By the Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards
Congress does have a doctor in the House. Fifteen of them, to be exact. And another physician in the Senate. So there’s no excuse for the appalling attack on health care in the budget deal passed by Congress on Friday and signed by President Trump.
Congress did fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 10 years. That’s the good news for 200,000 kids in the Bay Area who rely on it to meet their basic health care needs. But Congress came up with the funding for CHIP by grabbing $1.35 billion from the Centers for Disease Control’s Prevention and Public Health Fund.
“Pitting prevention against care and treatment is really a false choice,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer. “Nobody knows for sure how much the CDC will cut from California and Bay Area county budgets. But once again the importance of prevention is being short-changed.”
Public health keeps people, not surprisingly, healthier and out of the hospital. It’s as simple as that. Controlling outbreaks before they become widespread is an essential component of basic health care strategy. The CDC’s prevention budget supports vaccine coverage, enables states and counties to respond to infectious outbreaks, such as Ebola or Zika, and fights chronic problems, including diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart disease.
This winter’s flu outbreak demonstrates the importance of public health funding. About 40 percent of Californians fail to get flu shots every year, and more than 160 under the age of 65 have died during the current flu season.
The value of the CDC funding became obvious in January 2016, after Santa Clara University student Bradley Sheffield contracted meningitis from an unknown source. The outbreak put the entire campus at risk.
The university’s quick action and the support of local public health officials stopped the disease in its tracks by providing thousands of students with emergency vaccinations. Sheffield recovered and was able to return to classes in the spring.
“The only reason we were able to be so nimble in response was because of the federally funded vaccines allowing the state to keep an emergency supply on hand,” said Cody. “It was 48 hours from the time we heard about the outbreak to the first shot in the arm.”
It’s an open question with the reduction in funding whether the state will be able to maintain a supply of emergency vaccinations for various outbreaks.
The CDC prevention and public health funding also provides crucial support in the East Bay. In 2016, Alameda County received a $500,000 grant to fight chronic disease, another $204,000 for smoking prevention programs and $65,000 to support its immunization program.
Benjamin Franklin was actually talking about fire safety when he said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It shouldn’t be too much to ask Congress to be smart enough to know how foolish it is to stop protecting Americans from devastating outbreaks and diseases.