<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Uretsky Budget Cuts Costly in Health Preparedness

Budget Cuts Costly In Health Preparedness


Think back to 2011. The United States Economy was in a bad way, but then it had been since 2007 and had only slowly been getting back, if not on its feet then at least on its knees. As a side note, what the economy needed was a shot in the arm, but never mind – in the election of 2010 the Republicans won big. They retook the House of Representatives and got complete control of a load of state legislatures, and things went to hell in a handbasket, pretty much. And of course one of the things that came of the 2010 election was The Sequester, a simple plan to cut Federal spending arbitrarily.

Now it’s true that no organization works with 100% efficiency, but taking an ax to the Federal budget might not be all that bright. Of course everybody can find a reason to preserve their favorite programs, but reasonable people should be able to sit down with a list of items and agree that some can be cut and others should be kept whole. On the other hand, we, or our elected representatives, may not understand what different branches of government are doing or how they affect our daily lives.

The result of the sequester included mandatory cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the fact sheet that was issued at the time: “On March 1, 2013, as required by statute, President Obama signed an order initiating sequestration. The sequestration requires CDC to cut 5% or more than $285 million of its fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget. CDC applied the cut evenly across all programs, projects, and activities (PPAs), which are primarily CDC national centers, offices and centers. This means every area of CDC was affected. In addition, the Prevention and Public Health Fund allocation in FY 2013 was almost $350 million below FY 2012. In total, CDC’s program level,including the Vaccines for Children mandatory program and other external sources, was almost $1 billion (or 10%) below FY 2012.”

One of the units of the CDC is the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases. That’s the section that keeps tract of communicable diseases, in many cases diseases that have been around for a long time that are starting to spread. This is the unit that has to worry about globalization, about the spread of pathogens across continents. The CDC, one way or another, has been working on the ebola virus since 1976 when the virus was first reported in Sudan and Zaire. The CDC laboratories were among those who identified the virus, and demonstrated that it was antigenically different from the Marburg virus.

On Oct. 13, Joan McCarter reported at DailyKos.com that Republican budget cuts nearly halved the CDC’s emergency preparedness since 2006. Dr Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, interviewed by the Huffington Post, said “NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here ...Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

This isn’t a new lesson, but it’s one that we forget quickly – nothing seems terribly important until it comes close to home. In October 2013, US Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, confronted a Park Ranger at the closed World War II Memorial. The memorial was shut down because the government was shut down and the government was shut down because House Republicans didn’t want to spend money, and at that moment Rep. Neugebauer would probably have voted in favor of a supplementary appropriation to keep the memorial open (the Park Rangers, to their credit, were letting World War II veterans in, even though the memorial was officially closed.) Rep. Neugebauer got a chance to see the results of his actions close up, and that’s the one he would have undone.

The CDC was the ultimate invisibility. Budget cuts have been particularly hard on the poor, the long term unemployed who had their checks slashed, children thrown off Head Start Programs, cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). But, if it’s any consolation (it’s not) we knew about these cuts and could feel outrage. The CDC was one of those programs that didn’t make it to MSNBC, because it was quietly competent, and did its job, and lived with budget cuts either direct or budget freezes which do the same thing. And mostly we never noticed because they really did their job very well.

The headline on drudgereport.com is “Most Severe Health Emergency In Modern Times.” There are so damn many things we could have done, only they were too expensive. Only now we’re learning the price.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014


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