A long predicted increase in antibiotic resistant superbugs is here. According to the latest research:
Nearly 19,000 Americans died in 2005 of invasive infections caused by drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria — more than were killed by AIDS, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation:
What is now known as HIV/AIDS was first identified in the U.S. in 1981. Specific federal funding for HIV/AIDS also began that year with the appropriation of several hundred thousand dollars for biomedical research. Since that time, funding has grown to more than $18 billion in fiscal year 2004 for research, prevention, care and assistance, and international programs and activities.
12% of that $18 billion, or $2.16 billion, is for research. The total CDC budget is under $6 billion.
And how much is being spent on researching solutions to drug resistant staph? Well, there doesn’t really appear to be a clear answer but it’s much less than $2.16 billion. How about influenza, which kills approximately 36,000 a year in the US and millions in times of pandemic. The President’s 2008 budget includes $1.2 billion to prepare for a potential influenza pandemic. That sum seems pretty paltry compared to $2.16 billion a year for a disease that kills less than 20,000/year.
So why is the budget so out of whack? The politics of pull. Because the groups advocating spending on AIDS are vocal, well organized and associated with an already well organized and well-heeled minority, politicians rush to appease them the way politicians do best – with money. Because the advocates are so willing to play the minority card, commentators are afraid to oppose even their most irrational demands for fear of being labeled “bigots”. The result is that more money is being spent on a disease that is not particularly contagious and is almost 100% preventable with very cheap measures than on diseases that are much bigger threats.
Imagine the same political forces at work every time you visit the doctor. Instead of tailoring a course of care to your needs, including your financial needs, the doctor will be tailoring the course of care to the dictates of bureaucrats and politicians. If your disease is politically correct, you’ll be treated. If it’s not, no amount of money will be much help. (Or maybe it will. How about visiting a “medeasy” for your heart attack after the bureaucrats decide that it’s your own fault for eating fatty foods or not exercising enough? You can guarantee three things about black market healthcare: Insurance won’t pay for it, it will be more expensive than what we have now and it will be riskier in terms of quality.)
Scarce medical resources are a given, so rationing of some sort is a given. Price rationing, for all our complaints, actually works pretty well. It could work better if third party payment were reorganized along more market friendly lines. But ultimately, even in its present flawed form, price rationing puts the patient in the driver’s seat, allowing the patient to determine how much a particular treatment is worth. Socialized medicine in any of its guises puts the politics of pull in charge.