the distribution of monoclonal antibody products (mAbs), according to the letter. The treatments are “highly effective in neutralizing the [COVID-19] virus and preventing symptoms from worsening,” SSM’s website states.
In the email, the healthcare system announced a new “risk scoring calculator” to determine which patients will be eligible for mAbs, according to WILL, which obtained a copy of the calculator.
“To be eligible for mAbs, patients must score a minimum of 20 points. But under your current risk scoring calculator, patients will receive a substantial preference based on race, with the color of a patient’s skin mattering more than medically recognized co-morbidities or symptoms,” WILL’s Esenberg and Lennington state.
“For example, a 50-year-old white female (15 points) suffering from obesity (1 point), asthma (1 point), and hypertension (1 point) would not be eligible for mAbs because she does not receive the 20-point minimum score under the calculator. On the other hand, an otherwise healthy 50-year-old African-American female (22 points), without any of these health risks, would be eligible,” Esenberg and Lennington continue. “A 40-year-old white male (14 points) presenting in an emergency room with shortness of breath (4 points) would not be eligible, while a 40- year-old African American male (21 points) without any co-morbidities or symptom risk factors would be eligible.”
“These inequities result solely from the weight given to race in the calculator,” they conclude. “The risk scoring calculator provides a 7-point bonus to all patients who are ‘non-white or Hispanic.’ In other words, non-white patients receive a 7-point head start in your risk scoring calculator and are therefore more likely to receive life-saving medical treatment based solely on the color of their skin.”
Covid-19 is not more virulent to those who are non-white. SSM doesn’t contend that in its new calculator. WILL asserts SSM is apparently granting the bonus for other, non-medical reasons, even though federal law forbids discrimination based on race. As Esenberg and Lennington note, the Affordable Care Act declares that patients may not be discriminated against based on race in any health program or activity “a part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Numerous other federal and state laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibit the kinds of race-weighting — particularly in life-or-death situations — SSM appears to be doing, Esenberg and Lennington assert. Concluding that the risk calculator is “illegal,” they ask SSM to “immediately suspend use of this calculator and develop a new tool that evaluates patients based on their individual health history and symptoms, rather than their race.”
An official with SSM Health did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.
Meanwhile, on the national scale, the Biden administration has pushed racially divisive “equity” policies that encourage race-based Covid treatment calculations like SSM Health’s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted emergency authorization for monoclonal antibody sotrovimab for “high risk” patients, including “race or ethnicity” in its description of “high risk” factors.
“While our nation should seek to better understand and address real disparities that exist in health outcomes, that important work is a far cry from the rationing of vital medicines based on race and ethnicity,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote in a letter to Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Rationing life-saving drug treatments based on race and ethnicity is racist and un-American. There is no other way to put it.”
A severe supply shortage of treatments may force healthcare providers to make tough decisions. But should the color of a patient’s skin determine who’s next in line?