Anyone who has had much experience with America’s health care system knows that nurses are the essential players in making things work.
So as the swine flu outbreak evolves into a genuine public health emergency — with cases being discovered in more states and the announcement by President Obama of the first death in the U.S. — it is time to consult the nation’s nurses.
And the nurses are saying that federal authorities must move more aggressively on a number of fronts. Of particular note in a call for steps to be taken to require insurance companies to suspend or waive insurance company fees — such as co-pays and high deductibles — that may discourage sick people from seeking care.
The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, which has most of its 86,000 members in the state of California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency to tackle the outbreak, is making a smart call for national action to promote containment and prevention of a broader swine flu pandemic.
At the heart of that call is a reminder that the United States has badly neglected public health and allowed the nation’s health-care infrastructure to degenerate at precisely the points where Americans are most vulnerable. “From SARS to avian flu to the current escalating outbreaks of swine influenza it has become increasingly clear that we are risking a major catastrophe unless we act to restore the safety net, and devote the resources that are needed to protect the public,” says CNA/NNOC co-president Deborah Burger, who like other leaders of the union is a registered nurse.
But there is, as well, a need for action to assure that insurance company greed does not erect barriers to care.
The CNA/NNOC call comes at a time when the federal government is starting to take both the swine flu outbreak and the broader threat of a pandemic seriously — after neglecting the issue when House Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, urged forward-looking action during last winter’s stimulus debate.
President Obama has taken an important step in the right direction with his call on Congress — which stripped Obey’s plan to provide $870 million for pandemic preparedness and related initiatives from the emergency stimulus legislation — to allocate $1.5 billion for combating the virus. With public concerns and political pressures rising as the World Health Organization urges countries to prepare for a pandemic, it is unlikely that Maine Senator Susan Collins, the Republican who led the fight against allocating the preparedness money (cheered on by unthinking Democrats such as New York’s Chuck Schumer), will object this time.