Half of Americans will get swine flu and 90,000 will die?

The White House is putting out dire warnings about swine flu:

Swine flu may infect half the U.S. population this year, hospitalize 1.8 million patients and lead to as many as 90,000 deaths, more than twice the number killed in a typical seasonal flu, White House advisers said.

In a report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, President Barack Obama today was urged to speed vaccine production and name a senior member of the White House staff, preferably the homeland security adviser, to take responsibility for decision-making on the pandemic. Initial doses should be accelerated to mid-September to vaccinate as many as 40 million people, the advisory group said.

Seasonal flu usually kills about 36,000 Americans, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swine flu, also called H1N1, causes more severe illness needing hospitalization among younger people than seasonal flu, while leaving people 65 and older relatively unscathed, said Mike Shaw of the CDC.

“This isn’t the flu that we’re used to,” said Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “The 2009 H1N1 virus will cause a more serious threat this fall. We won’t know until we’re in the middle of the flu season how serious the threat is, but because it’s a new strain, it’s likely to infect more people than usual.” . . .

“We are making every preparation effort assuming a safe and effective vaccine will be available in mid-October,” Sebelius said today at the CDC’s Atlanta offices.

According to what the advisory report describes as a “plausible scenario,” 30 percent to 50 percent of the country’s population will be infected in the fall and winter. As many as 300,000 patients may be treated in hospital intensive care units, filling 50 percent to 100 percent of the available beds, and 30,000 to 90,000 people may die, the report said.

Do you expect it to be that bad? It sounds like we’ll have a vaccine fairly soon, which should mitigate these worst case scenarios. Why scare people like this?

It has been said that governments often instill fear in their populations as a way to seize more power. Oh, the terrorists are going to kill us all. We’d better let the government take us to war. Oh, the economy is collapsing and we’re going to have the Great Depression all over again. We’d better let the government take over the economy. Oh, the plague is coming. We’d better let the government take over health care.

Of course, there ARE legitimate dangers that we have to deal with. How can we tell the difference between those and political fears? It seems that panic, in general, is a bad thing when facing any danger. FDR, though we might question his ideology, was a good leader and in facing the actual depression he first calmed the country down, saying that people should NOT fear. Shouldn’t we be automatically suspicious when our leaders–of any party– try to scare us to death?

Spanish doctors will go to jail rather than be “fetal executioners”

Spain has no conscience clause that would exempt physicians who do not believe in abortion from refusing to perform that procedure. So pro-life doctors–of which there are many in this largely Catholic country–are announcing their willingness to go to jail. In this account, notice the useful new word: “fetal executioner.” From the Catholic news agency:

Dr. Esteban Rodriguez, spokesman for the organization Right to Life (Derecho a Vivir) in Spain, responded yesterday to comments by the country’s Minister of Justice, Francisco Caamano, who said there was no room for a conscience clause in the new law on abortion. 

“We are willing to go to jail rather than following a criminal law, Rodriguez said, “and we are willing to commit the supposed crime of disobedience before the crime of abortion.”
“We will not kill our patients, nor will we commit a crime against the public health deliberately harming the heath of women, no matter how much the Minister of Justice threatens us and abuses his power,” the doctor said.
“We doctors are not soldiers, nor policemen, nor executioners. There is no civil disobedience in the refusal to kill a human being, but rather the fulfilling of our professional obligation,” he added.
If the government carries out the threat by the Minister of Justice to penalize conscientious objectors as disobedient, Rodriguez said that a “new category of victims of the laws on abortion and the regulation of conscience will be created in the gynecologists who wish to carry out their moral obligations in the face of an imposed ideology.”
After recalling that the statute in the Spanish constitution allowing conscientious objection must be respected, Rodriguez expressed his surprise that the law would shield from prison some doctors who have been convicted of performing illegal abortions, while punishing with prison those doctors who have fought to defend the lives of their patients and the health of women.
“We recommend they think about creating a new level of officials at the ministries of Justice and Equality: fetal executioners,” Dr. Rodriguez remarked.

Co-opt the Health Care Reform bill to restrict abortions?

The House health care reform bill tries to work around the law that forbids taxpayer money going to pay for abortions. Note how that would work, but also note the possibility of a pro-life result that has pro-abortionists nervous:

The House approach to the coverage of the procedure in federally subsidized insurance plans is presented as a compromise: Abortions would be funded out of the premiums that come from individuals, not money from taxpayers. But this is a cover, if not a con. By the nature of health insurance, premiums are not devoted to specific procedures; they support insurance plans. It matters nothing in practice if a premium dollar comes from government or the individual — both enable the same coverage. If the federal government directly funds an insurance plan that includes elective abortion, it cannot claim it is not paying for elective abortions. . . .

