Obama's Response to H1N1 Vaccine Crisis Could be Key to Healthcare Reform

If the government can't handle this, how can it manage an entire health plan?

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Health centers and clinics across the country began turning away people this week who came in search of the H1N1 or swine flu vaccine. A report from Bloomberg states:

From New York, where October deliveries fell short by 400,000 doses, to Dallas and Phoenix, which have postponed mass vaccinations, to San Francisco, where one family clinic is fielding 400 calls a day, local officials are being pressured by parents for swine flu vaccine as the death toll for children in the United States reached 95.

The flu threatened to blossom into an epidemic, as the government reported 95 deaths from H1N1 and 351 schools closed down nationwide, shutting out 126,000 students in 19 states—to prevent spread of the flu.

How the Obama administration handles this public health emergency could be key to its healthcare reform proposal. In a major blunder, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted that of the 80 million to 120 million doses it was promised this summer, just more than 23 million doses have been delivered.

But Sebelius also promised eventually there will be enough flu vaccine for all Americans who need it.

Some pundits—mostly conservative Republicans—are using the health emergency to question whether the Obama administration is up to handling what could become a major public health emergency. Opponents of the president's healthcare reform say the vaccine shortage is proof the government shouldn't be in the healthcare business. Here's what Dana Perino of Politico had to say:

Which brings me to a larger point—does anyone think this episode inspires confidence in Americans that the government should be taking over all aspects of our healthcare system instead of taking step-by-step measures to improve the one we currently have? Perhaps people aren't connecting the dots just yet, but the underlying tension is there and I do think this makes an argument against a public option. If moms and dads are upset about waiting for a flu vaccine distribution run by the federal government, do they want to depend on the government for their basic healthcare? Uh, no.

Like Perino, I am not a fan of a so-called public option. Sorry, Mr. President, but I cannot point to a single government-run program in the history of this great nation that hasn't added to our tax burden. And subsidizing healthcare costs will harm middle-class taxpayers more than anyone else, regardless of whether you promise us that won't happen. It stretches your credibility quite thin.

That said, however, I don't agree with Ms. Perino's linking of a shortage of flu vaccines to a near certainty that the Obama administration would bungle a government-run healthcare service.