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Utah Hospitals May Implement Age-Based Care Rationing as Covid Cases Surge

  • November 24th, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens in Utah, the state is expected to implement a health care rationing system that favors younger patients over older ones.  Similar policies in several other states have been successfully stopped. 

With Covid-19 cases surging in many areas of the country, a state’s hospital system can become overwhelmed with patients. Utah is one of the latest states facing this predicament. In response, the state is expected to implement a health care rationing system to determine who gets priority for treatment. Under the protocol, which requires the governor’s approval, hospitals can triage intensive care based on a patient’s age, health, situation, and ability to survive. Patients who continue to get worse while receiving intensive care would be moved off life-saving equipment to make way for other patients. If two patients’ conditions are equal, young patients would have priority over older patients. 

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The advocacy group Justice in Aging has asked the state to reconsider the fact that the care rationing guidelines do not prohibit age discrimination.  Justice in Aging worked to exclude similar age-based standards in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas, and helped California rewrite its criteria so it doesn't illegally discriminate against older adults and people with disabilities.  

Noting that in Utah people over age 65 account for three-quarters of deaths from Covid-19, Justice in Aging states: “The often articulated idea that older people have ‘had their turn’ devalues the contributions that older adults continue to make to our families and communities, discounts a person’s potential to recover and rebound, and codifies reliance on age-based bias into one of the most delicate decisions healthcare providers must make during this pandemic. When a tie breaker becomes necessary, the Utah policy places a thumb on the scale against older adults, by virtue of their age alone.”

Update: Utah revised its standards to no longer include the patient's age as a tiebreaker and to expressly prohibit discrimination based on unlawful considerations of age, race, color, national origin, disability, or sex. Resources will be triaged based on clinical factors or random allocation and not age considerations.  


Last Modified: 11/24/2020

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