Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Health care a homeland security issue?

This is what Aziz, over on the unofficial Dean blog, suggests. Imagine the following scenario: a terrorist attack releases a biological weapon in downtown Chicago (much like the the terrorism drills conducted today). Many people are infected with a dangerous disease. However, a large fraction of these people are uninsured. Some of the uninsured will go to county hospitals, and the exorbitant cost of their treatment will be borne by the taxpayer. The lack of insurance will stretch already-strained resources and the overall capability of the health care infrastructure to respond to the attack will be undermined. And some of the uninsured will simply not seek medical care, thus enabling the biological agent to continue to spread. We have seen how the Chinese government's failure to isolate suspcted SARS cases has led to an explosion in the infection rate - imagine how much worse the situation could be were the virus a weaponized virulent agent instead of a natural one. Biological attacks may take days to unfold before authorities become aware of them (look how long it took before the Anthrax attacks were taken seriously). Imagine all those uninsured people wandering around town with coughs and rashes, infecting everyone they meet, because they can't afford the cost of going in to the doctor and having it checked out. The lack of universal coverage leaves us more vulnerable to biological attack.


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