July 30th, 2009
12:00 PM ET

Will health care be rationed?

As a regular feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From iReporter Jason in San Antonio:
"Four years ago my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  [For] 18 months we fought that disease with everything we had because we felt like every day was precious, every day we kept him alive we were one day closer to a cure for that disease. I guess my question is, under a public option or government run health care system, would that type of care be possible? Is it something that 10 years from now we're going to have to sacrifice or come up with a tremendous amount of cash to pay for it because it would be rationed under our government run health care system?"

First, Jason thanks for sharing that personal story. Our best wishes are with you and your family. The idea of rationing really strikes at the core of all that we are talking about with regard to health care - this idea of lowering costs, trying to increase access. The question is, will we have to ration health care as a result?

There was a New York Times editorial a couple of weeks ago by Peter Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton University, where it was put like this: "The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old and this should be reflected in our priorities."  Think about that for a second. He's saying we should assign value of life differently in certain situations.

Jason, we took your story specifically to the White House and asked them to respond. They said, "Our heart goes out to Jason and his family. We know families across America are dealing with issues like this every day. There are a number of different bills making their way through Congress right now but we do know this: The reform bill that the President signs will not lead to rationing. It will be fully paid for and bring down costs over the long term." They went on to say, that the President won't sign a bill that doesn't guarantee coverage to all people of all ages regardless of  specific health conditions.

But as you're saying, Jason,  it may come down to numbers and whether estimates of the cost of  health care reform are accurate. When Medicare hospital insurance was conceived in 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee projected that in 25 years it would cost 6 billion dollars. The actual cost? 67 billion, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. You can see how far off costs for Medicare were, based on initial projections –much, much higher. Now the president says they'll add prevention programs and wellness programs, creating a healthier population and that will be a cheaper population with regard to health care costs. But who knows? You've got more people that you're trying to cover; more people, more tests, more screening. How that all adds up, we're just not sure.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.