Catholic Health Care System Removes Race as Factor in Eligibility for COVID-19 Treatments

By Kate Olivera

A Catholic health care system in Wisconsin is no longer including race as a factor in determining a patient’s eligibility for COVID-19 treatments.

SSM Health and its affiliates use a risk scoring calculator to determine a patient’s eligibility for COVID-19 treatments including monoclonal antibodies.

A previous version of the calculator boosted the scores of nonwhite or Hispanic patients, making them more likely to be prioritized for treatments that have become increasingly scarce amid a surge in omicron cases. Monoclonal antibody treatments are in particularly short supply because some versions of the treatment are reportedly ineffective against the omicron variant.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty questioned the inclusion of race in the calculator in a Jan. 14 letter to SSM Health’s president and CEO. SSM Health responded that the calculator was updated to no longer include race, though it is unclear when that happened.

“While early versions of risk calculators across the nation appropriately included race and gender criteria based on initial outcomes, SSM Health has continued to evaluate and update our protocols weekly to reflect the most up-to-date clinical evidence available,” SSM Health said in a statement. “As a result, race and gender criteria are no longer utilized.”

Other factors included in the calculator include age, gender, and preexisting health conditions.

Healthcare providers under the umbrella of the Minnesota Resource Allocation Program were also factoring in race in determining patient eligibility for COVID-19 treatments. The policy was reversed on Jan. 12, the same day a conservative advocacy group threatened to sue Minnesota.

New state policy prioritizes treatment for people who are immunocompromised or pregnant.

Both healthcare systems were following a directive from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prioritize race in the administration of COVID-19 treatments.

Some studies suggest racial minorities are at higher risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19. But conservative leaders have argued that it is unjust and illegal to discriminate against patients based on race.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) decried the practice in a Jan. 11 letter to the Acting Commissioner of the FDA.

“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,” Rubio wrote. “Rationing life-saving drug treatments based on race and ethnicity is racist and un-American. There is no other way to put it.”

Rubio suggested appropriate factors include age and preexisting conditions.

“Medical research has long documented that many of these comorbidities disproportionately impact people of color,” he wrote. “Therefore, by prioritizing an individuals’ medical history, healthcare providers would ensure racial minorities at highest risk of disease, including all other high-risk patients, can receive these life-saving drugs.”

(SOURCE: CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY)