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Budget Cutting That’s Beyond Imprudent and Well Into Stupid

The House GOP wants to virtually eliminate Federal funding for poison control centers.

The nation’s network of 57 poison control centers takes four million calls a year about people who may have been exposed to a toxic substance. In three-quarters of all cases, the centers are able to provide treatment advice that does not require a visit to a hospital or a doctor, saving tens of millions of dollars in medical costs.

While a single visit to an emergency room can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars (often paid for by the government), a call to a poison center costs the government only $30 or $40. A study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology estimated that the poison centers saved the State of Arizona alone $33 million a year. Louisiana eliminated its centers in the 1980s but restored them when it realized how much money they saved.

The centers, which collect poison reports, can also act as an early warning system for pandemics or large toxic exposures, allowing a quick response.

The federal government pays about 20 percent of the cost of the centers, with states, cities and philanthropy picking up the rest. Many strapped state and local governments have cut back their financing, and experts say that the virtual elimination of federal money would force many centers to close and sharply damage the effectiveness of the national network.

Scott Lemieux comments that “if Aaron Sorkin had made this a plot line in a West Wing script, I would have written a post making fun of him for his didacticism.”

I don’t disagree.

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. wr says:

    Oh, you’re just demagoguing the issue. Ask Doug.

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  2. Steve says:

    Why don’t they just use the internet to find the information. Why do we pay for “poison control centers?” If you have enough time to call, “google” it. If you don’t have enough time to google it, you are going to the ER anyway.

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  3. Alex Knapp says:

    @Steve,

    You are aware, aren’t you, that not everyone owns a computer, or has access to the internet, right?

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  4. Steve says:

    Mr. Knapp,

    If they have a phone, they can call someone who does own a computer and an internet connection. If they are too poor to own a phone, what good is a call to poison control?

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  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Really?

    If you live in an area that doesn’t have internet access (whether due to rurality/prohibitive cost, or poverty which often tends to be geographic) just start calling through your list of friends until you find one that is sufficiently outside of your geographic/economic area, as him/her to google your symptoms. If that person isn’t home (how could that possibly be?) just continue down your list. I’m sure you won’t even have to call 10 different friends–not more than 15 minutes worth of calls after ingesting poison!–until you get an answer. Of course you are probably panicking at this point, and the friend isn’t trained on how to calm a person and interpret panicked language. Oh and there is probably a translation error, as anyone who has worked for a hotline can tell you. Then you just have to wait for that friend to find the appropriate website–I hope he knows how!–or maybe he can just post it on yahoo!answers and wait for a response that way.

    An hour later you’ll have your response! Simple! Of course the response will probably be wrong as your friend isn’t trained on poison control and is doing all this while trying to calm a panicked friend but hey! It’ll save the government one half of one half of one half of one percent of the budget, and cost hospitals untold millions, so its worth it.

    Seriously?!?

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  6. Murray says:

    @Steve,

    You don’t seem aware that there are many untrue things on the internet. A call to a trusted and informed source will take much less time than trying to figure out what information a ggogle search returned is reliable.

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  7. mantis says:

    Just more evidence the Republican Party agenda is to insure more Americans suffer, go broke, and die early.

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  8. tom p says:

    @Steve,

    You don’t seem aware that there are many untrue things on the internet.

    Murray, I feel pretty safe in saying that there was a fair amount of snark in Steve’s comment.

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  9. Gulliver says:

    No one I know is so stupid as to go to the phone book to look up the number for the closest “poison control center” if they think they or their child may have been poisoned – they call the closest hospital or call 911. I guess Knapp knows enough stupid people to think that “oh my gosh, I think I’ve been poisoned” type phone calls are what make up the statistics he quotes. Uh…. no. These calls are are not emergency calls. Perhaps the author would care to give us some actual numbers to support his outrageous claims?

    This is more trumped up stupidity by the left to drive their idea of acceptable “change” , which is to do nothing.

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  10. jwest says:

    If only the technology existed to link these poison control centers by some means of voice communication, perhaps one or two centers could field the calls. There could even be a special number or prefix that would eliminate the long wait while the long distance operator attempts to connect to a distant city.

    As it stands now, it’s only fair that there is one poison control center in each of the 57 states.

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  11. Alex Knapp says:

    @Gulliver -

    No one I know is so stupid as to go to the phone book to look up the number for the closest “poison control center” if they think they or their child may have been poisoned

    You are clearly not a parent. I and every parent I know has the # for poison control right on the fridge.

    These calls are are not emergency calls. Perhaps the author would care to give us some actual numbers to support his outrageous claims?

    Quoting from the article cited:

    “A study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology estimated that the poison centers saved the State of Arizona alone $33 million a year. Louisiana eliminated its centers in the 1980s but restored them when it realized how much money they saved.”

    jwest -

    If the Republicans proposed a plan for the federal government to take over responsibility for poison control from the states, and replace it with a central, federalized system, I would support that wholeheartedly. I think the Federal government leaves way too much up to the individual states, leaving us with a rats-nest hodgepodge of 50 different regulatory systems. If it were up to me, the federal government would be telling the states to take a hike a lot more often.

    As it stands, though, the Republicans simply plan to cut funding completely, which will basically result in crippling the system. And that is stupid.

