HHS’s failures extend beyond the obamacare website

A caller into my radio show the other day asked, “If the government can’t even build a website that works, how can it be expected to run our health care system?” Considering the news we’ve seen since the launch of Obamacare, it’s a valid question.

To be fair, the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services can’t build a functioning website isn’t much of a surprise – they aren’t tech specialists. And watching them pour close to a billion dollars down the drain isn’t going to shock anyone who remembers what the government has paid for hammers and toilet seats in the past.

So, it is far more chilling to see HHS stumble in an area that should be its core competence: ensuring there are adequate quantities of vaccine to protect citizens, the military, and others against deadly disease.

By way of background, you probably remember the H1N1 virus stories from a few years ago, also known as the “Swine Flu.” The potential disaster of a worldwide pandemic was averted, thankfully, by health officials taking action to develop a vaccine and monitor the outbreak.

It may seem strange to hear the word “disaster” associated with the flu, but influenza has killed tens of millions people in the last century alone.

There is no one “flu bug” that returns every year, there are numerous strains of influenza. The flu shot people get each fall is a weakened version of the strain researchers suspect of being the one most likely to be the dominant one that year.

Most cases of flu can land otherwise healthy adults in bed for a few days, but the illness can be deadly to children and the elderly. However, the threat of a more virulent strain, like the threat the H1N1 virus posed, is always bubbling under the surface.

As such, the Centers for Disease Control rightly monitors flu outbreaks around the world, and when a particularly virulent strain surfaces, they make recommendations to HHS about developing a vaccine to have ready to go should the worse-case scenario develop. That’s smart (which is not a word often associated with government).

But as urgent as what the CDC does is, it still has to navigate the bureaucracy of HHS to act. That HHS bureaucracy, the same one set to control health care access for all Americans, is exactly what you’d expect from Big Government.

Earlier this year in China, the H7N9 virus emerged as a new strain of “bird flu” that made the jump to infecting humans. It is a strong strain that has killed twenty percent of those who get it. In fact, CDC itself warned that H7N9 has “pandemic potential” and suggested that the virus may reemerge in the fall, when the weather in China becomes cooler. Accordingly, recommendations were made within HHS to develop and manufacture a vaccine in preparation for a potentially devastating pandemic.