Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Politics and trade offs of swine flu funding

Kaiser Foundation Jun 5 2009 “White House Seeks More Money For Swine Flu”

President Obama has requested an additional $3.1 billion of unspent stimulus funds to be reserved for swine flu, that money coming from a 1% cut “across-the-board” to stimulus programs. The stimulus plan, which so far has mostly been spent on assistance for state Medicate and Social Security, has become an “alluring pot of money” for politicians to take money out of. According to this article, Congress is unlikely to approve Obama’s request, especially with major opposition from Republicans, with the US House Majority leader Steny Hoyer expressing concern about a $2 billion war funding bill that is in congress concurrently with the swine flu proposal.

I find this political funding struggle very interesting because it shows where the government’s priorities lie, and also demonstrate some key questions in the swine flu debate. How much money is appropriate to devote to swine flu? Should we really take money away from stimulus programs, which would help Americans with rising healthcare costs and ameliorate joblessness – problems which we know are happening? Should we take money away from these programs to stockpile vaccines for a disease which for the moment remains mild, with only a potential to become more virulent? It is a question of balancing high probabilities of smaller magnitudes, with small probabilities of larger magnitudes. What effect could Obama’s proposal have on the economy? Will it stall our path to economic recovery, and could it do more harm than good in terms of swine flu? For example, would taking money out of Medicaid, harm our ability to treat swine flu infections in the poorer populations that Medicaid serves – a population which I would guess is more vulnerable to chronic conditions that increase risk of swine flu complications. However, if it comes to a choice between a funding for war or for swine flu, I would choose swine flu any day.


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