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Groups call for an end to 'age discrimination' as Idaho hospitals ration care

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Idaho hospitals are rationing care because of the strain from the pandemic. Some groups are questioning the use of age as one of the determinants for who gets medical attention, or how promptly.

A flood of COVID-19 patients has pushed Idaho to implement its "crisis standards of care" guidelines. In the event of scarce resources, the standards say, the focus should be on saving the most "life years." That could lead hospitals to choose to save a younger person because they're assumed to have more years left to live, said Lupe Wissel, state director of AARP Idaho.

"I understand the need for the crisis standards for care, absolutely," she said. "However, any healthcare decision should be made based on individualized medical assessments of patients, their circumstances and objective medical evidence. Age should not, and should never, be used as a factor in making these very hard medical decisions."

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, ensuring patients aren't discriminated against based on age or other factors - such as race, religion or disability - is a guiding principle for patient care.

In September, the group Justice in Aging filed a civil-rights complaint against Idaho over its crisis standards of care, asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate Idaho's plan. Wissel said doctors make decisions based on objective medical evidence all the time.

"Every life is valuable," she said. "You should not bring how many years someone has lived or someone to assume how many years they have left, etc. No, that should not come into play."

Hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in Idaho. The state remains one of the least vaccinated in the country, with about 53% of people age 12 and older fully vaccinated.