ACLU Joins Fight for Seniors' Health Freedom
October 27, 1998
The American Civil Liberties Union of the National
Capital Area (ACLU) has joined ten other organizations
in the fight to protect the right of senior citizens
to contract privately for Medicare-covered services.
The coalition has filed an Amicus (friend of the court)
brief in support of the United Seniors Association's
(USA) federal lawsuit to preserve that fundamental right.
The 300,000-member local affiliate of the ACLU signed
on to the Amicus brief because, according to court documents,
it "views a person's right of autonomy regarding the
care and treatment of his or her own body as an important
aspect of civil liberties."
"This is very good news for freedom fighters," said
Libby Wright, director of health and science at Citizens
Against Government Waste (CAGW), a member of the coalition.
"Senior citizens should not be denied the right to use
their own money to purchase health services, whether
the services are covered by Medicare or not. We are
pleased that ACLU has joined us in this fight for seniors'
The lawsuit, United Seniors Association v. Shalala, was
filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on December
30, 1997. It initially sought a temporary restraining
order to stop Section 4507 of the Balanced Budget Act
of 1997 from taking effect. That section says that any
doctor who accepts private payment for Medicare-covered
services must stop seeing all Medicare patients for two
After a March 6 hearing, U.S. District Judge Thomas
F. Hogan dismissed the suit. Judge Hogan ruled that
if Medicare pays, then you must play by their rules.
USA appealed on June 30. A three-judge panel will begin
hearing arguments this fall.
Who's Fighting the Medicare Law?
All told, the eleven-member coalition represents millions
of Americans from diverse backgrounds. The 600,000-member
CAGW spearheaded the filing of the Amicus brief. According
to a document it filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia, a CAGW member was refused medical
treatment while on vacation due to "the new government
policy on Medicare."
Additionally, CAGW has obtained 65,000 signatures
supporting repeal of Section 4507. "CAGW and its members
believe that senior citizens are knowledgeable consumers
who are capable of making their own health care purchasing
decisions without government interference," the organization
said in its court filing.
Another Supporter of the Suit
The Atlantic Legal Foundation (ALF), a nonprofit public-interest
legal foundation, has also joined in the Amicus brief.
ALF has a particularly strong interest in the case because
a member of its legal advisory council was denied medical
care under the new law. Justice Lee Loevinger, a former
associate justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, Commissioner
of the Federal Communications Commission, and assistant
attorney general of the United States, was refused a tetanus
injection at an emergency room during treatment for a
severe laceration. "The emergency room personnel explained
that Medicare might deem the injection unnecessary and
would then refuse reimbursement. When Justice Loevinger
offered to pay for the injection with his own funds, he
was informed that under Medicare, the hospital could not
allow him to make personal payment for treatment," ALF
Role for the Courts or Congress?
It is clear that Section 4507 violates fundamental civil
liberties. However, the courts could rule that since Congress
created the Medicare restriction, it is up to that branch
to repeal it. In that case, Americans might want to consider
who was responsible for this truly un-American law and
demand immediate corrective action.
This article was originally published in the September/October
1998 issue of Health Freedom Watch.
"A former associate justice of the Supreme Court
of Minnesota was refused a tetanus injection at
an emergency room during treatment for a severe
laceration. The emergency room personnel explained
that Medicare might deem the injection unnecessary
and would then refuse reimbursement. When Justice
Loevinger offered to pay for the injection with
his own funds, he was informed that under Medicare,
the hospital could not allow him to make personal
payment for treatment."