What is healthcare rationing?

  • It’s restricting the access to potential lifesaving healthcare services
  • This happens when hospital systems become overwhelmed
  • Rationing forces doctors and government officials into difficult decisions 

As hospitals continue to overflow with coronavirus patients, healthcare rationing may be about to become a stark reality for many medical professionals. Essentially, healthcare rationing is the practice of restricting access to potentially useful or lifesaving healthcare services to ill patients, due to budgetary limitations or a shortage of supplies. When this occurs, medical providers, insurers, or even government agencies may be forced to prioritize patients by who is most in need of services, supplies, or equipment.

In some cases, particularly with private health insurance, this could boil down to an individual’s ability to afford such services.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic situation currently gripping the United States—and, the world at large—healthcare rationing applies to the shortage of ventilators, hospital beds, and other life-saving supplies and equipment. As such, providers are now being forced to develop protocols to help determine who gets to go to “the front of the line” for treatment, so to speak.

In lieu of a national framework for healthcare rationing, the American healthcare system has not yet prepared to make such moral and ethical decisions, and it may come down to a lottery system if no better arrangement can be decided upon.

Sources: Politico, National Institutes of Health, Washington Post

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