Obama Declares Swine Flu Emergency

h1n1-vaccinePresident Obama has declared that the swine flu, which is much less prevalent and deadly than the ordinary influenza virus, is an “epidemic” and a “national emergency.”  Silly as it sounds, it was the right call.

President Obama has declared H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, clearing the way for his health chief to give hospitals wider leeway in how they handle a possible surge of new patients, administration officials said Saturday. The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.

Obama said in the declaration that the “rapid increase in illness . . . may overburden health-care resources.” White House officials played down the dramatic language, saying the president’s action did not stem from a new assessment of the dangers the flu poses to the public. Instead, officials said the action provides greater flexibility for hospitals that may face a surge of new patients as the virus sweeps through their communities. The declaration allows Sebelius to waive certain requirements under Medicaire and Medicaid, privacy rules and other regulations.

“The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected,” White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said Saturday. “By the time regions or health-care systems recognize they are becoming overburdened, they need to implement disaster plans quickly.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that the flu was spreading widely in at least 46 states and had already caused the hospitalization of at least 20,000 Americans. More than 1,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus and more than 2,400 additional deaths were probably associated with it, officials said.

NYT adds:

The department first declared a public health emergency in April; Ms. Sebelius renewed it on Tuesday. But the separate presidential declaration was required to waive federal laws put in place to protect patients’ privacy and to ensure that they are not discriminated against based on their source of payment for care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the states’ Children’s Health Insurance Program.

As a practical matter, officials said, the waiver could allow a hospital to set up a make-shift satellite facility for swine flu patients in a local armory or other suitably spacious location, or at another hospital, to segregate such cases for treatment. Under federal law, if the patients are sent off site without a waiver, the hospital could be refused reimbursement for care as a sanction.

Some are terming this “fear-mongering” and hysteria. And it’s true that this is neither “epidemic” nor an “emergency” in any ordinary senses of those words.  But these are the magic words the president has to invoke in order to bypass the bureaucratic rules preventing faster dissemination of the vaccine.   This is something I would like to see changed because the headlines will in fact create some hysterical reactions.  But it’s the system Obama has to work within for now.

Others are questioning why, if this is such a big deal, the Obama girls haven’t been vaccinated. But the Obama girls aren’t in the high risk categories that would permit them to get the vaccine right now.   My 9-month-old is in that category but our pediatrician doesn’t yet have a supply. 

In Fairfax County, Va., officials had planned to have swine flu clinics at 10 different locations on Saturday. But the county did not receive the number of doses it requested, and was forced to offer the vaccinations only at the government building. People began lining up with camping gear the night before to get vaccinations. Merni Fitzgerald, Fairfax’s public affairs director, said officials were aiming to administer 12,000 doses of the vaccine to those most at risk for serious complications from the H1N1 virus, mainly pregnant women and children 6 to 36 months. But that did not stop some other high-risk patients. “I lied and told the doctors I was pregnant,” said Theresa Caffey of Centreville, who has multiple sclerosis and nurses her 11-week-old son, Joshua. “I’m religious. I don’t lie. But it’s not about me. It’s for my son. It’s safer for him if I have the antibodies.”

People would be going crazy if the Obama girls were jumping the line ahead of the very small children and pregnant women who have been deemed the most critical to inoculate early.

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Grewgills says:

    The CDC has specific criteria for what constitutes a flu epidemic and apparently H1N1 meets those criteria.
    This recent spate of H1N1 does not match most people’s movie fueled perception of an epidemic though.

  2. Herb Ely says:

    With one hand, Obama meets a public health emergency by decreasing regulatory constraints on hospitals. With the other, he prepares to impose an additional 1500 pages of laws on the health system.

  3. Eric Florack says:

    But these are the magic words the president has to invoke in order to bypass the bureaucratic rules preventing faster dissemination of the vaccine.

    Yep. And that’s a tacit admission, and a lesson about governmental involvement with healthcare.

    I dare to submit to you that in a free market arrangement, such efforts to bypass the rules would not need to be sought. Such rules would not exist. Hospitals would simply respond to their patients needs, f they wanted to stay in business. Cheaper healthcare, without having the small army to make sure you’re following the dictates of the allmighty government.

  4. Triumph says:

    President Obama has declared that the swine flu, which is much less prevalent and deadly than the ordinary influenza virus, is an “epidemic” and a “national emergency.” Silly as it sounds, it was the right call.

    It may be a “right call” if we had an actual real American in the White House.

    Unfortunately we have seen in the past few months that Obama is a socialist who is quickly bringing his Hitler-esque policies to America.

    If we let him call a “state of emergency” over this, it is pretty much a given that he will expand it to society as a whole.

    The next thing will be closing down churches, ostensibly to protect against a flu outbreak, but in reality to persecute Christians. Mosques will continue to be allowed to open.

    Next on his agenda will be to wage a “preventative war” against the flu requiring Americans to stay indoors.

    This all leads up to the Final Solution which is presaged by Obama’s interest in bulking up funding for a high speed rail network.

