To save a dollar or save a life?

Derek Hunter Contributor
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Bureaucrats have thankless jobs, always under attack for some horrible decision or another they’re making or choice to the public they’re limiting, and justifiably so. This is not a defense of bureaucrats, they’re deserving of almost every criticism that comes their way. This is to point out yet another way in which bureaucrats could limit options for you and your family through their ever-growing control over our health care.

As we were constantly reminded during this year’s health care debate, prevention of disease is just as important, if not more so, than treatment, and certainly less expensive. After all, if you can prevent something from afflicting people, you don’t have to pay to treat them if they get it.  The Polio vaccine is a perfect example of this principle.

Polio was the plague of the 20thcentury, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions more permanently disabled. A Polio outbreak struck fear in the hearts of communities unfortunate enough to suffer them and led to quarantines and panic. Historian William O’Neil said the disease was “…easily the most frightening public health problem of the postwar era.”

That all changed in 1955 when, after years of trials, Dr. Jonas Salk created a vaccine that would render the disease nearly obsolete around the world. Headlines screamed the miracle around the world and within years Polio became something people read about in history books.

The Polio vaccine was only the most famous conquering of disease by science, not the last.

Now there are vaccines for everything from the Measles and Mumps to Whooping Cough and Hepatitis, all recommended for children by the age of six.

Meningococcal disease is a dangerous infection that can cause either meningitis, which is an inflammation of the protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord that can lead to deafness, brain damage and death, or septicemia, an infection of the blood that often leads to organ failure, limb amputations and death. The disease is caused by a bacteria and is most often found in children. This is why it has been a priority of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the last decade.

A vaccine has been created to prevent meningococcal disease in infants, which is great considering the highest risk of infection is in the first seven months of life, and it is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. But, for money-saving reasons, another group of government bureaucrats have stepped in to block the meningococcal disease vaccine from joining the list of officially recommended vaccines for children.

The CDC generally formulates vaccine policy based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The ACIP and its Meningococcal Working Group subcommittee are reluctant to recommend the vaccine be placed on the infant schedule because they have decided that the current threat of meningococcal disease, an unpredictable and cyclical disease, is too low. The ACIP recommendation will determine whether the vaccine receives public and private funding.  Without this recommendation, doctors won’t routinely offer the vaccine to protect against meningococcal disease to parents, and insurance companies will be unlikely to pay for it.

While not the plague that Polio was, don’t try telling that to parents of children affected by the disease. And if you consider the fact that, while occurrences are rare, relatively, striking only a half million worldwide each year, as many as one in seven who contract meningococcal disease will die from it, you’ll start to see yet another case of bureaucrat playing doctor.  One might call the ACIP a “death panel,” if one were so inclined.

And remember, this is still a few years before Obamacare fully kicks in and bureaucrats of this type have even more power over which medical treatments, vaccines and prescription drugs you will be allowed to have access to. If that doesn’t disturb you, perhaps nothing will.

So when you hear politicians praise the new health care law, remember the case of the meningococcal disease vaccine and the opportunity government bureaucrats could be passing up to eliminate the threat of this killer from infants. If they’re willing to do something like this to save money now, what will they be willing to do to save money when they control everything?

Derek Hunter is a Washington based writer and consultant. He can be stalked on Twitter @derekahunter