Minnesota Backtracks on Racial Rationing of COVID Drugs

Utah 'reevaluating' guidelines in the wake of Free Beacon reporting

A monoclonal antibody treatment center in Kentucky / Getty Images
January 14, 2022

Minnesota will no longer use race to decide who is eligible for monoclonal antibodies, the state announced Wednesday, after a Washington Free Beacon story sparked widespread outrage about the guidelines.

The scoring system, used to determine who in the state qualifies for life-saving COVID treatments, no longer includes "BIPOC status" as a major driver of eligibility. Minnesota quietly updated its prioritization scheme on Jan. 11, one day after former Trump administration advisor Stephen Miller told Fox News that he was considering "legal action" against the state. Miller's organization, America First Legal, had already threatened to sue New York over that state's race-based triage scheme; the group on Wednesday added Minnesota and Utah to the list, calling their rationing policies "blatantly racist, unconstitutional, and immoral."

The Minnesota health department declined to answer questions about the change but said it was "constantly reviewing" its policies to ensure that "communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 have the support and resources they need."

Amid the outrage, Utah also announced it would be "reevaluating" who is eligible for monoclonal antibodies. Though the Utah state health department told the Free Beacon that its initial scoring rubric was "outdated," a new rubric released Tuesday still gives "non-white race or Hispanic/Latinx" identity two points, more than hypertension or chronic pulmonary disease. The state did clarify that all individuals with "a severely immunocompromising condition" are "automatically eligible" for the treatment, a change from the previous guidelines.

So far, only New York has stood its ground. A spokesperson for the state's health department said there has been "no change to the guidance," which makes "non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity"—but not poverty or geography—a criterion for eligibility.

The prioritization schemes have their roots in guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, which listed race as a risk factor for severe COVID-19. "FDA's acknowledgment means that race and ethnicity alone, apart from other underlying health conditions, may be considered in determining eligibility for [monoclonal antibodies]," Minnesota's initial scheme read. Utah likewise interpreted the guidance to mean that "​​race and ethnicity may be considered when identifying patients most likely to benefit from this lifesaving treatment."

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) on Tuesday called on the FDA to "immediately update its guidance."

"Rationing life-saving drug treatments based on race and ethnicity is racist and un-American," Rubio told acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock. "One's race or ethnicity should not be the driving factor that decides whether or not you live."