The House bill would result in federal funding for abortion on an unprecedented scale. But forbidding federal funds to private insurers that currently cover elective abortions (as some insurers do) would amount, as pro-choice advocates note, to a restriction on the availability of abortion.

Here is the germ of a pro-life strategy to restrict the number of abortions, with the potential of saving untold numbers of lives:

Federal funds for abortions are now restricted to cases involving rape, incest or danger to the health of the mother. Abortion opponents say those restrictions should carry over to any health insurance sold through a new marketplace envisioned under the legislation, an exchange where people would choose private coverage or the public plan.

Abortion rights supporters say that would have the effect of denying coverage for abortion to millions of women who now have it through workplace insurance and are expected to join the exchange.

If a strong provision of the bill could be added that would forbid insurance companies that are part of this government system to fund abortions, would that make you willing to support it?

But would the Health Care bill be constitutional?

That is a question that surely deserves consideration, doesn’t it? In the Washington Post, two attorneys, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, cite a number of Supreme Court precedents that would indicate that a law mandating that everyone purchase insurance would not pass constitutional muster. According to the rulings and the case law they cite, Congress has no authority under the much-invoked commerce clause to require private economic transactions. Nor can Congress use its taxing power–as has been proposed, to impose tax penalties on those who do not buy health insurance–as a way of regulating what it is not allowed to regulate under the commerce clause.

Though these attorneys have served in Republican administrations, they don’t seem to be raising a mere conservative objection. In fact, they say that the single-payer option probably WOULD be constitutional. They are simply pointing out constitutional and legal problems with the current insurance-based proposal.

High deductible, plus money to pay the deductible?

Yesterday’s post about Whole Foods C.E.O. John Mackey’s ideas for free-enterprise-based health care reform spurred a lot of discussion here. But much of it was about the appropriateness of boycotts and other issues. I would like to hear what you think of one aspect of his plan, one that he is actually employing in his business: Buying high deductible health insurance for his employees (thus bringing the price down), and then giving his employees money in a tax-free health savings account that can roll over if it isn’t used that would pay the deductible.

So, say you had a policy with a $2,000 deductible, meaning that you would have to pay the first two-thousand dollars for health care in a year. Your employer, though, gave you $2,000 in order to cover those expenses. What you didn’t spend, you could keep.

Would this work? People accustomed to not paying for their health care would still not have to. The cost for insurance would surely plummet. The overall cost of health care would probably go down, since a large number of people won’t spend the full two thousand, so that the insurance would never kick in, and people would have an incentive not to go to the doctor when it really isn’t necessary.

Please note, this says nothing about health care reform in the sense of providing such benefits to everyone. That is a separate issue. This is just a different way of handling employer health benefits. I’m not necessarily advocating it, just asking, “why wouldn’t this work?” (I’d love to hear from a Whole Foods employee or someone else who has this kind of plan!)

The British health care system

Both advocates and critics of a government-run “single payer” system look to the example of Great Britain’s nationalized health care. Here British journalist Mike McNally offers a revealingly balanced view:

The British system is not nearly as bad as has been suggested by opponents of ObamaCare. But it’s fair to say that if Britain were setting up a health care system from scratch today, it wouldn’t bear much resemblance to the NHS. The service was established more than 60 years ago in a country battered by war and when the ability of the government to run such enterprises was unquestioned. Back then it did its job of providing basic health care for all admirably. But with people living longer, medical advances producing new and more expensive treatments, and the bureaucracy growing increasingly byzantine, the NHS has become a black hole sucking in ever-more public money. Labour has more than doubled spending on the NHS since coming to power in 1997 with little to show for it, and the service is projected to face massive funding shortfalls in the next few years.

Yet to talk of reforming the service is political suicide. The NHS employs around 1.3 million people — it’s thought to be the world’s third-largest employer after the Chinese military and India’s railway service — and remains broadly popular with the public despite a steady flow of horror stories (it’s just been revealed, for example, that more than 30,000 people have died in the past five years from infections picked up in NHS hospitals). Assuming the Conservatives win the next election, it’s unlikely Cameron will have the courage to propose significant reforms in a first term.

The simple fact is that while neither system is as terrible as their detractors claim, both have undeniable flaws. And while we can trade facts, figures, and anecdotes all day, a couple of things are clear. The first is that the poor enjoy a generally better standard of care in the UK than in the U.S. The second is that Americans with decent insurance enjoy a better standard of care than most Brits — survival rates for all the major cancers are considerably better than in the UK, and screening and treatment for heart disease and other chronic conditions is more widely available.