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Questions about 'equity,' race eligibility for new coronavirus pills raise alarm in Wisconsin

A "risk scoring calculator" used by a health network with hospitals in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma "provides a 7-point bonus to all patients who are 'non-white or Hispanic,'" according to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Published: January 14, 2022 9:34am

Updated: January 16, 2022 11:07pm

(The Center Square) -

There are no real explanations as to how race and "equity" will come into play in deciding who gets the new coronavirus antiviral pills.

Wisconsin's Department of Health Services earlier this month said "equity" would be at the heart of the state's strategy to distribute the new pills from Pfizer and Merck.

"We are committed to distributing these pills equitably across the state, and access will increase as Wisconsin receives more allocations from the federal government," DHS said in a statement.

DHS spokesperson Elizabeth Goodsitt said Wisconsin is following the lead of the federal government.

"Under guidance developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health care providers are encouraged to prioritize prescribing these new therapeutics to those patients at greatest risk of serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19," Goodsitt told The Center Square.

But nothing in the guidance from the NIH explains just what equity has to do with distributing the pills. There is also no definition from NIH about what qualifies as "equity."

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, told The Center Square that the color of your skin should have nothing to do with getting potentially life-saving medicine.

"If you are sick or need treatment, that is all that should matter," Healy said. "If we allow the government to pick winners and losers based on non-health care criteria, it sets a dangerous precedent that will have dire consequences."

Wisconsin is not the only state to prioritize "equity" in its coronavirus treatment plans. And it's not just state governments.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on Friday asked SSM Health to stop using a points-calculator that gives people extra points for being "non-white" in deciding who gets their allotment of coronavirus pills.

"The risk scoring calculator provides a 7-point bonus to all patients who are 'non-white or Hispanic,'" WILL said in a letter to SSM. "In other words, non-white patients receive a 7-point head start in your risk scoring calculator and are therefore more likely to receive lifesaving medical treatment based solely on the color of their skin."

SSM has hospitals in Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

"The approach taken by your calculator is not only profoundly unethical and immoral, it is illegal," WILL added. "Federal law forbids race discrimination. Under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, patients may not be discriminated against based on race in any health program or activity 'a part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance.'"

MacIver's Healy said he's bothered that state government seems to be basing its distribution strategy on the same kind of thinking.

"Just as concerning is the fact that the Evers administration and DHS will not share with the public just exactly how equity is being used to steer treatment to the few," Healy said. "It's not surprising that the Evers administration would want to keep such a horrific change hidden but the public deserves to know exactly how this will impact their health care and the availability of life-saving treatment."

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