Tuesday, November 10, 2009

November 10, 2009--Obama's Katrina?

Among other things that Barack Obama promised during the campaign was that if he were elected, after taking office, he would make sure that the government was competent.

He cited the Bush Administration's disgraceful and incompetent response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. To drive home his point he repeatedly during the campaign visited New Orleans, which was still very much struggling to recover. Five times I think he visited. It was an indisputable indictment and powerful rhetoric, all played out amid images of the sill suffering Lower Firth Ward.

No matter for the moment that it took him more than eight months after being sworn in as president to revisit New Orleans, put aside that he spent a scant four hours there before jetting off to a fundraiser in San Francisco, let's focus here on how competent his administration has thus far been. Let's take a look at how they have been handling the Swine Flu pandemic, something he declared an national medical emergency a few days ago.

We and he and his people have known about the H1N1 threat for at least a year. We and they knew that young children were especially vulnerable. He and they also knew that the potential threat to the literal lives of young people was both a medical and political ticking time bomb. Getting the vaccine made, assuring there were enough doses to inoculate all who were vulnerable, getting the vaccine into the right hands, all of this should have been job one. Especially since the H1N1 vaccine was a fully federal program. It would have been good for our health and good for Obama politically to have demonstrated that they were on top of things and getting the job done.

I say this is the past tense because they have blown it. They have stumblingly contributed to the mess.

Unlike the normal flu vaccination program which is run by the healthcare industry itself without much direct government intervention, Swine Flu, because of the power of its threat, was taken over by the federal government. The government did and does all the ordering of the vaccines, buys it with taxpayer money from the manufacturers, and then distributes it free of charge to hospitals, clinics, doctors, and large employers who then inoculate their patients and employees. Since they receive the vaccine for free, they are allowed only to charge for its administration. Thus, there can be few better cases to demonstrate the effectiveness and competence of our government.

So how is our current government doing? Among other things, from the news reports of the thousands lined up on the streets seeking the hundreds of available shots, not very well at all. And now finally, when a larger stream of supplies is finally becoming available (though it is clear that there will not be enough vaccine to protect everyone at risk during this flu season) because of government bungling employers such as bailed-out Citibank and Goldman Sachs, believe it or not, have been receiving more doses of H1N1 vaccine than either Lenox Hill and Sloan-Kettering Hospitals! If you are skeptical, read the New York Times article about this linked below.

This is sounding like a potential medical Katrina incubating. If, tragically, by mid-winter tens of thousands of kids are dying from the Swine Flu because they had not been adequately inoculated, who will be able to be convinced that "we did everything that was possible to do"? Of least consequence will be the doom of any kind of health care reform that requires the federal government to do anything. And rightly so.


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