As you are well aware, the Republicans are in a tizzy over Ebola. They are putting the blame on the President, naturally, and if you watch or read anything from Fox News, the country is facing doom and gloom. I even have to admit that when the President told the country that it was “unlikely” that the Ebola Virus would reach America, I was flabbergasted. With a world economy, easy transportation from one continent to another, it was only a matter of time before it reached our shores, just like other infectious diseases before.
One man has died in Texas from the disease. There is some controversy over how he was treated when he went to the hospital with symptoms. Thomas Eric Duncan was the first person to develop Ebola in America. Four other people are also being treated in American Hospitals. Duncan is the one man in Texas who died from the disease. He’s also the only patient who was uninsured. He turned up in a Dallas emergency room, informed the staff he was from Liberia, and was sent home with antibiotics.
Now being uninsured in Texas is nothing new. Over 1.5 million Texans do not have any insurance since the wonderful governor, Rick Perry, refused to accept “free” Medicaid money to expand coverage in his state. When he returned to the hospital Duncan was admitted. He was even given an experimental drug, even though it was late. But, he never received a blood transfusion from someone who had recovered from Ebola. A very necessary part of the Ebola treatment. See, the transfusion helps build immunity to the disease and helps fight it. Duncan is the only patient who did not receive the transfusion.
“The real elephant in the room is, the man was black, he had no insurance, and therefore he was basically turned away,” Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is African-American, told the Los Angeles Times. The hospital, for its part, denies it treated Duncan differently than insured patients.
Then there is Youngor Jallah, the woman who got Duncan to the hospital when his symptoms worsened. She says she doesn’t have Medicaid or any health insurance either. Presumably she’s being monitored by health officials and will be treated if she becomes symptomatic, but she’s not certain. “It’s my worry … that I will be treated the same way” as Duncan, Jallah told the Los Angeles Times.
So how is Texas prepared to handle public health emergencies? “We don’t really have a unifying construct for public health in Texas that’s comprehensive,” Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the former commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the Texas Tribune. Between 2008 and 2013, 36 percent of local health departments in Texas had to lay off staff due to budget cuts between 2008 and 2013. It would appear they are not ready to handle public health emergencies.
But this problem goes way beyond Texas. The two agencies who do the most work on public health and fighting infectious diseases are the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They have had their budgets cut severely in the last few years. The sequester cuts brought on by the Republicans, cut $1.55 billion from the budget of the National Institutes of Health, took another $300 million from the Center for Disease Control, slashed global health programs by $411 million and USAID by $289 million. The budgets drawn up by Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the House GOP would have deepened those cuts significantly. The CDC’s budget has been cut $600 million since 2010.
“I have to tell you honestly it’s been a significant impact on us,” the NIH’s Anthony Fauci told a Senate subcommittee last week. “It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats.”
This little fact isn’t being talked about in the Republican Hysteria Machine. The agencies who do the most to protect America from infectious diseases have had their budgets cut drastically. I don’t know how this will affect the overall containment of Ebola in America, but it certainly won’t help.
As usual, the Republicans have caused problems in protecting the public health of Americans. Now that there is a real potential threat to that public health, they are crying about not being ready to fight it. It is very typical of their strategy. Cut everything that affects real people like public health. Then when something goes wrong, blame everyone but yourselves.
The President is asking for $1 billion dollars in reprogramming money to help fight the disease in Africa, the place of origin. He plans to build health centers and train people on the ground. The natural theory is that if you stop it in the place of origin, it won’t spread much farther. But, of course that isn’t good enough for Republicans. As a matter of fact, Senator Vitter from Louisiana is violently opposed to the plan. Why? Because it focuses on “Africa.”
Writing to the members of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees, Vitter urged, “I ask you to oppose fully allowing the additional $1 billion in reprogramming requests until previously requested additional information is available for members of Congress to be fully briefed.” Vitter went on to assail the White House plan because, he wrote, it “focuses on Africa, and largely ignores our own borders.”
Most of the people reporting on Vitter’s letter have not focused on the wording. Notice that he says “largely ignores our own borders.” He doesn’t say it largely ignores our own country or our own people! Sorry, maybe I do have a warped view of the Republicans right now, but that seems significant to me. Nor does he ask that that money be instead transferred back to the CDC and NIH. I wonder why.
Back when the battle raged over the ACA, many Republicans cried about what they called “death panels” being introduced into the bill. Obviously it was a lie. But, at the time I sarcastically wrote that the bill didn’t need a “death panel” since the Republican Party already had taken on that mantra. Once you look at all of the facts, and listen to all of the hysteria being produced by the Republicans and their right-wing nuts, you can draw your own conclusions about the real “death panels.”