Current Events Public Policy

Legislating Medical Care

A press release from Senator Ron Wyden sent to me at 7am this morning states the following:

Working to enhance screening and prevention of childhood type 2 diabetes, U.S Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) today announced that an amendment giving states $15 million to combat the disease has been included in the final conference version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program bill (S-CHIP).  Wyden is the amendment’s sponsor.  The S-CHIP conference report passed the Senate yesterday evening and will now be sent to the President for his consideration.
“This amendment gives states the power to develop creative solutions to the closely related problems of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in children,â€? said Wyden.  “Children who develop type 2 diabetes are saddled with health problems for life.  By investing in prevention, we can not only save lives, we can make a greater impact with less money.â€?

Sounds like a great program…but is it really?  The question is, do we want federal politicians legislating medical care?  Certain politicians, often with the best of intentions in mind, will have a pet disease at which they will want to throw money.  Type 2 diabetes is a serious problem.  However, it is the most pressing issue?  Are there other medical problems that need funding more urgently?  Would providing funding for other medical conditions result in a bigger marginal improvement in health outcomes?

Without looking at this situation holistically, a federal health spending budget is put together in a piecemeal fashion.  Diseases which receive more media attention or have stricken relatives of politicians will likely receive more funding even if this is not the best use of our tax dollars.

Along the same lines, in 2004 California approved $3 billion for stem-cell research (see MSNBC article).  While stem cell research funds are certainly needed, $3 billion may be excessive.  Directing so much cash to one cause may siphon off research funds for other worthy diseases.