    This guy is executing the Hitler playbook to a T.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    What you say with irony, Triumph, I say with assurance. Back when Bush was in the White House, the big complaint was that ’emergencies’ were trumpted up to give the White House more power. Funny how that chorus died away, despite the patterns we now see. Consider TARP, for example. “No, Congressman we don’t have time to let you read and debate this thing. It’s an emergency and we need to do all this now, so stop getting in the way. “

  6. Matt says:

    TARP was passed and signed during Bush’s term lol…

  7. anjin-san says:

    Hospitals would simply respond to their patients needs

    Assuming the patients have the necessary scratch, of course…

  8. anjin-san says:

    Matt is correct, of course, that TARP was a Bush program. Tell us Bit, did you work at becoming an idiot, or is it just a natural gift?

    (stand by as bitsy attempts to but some spin on his spin)

  9. DavidL says:

    So the Moron in Chief declares the swine flu an energency. Can Obama demonstrate that he knows more about medicine than he knows about say economics, or diplomacy?

  10. anjin-san says:

    Hmmmm. DavidL can out-dumb bithead. Impressive.

  11. William d'Inger says:

    Assuming the patients have the necessary scratch, of course…

    You say that as if it were a bad thing.

  12. anjin-san says:

    You say that as if it were a bad thing.

    If you measure the value of life only in dollars, I suppose it’s not…

  13. JKB says:

    The bad part of the declaration is the timing. This seems to happen a lot to this administration. The declaration comes just in time to run alongside reports of vaccine shortages and backlogged production. Not to mention, Not Just in Time (NJiT) delivery. This is not Obama’s fault as this is how the public health system works every time. They cry wolf, declare impending doom and then roundly fail to produce enough vaccine or whatever is needed. If we ever really have a pandemic, I wouldn’t count on the government.

    But then Katrina wasn’t Bush’s fault. Government can provide longterm help but fast response isn’t their forte. Even their intermediate response is slow to gear up, brutish in application and generally detrimental to efforts of people to help themselves.

  14. William d'Inger says:

    If you measure the value of life only in dollars, I suppose it’s not…

    That’s a non sequitur. This thread is not about the value of life. It is about the allocation of a scarce resource, and when the allocation can be made by either:
    1) a party apparatchik
    2) the free market
    I’ll take the free market every time.

  15. anjin-san says:

    I’ll take the free market every time

    The CEO of Wellpoint makes over 50 million a year. Guess how they become more profitable. Well, denying claims is one way. Hopefully, neither you or your loved ones will be turned down for something you actually need.

    I am a capitalist myself, fairly senior at a Fortune 500 company. I have no objection to profits for the company or a good salary for myself. But making billions off of people getting sick is kind of, well, sick. This is the richest society in history. Let’s make sure everyone can see a doctor if they have to.

  16. anjin-san says:

    It is about the allocation of a scarce resource

    I assume that you can document that it is actually scarce.

    Just had a colonoscopy. 12K for a routine procedure that takes what, 45 minutes. What a crock of sh*t. I know when I am being played, do you?

  17. William d'Inger says:

    The government has wormed its insidious hand so far into the medical field via Medicare and Medicaid that the market mechanisms are already greatly distorted.

    And don’t try to hand me that phony business about your being a capitalist yourself. You spout the liberal / socialist / communist party line at every opportunity.

  18. William d'Inger says:

    I’d love to stay and play, Anjin-san, but I have to hit the hay. I have less than three hours to catch some shuteye before I have to roll out and take a relative in for cataract surgery. This issue will be a dead horse before I’m back to the fray. I sincerely hope your scoping turned out negative. As for the 12K, your Fortune 500 company seniority ought to cover that easily enough.

  19. dutchmarbel says:

    Just had a colonoscopy. 12K for a routine procedure that takes what, 45 minutes. What a crock of sh*t. I know when I am being played, do you?

    FWIW: I checked the prices in one of the commercial clinics over here, and they charge 300 euro for a traditional one, and 350 for a virtual one.

    We had our first ‘healthy’ swine flu death this weekend: a 14 year old girl, perfectly healthy on thursday, slightly off on Friday (but went to school and went out with friends in the evening), in hospital on Sunday and died on Monday. So people are slightly more panicky than they were the last few weeks.

    On the whole it is seen as a nasty flu (more contagious and worse for the lungs that the ‘normal’ flu) but nothing too worrying except for people in risc groups. It is officially called epidemic because GP’s have reported more than 55 cases per 100.000 people for two weeks in a row.

    The risc groups in the Netherlands are appearantly different than the ones in the USA. We offer the vaccin to inhabitants who suffer from cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, who have diabetes/renal complaints or have a compromised immune system (e.g. people having chemotherapy). It is also given to people older than 60 & pregnant women.

    It is still under discussion wether it should be given to young children. The flu is a small risc, but so might the vaccin be. People are bringing up the 1976 Swine flu vaccinations in the USA and the possible connection to Guillan-Barre Syndrome.

  20. anjin-san says:

    I sincerely hope your scoping turned out negative. As for the 12K, your Fortune 500 company seniority ought to cover that easily enough.

    Results were negative, thanks, it was a bit nerve-wracking because colin cancer runs in my family. And I am fortunate enough to have excellent benefits, so my out-of-pocket was not to bad.

    How many people will die in this country next year because they did not have insurance, did not get a screening, do not get polyps removed before they be cancerous?

  21. anjin-san says:

    You spout the liberal / socialist / communist party line at every opportunity.

    Ah, so. If one is a “liberal” they are also a commie. Nice red herring there. Is fear mongering really all that is left on the right? Once upon a time in this country, the conservative movement was driven by ideas. Now it appears to be nothing more than Rush/Beck/Savage parrots.