Medical advances often compromised by inaction
Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia may have found an entryway to the cure for AIDS.
Once the HIV virus enters the body, it can lie dormant for years. It can also evolve into AIDS. But until now, it could never be removed.
It's far too early to claim an AIDS cure - there still has to be several years of clinical trials - but this may be as close to a solution as scientists have come.
There can be a lot of politics in medical science, but the researchers at least have the wisdom to know they must work together and focus upon the people, not the politics.
Even if there is a cure for AIDS, even if there are significant advances in the treatment and cure of other communicable diseases, it may not mean much if patients can't get the medical treatment they need because obstructionists are doing their best to separate the people from the solution.
Two hours north of Philadelphia is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's state capital. This is where Gov. Tom Corbett and his well-oiled Legislature shut down 15 of 60 public health clinics, have plans to shut down nine more to "save" about $3 million a year, and laid off 73 nurses and support staff. In July, the state Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from shutting down more health clinics, and is reviewing a petition to force the administration to reopen the others.
Under the Corbett administration, Pennsylvania ranks 43rd in per capita public health spending, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The governor also vetoed a budget item to spend $2 million a year from tax revenue generated by oil and gas companies to do research about the effects of fracking on people's health, to provide health care information, to treat those who may have been affected by air and water pollution from fracking, and to establish a health care registry that would help identify problems. But he was more than willing to give all kinds of tax breaks to oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, a foreign corporation, which he handed a $1.7 billion tax credit. If the state taxed gas extraction companies at a rate at least that of other states, there would be at least another $500 million a year that could be used to help protect the people's health and the environment.
More than 50 times, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has tried to wipe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) off the books. This quixotic mission will continue to fail for two reasons. First, the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a majority of conservatives, ruled the act is constitutional. Second, all evidence shows it has led to better health care, and at least 2.3 million Americans covered who couldn't get insurance prior to the passage of the ACA.
More than eight million Americans have already signed up for ACA coverage and are now receiving better health care at lower insurance rates. Further, because of the ACA, more than 5.5 million senior citizens and disabled have saved about $4.5 billion on prescription drugs in the past three years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Fourteen "red" states have chosen not to be a part of the ACA, their legislatures adamantly refusing to agree to anything Obama has proposed, even if it means the people suffer. The impartial Rand Corp. estimates these states will spend about $1 billion more in taxpayer funds than if they expanded Medicaid under ACA provisions. Because of their refusal to agree to the ACA, almost four million residents of their states will continue to be uninsured, forcing the state and hospitals to pay for emergency medical care for low-income individuals. (In Pennsylvania, with a Republican governor and Legislature, if the state agreed to implement the ACA, the savings would be about $600 million the first year.)
However, the rabid right wing has continued to sling a barrage of lies and half-truths, usually picked up, channeled and reported by the mass media. The time and money devoted to this political gesturing by right-wing politicians could better be spent funding research to find cures for Ebola, multiple sclerosis, cancers and other diseases.
This is the same Congress that had blocked funding to improve the VA system, while spending $3 million this year alone to investigate what they have created as the Benghazi Scandal. It's already been investigated and re-investigated. Senior military commanders and impartial diplomats have already told the truth, but the House still wants to throw out its chest and throw a junior high tantrum. Think of what that $3 million can do to help the nation's homeless, about one-fourth of them veterans.
Members of Congress believe they have to travel all over the world on what they call "fact-finding tours." These tours often find facts in tropical island nations. And now, thanks to a decision by the apparently misnamed House Ethics Committee, members don't even have to report if their trips were funded by lobbyists. Think of what several million more dollars can do to help improve the health of the impoverished rather than help members of Congress get sun tans.
It's just politics. But, how many more will suffer and die from our misguided priorities?
(Walter Brasch, an author and retired university professor from Bloomsburg, writes "Wanderings" for each Sunday edition.)