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  12. jwest says:

    Alex,

    Like all conservatives, I simply want value for the money. I’m all for poison control centers, as they clearly serve a purpose and ultimately save money, however it may help the conversation to tone down some of the hysterics surrounding this subject.

    First, let’s put the “children” aspect into perspective. There were 37 child (under 12) fatalities last year, or roughly 7% of the total deaths due to poisoning that were handled by the centers. As tragic as those deaths are, most people assume there are thousands of children dying each year by poisoning.

    Second, the federal money that’s being reduced comprises only 8% of the funding for these centers. This is a significant amount, but not the difference between staying open and closing. In the world of government and non-profit organizations, there is a thick layer of fat between being “fully funded” and being operational. Nothing ever changes until the excess money dries up.

    Third, the Journal of Medical Toxicology, which is publishing the startling money-saving analysis of poison control centers is an offshoot of the non-profit that runs the centers. If they do publish their internal financials, they are not easy to find.

    Conservatives do not hate children, old people, blacks or puppies – we only hate ill-informed liberal demagogues who have a penchant of spending other people’s money without accountability.

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  13. Alex Knapp says:

    jwest,

    You might be surprised – but I don’t disagree with a lot of what your saying.

    Two points:

    The primary value of the PCCs isn’t saving kids from being poisoned — it’s reassuring parents that they don’t have to take their kids to the hospitals. Absent the PCCs, you’ll have emergency rooms and 911 flooded with more false alarms — and that’s a much bigger cost than the PCCs.

    Federal funding used to comprise 8% pre-Recession, but now it’s over 20% — and that is big enough to make the difference.

    So with that in mind, I think that cutting the funds without any kind of plan to accomodate these things is imprudent. And that’s the problem I have with most GOP budget cutting — they’re cutting in ways that make things more expensive in the long term. It’s like cutting out your oil change budget. Sure, you’ll save money in the short term….

    Conservatives do not hate children, old people, blacks or puppies

    I never said they did. But I do think that the modern conservative mindset is too focused on the short-term rather than the long-term fiscal outlook. What the budget needs is long-term, structural change.

    It’s very, very possible to fix the budget without compromising the needs of the poor, sick, elderly, and children. Some of that will require more money up front. Some things can be cut right now.

    The biggest driver of budget costs are health care costs. There’s a few things we need to do to improve that:

    (a) get more doctors into the system — we have a doctor shortage in this country;
    (b) empower nurses to do more without a doctor’s supervision AND get more nurses into the system;
    (c) work to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and CHD

    Any budget proposal that doesn’t address these issues isn’t looking long term.

    As for non-health care related issues, I argue that cuts need to be prudent. That is, they need to be cuts that don’t make things more expensive in the long term. When the GOP starts offering those, I’ll start being impressed.

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  14. jwest says:

    Alex,

    You may be surprised that I don’t disagree with a lot of what you are saying.

    Concerning the poison control centers, the number has been shrinking over the years – from regional now down to state. The American Association of Poison Control Centers will make the necessary changes and consolidations to survive. Universities have graduate-level courses for non-profit administrators in structuring proclamations of doom and fiscal whining. They’ll get by.

    I agree with all your points on health care costs. Also, I’m a big proponent (along with Friedrich Hayek) for a government run, single payer health system for catastrophic illness. Of course, the very essence of such a system is the Death Panel, so liberals will need to accept the reality of that. The left will also need to accept the fact that individual health care accounts are the only viable means to bring costs under control for normal healthcare.

    As to your never actually stating that conservatives hate children, old people, blacks and puppies, I’m certain that any fair interpretation of a number of articles would reveal the inference of what is generally accepted truth on the left.

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  15. wr says:

    Jwest — It’s clear you don’t hate blacks. In fact, you’ve made it quite clear that you are so concerned about their welfare you believe they would be better off if they were the personal property of white people, so they’d be taken care of.

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  16. Jay says:

    Gulliver says:
    Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 03:12
    No one I know is so stupid as to go to the phone book to look up the number for the closest “poison control center” if they think they or their child may have been poisoned – they call the closest hospital or call 911. I guess Knapp knows enough stupid people to think that “oh my gosh, I think I’ve been poisoned” type phone calls are what make up the statistics he quotes. Uh…. no. These calls are are not emergency calls.

    22 years ago or so my then 2 year old son got into a tube of Carmex, (I think it was, been a long time). I had no idea if and how much he injested, nor how bad it could be. I could have rushed him to the hospital (on the taxpayer dime, I was in the Navy at the time). I could have called a doctor or hospital. Good luck with that. If you can get a medical professional, who knows how long it would take to get them on the phone. The they would have to find a resource to determine what is in it and whether it’s safe, taking into account the persons weight. The poison control center has this all at the ready. The hospital will most likely tell you to call 911, as the liability is to risky.

    Most calls aren’t about the bottle labeled poison / arsenic. It’s unknown things.

    The call to the poison control center saved a lot of time, and determined there was no risk.

    And even today, I would call the poison control center before relying on the internet. If it is poison, seconds count.

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  17. anjin-san says:

    Here you have the right in a nutshell. The greatest country in the world can’t afford 57 poison control centers to serve 300 million people in life or death situations.

    P.S. Tax cuts for billionaires and oil companies are the priority.

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