Would Dick Cheney Get a Heart Under Obamacare?

The mathematics of Obamacare only adds up over time if a system of rationing is imposed.

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Dick Cheney got a new heart this weekend.

A longtime heart patient—he had his first of five heart attacks at age 38—he apparently came through the surgery well and is likely to make a full recovery though, doctors said, it would be some time before he was out of the woods.

There are those who have had neither the good sense nor the manners to keep their thoughts, which have been in bad taste, to themselves. But that, believe it or not, is beside the point. There is an issue here that relates directly to Obamacare.

[Read a U.S. News interview with Dick Cheney]

The former vice president is 71 years old. According to published reports, he had to wait two years for a new heart, longer than most people. As Reuters put it, Cheney "was older than average for a heart transplant, but doctors said on Sunday that advances in care have made it possible for older patients to still be good transplant candidates. And not only was he older than the typical patient, but he waited longer than average as well—20 months vs. six months to a year."

Under Obamacare, the stated objective of which is to bend the healthcare cost curve, the bureaucracy that will govern medical decisions might have held that he was too old or that his medical condition was too severe to justify the costs of the surgery. This is the kind of rationing that the Independent Payment Advisory Board was created to oversee.

[See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

The advisory board—which the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill this week—is a 15-member agency created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which has the explicit task of achieving specified savings in Medicare without affecting coverage or quality. Under Obamacare, the board has the authority to make changes to the Medicare program without anyone being able to do very much about it.

The mathematics of Obamacare only adds up over time if a system of rationing is imposed. Age, medical history, and other factors will come into play in ways they do not today. Fortunately, Cheney was able to get his surgery—once a suitable donor was found. Under Obamacare, however, the outcome might have been quite different, for him or for anyone else. Which is something for everyone to think about as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the new law's constitutionality.

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