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Institute for Health Freedom Joins ACLU and Other Groups
In Fight for Seniors' Health Freedom

The Institute for Health Freedom is pleased to announce that it has joined 14 other groups--including the Cato Institute and ACLU--in challenging the new Medicare rule that prohibits seniors' from privately contracting with Medicare-participating doctors.

The 15-member group filed an Amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the appeal in United Seniors Association v. Donna Shalala. This case challenges Section 4507 of the Balanced Budget Act, which requires any doctor who accepts private payment for services covered by Medicare to stop seeing all patients in the program for two years.

In April, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that seniors do not have a constitutional right to privately contract with doctors. United Seniors Association (USA) appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where USA attorney Kent Masterson Brown argued the case on October 23.

Why File an Amicus Brief?

Our country's legal system allows people and organizations to advise the courts on matters affecting public policy. Groups often file Amicus briefs to add perspective to a current controversy before the court. Scientific and professional organizations use them to provide specialized knowledge of how a court decision may affect society. The briefs supply arguments, not evidence. In the case at hand, the Court of Appeals requested that groups in agreement file a single brief.

The brief joined in by IHF argues that "If, as the Supreme Court held in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, a person has a constitutionally protected right to refuse unwanted lifesaving medical treatment in order to die, then surely there exists an equal or even greater constitutional right to obtain wanted medical treatment in order to remain healthy and alive."

IHF's Statement of Interest

In addition, each group submitted a "statement of interest," describing its purpose in joining in the brief. Following is IHF's "statement of interest:

"The Institute for Health Freedom ("IHF") is a nonprofit research and education center that seeks to bring issues of personal health freedom to the forefront of the health policy debate. IHF believes that Americans should be free (1) to pay for medical treatment with their own funds; (2) to form private contracts with health-care providers on mutually agreeable terms; and (3) to protect the privacy of their medical records. IHF joins in this brief because Section 4507 intrudes on each of these rights.

"Specifically, the statute severely limits private payment for medical services; it blocks seniors from entering into private contracts with Medicare-participating doctors; and it forces seniors to resort to Medicare reimbursement , thereby opening up their medical records to the federal agencies and private contractors that administer Medicare.

IHF's Concern About Privacy

A primary reason why IHF joined in the brief is its concern of medical privacy. The best way for individuals to keep their medical records private and confidential is to sign private contracts for the provision of medical care, including medical record keeping. The District Court has already ruled that if Medicare pays, then you must play by its rules. It stands to reason, then, that if Medicare pays, you could be forced to submit your personal information to government agencies and the private companies that administer Medicare.

We'll keep you posted on the forthcoming ruling.

This article was originally published in the November/December 1998 issue of Health Freedom Watch.