Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vaccines again...

I remember back about 2006, there was an outbreak of severe flu, and there were some severe shortages of vaccines to deal with it. Back then, everyone was wondering why there wasn't enough, and the media did a good job of answering why. There are only two or three companies willing to produce vaccines on a large scale, and this is because of the tremendous financial risk involved. If too much vaccine is produced, then whatever is left over gets wasted, and the company takes a huge financial loss. To avoid this, the companies deliberately err on the side of too little when estimating how much vaccine is needed, and the net result, inevitably, is that there isn't enough vaccine to go around. If a shortage develops, then the companies produce a little extra, but never quite enough to fully meet demand. The goal, after all, is to make sure there's a profit.

Now, nothing wrong with profit. That's ultimately the whole point of industry. But in this case, protection of profit comes at the expense of the public welfare, and that's simply unacceptable. People might wonder when I started to sour on the idea of capitalism always being so damned perfect. This is when. I simply couldn't argue with the economics. And now, we're facing shortages of swine flu vaccine, only this time, we have health care reform up for evaluation on Capital Hill. Where's the reminding news story about why we don't have enough to go around? It's not there. Because the "liberal" media won't run the story. You see, that would appear to be biased. (And that's the odd thing: To avoid appearing biased, the news media will bias its coverage the wrong way. But that's another blog post.)

In order to adequately protect the public from disease, an entity must be willing to take the financial loss of producing too much medicine. Only one entity is both capable and willing to do this: the government.

Here's where the economics also get interesting: Because enough vaccines weren't made, more people got sick, causing more treatment for symptoms to be needed, and more vaccine to be produced at an emergency basis - and an emergency price tag. In other words, the overall health care cost in terms of caring for the sick ends up being way higher, simply because the vaccinations weren't done properly in the first place. The best way to get the most health for the public, at the least cost, was to spend the extra money to begin with. The lesson this has on our national health care debate is obvious. If we want to spend less on health care, we have to spend more on prevention for everybody.

You see, viruses don't give a damn if you're covered or not. Superbacteria doesn't give a damn who has insurance. Disease will live and thrive wherever it can. And if people can't get medical coverage because they can't afford it, and have no public option, then the diseases have a population which incubates such disease indefinitely. These people are everywhere. You can't run away from them in the suburbs. You can't hide from them forever. They'll spread their diseases to the airplanes, buses, trains, and street corners of your neighborhood. They'll make sure the germs are waiting for you, no matter what. Shit, if only those low income bastards had been given coverage, eh? Maybe then, the bad flu and cold bugs would finally go away. Even if one has medical coverage, even if one can live in the relative safety of the suburbs most of the time, the incubating indigent will make sure that the sickness is alive and well and ready to float into a stray nose the minute it breathes city air. And then your medical insurance has to pay for treatment of symptoms, and more medicine. What goes around, comes around.

To put it bluntly, if the rich want to avoid getting sick, they're just going to have to cover the medical bills of the poor.

And here's the irony that the free market, in this one instance, cannot address: If we want to lower health care costs, we're going to have to open our purses initially.

Republicans, who are otherwise fiscally responsible, don't seem to understand that.

Ben Franklin understood it. He was the one who taught us, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." To put it in modern terms, a billion dollars in public option is worth twenty billion in later medical costs saved.

Even if cutthroat economists were right (which they're not) and public option healthcare didn't save costs (which it will), and even if the free market economy was always perfect (which it's not) and private insurers could meet our medical care needs (which they SO can't), we're still talking about something that's a right, not a privilege. No, it IS! The government is there to protect us from shit that's not our fault. So we have firefighters to keep your neighbor's burning house from destroying yours. We have policemen to catch the guy who mugged your neighbor so that you don't get mugged too. By the same token, we need the government to prevent disease from incubating among the general public so that we don't get sick.

Are you libertarian? Think the government is supposed to keep out of our lives? Great! But unless you want the government to give up fire and police protection too, and I'm betting you don't, shut the hell up. If the government does NOTHING ELSE, it should provide health care!

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