Preventative Action: Redirecting Post-9/11 Zeal Toward Our Health Care Crisis
We could redirect fervor and resources to prevent deaths through the health care system.
September 11th marked a political coming-of-age for many young Americans. Where we could once afford to be blissful in our policy ignorance, the realities of terrorism required a far more adult understanding of the issues. It’s in the aftermath that I first began to notice the zeal for a particular brand of post-terror policy. It seemed as though every American, and their corresponding representatives in Washington, D.C., would do whatever it took, spend whatever was needed, to prevent the next attack. The commonsense perception dictated eliminating the threat before it could grow into a crisis. I like to imagine applying that standard to the problems I see in health care.
But consider first the extent to which preventing terror dominated the first resulting policy changes. A network of rules and regulations that encroach on civil liberties seek to prevent explosives and weapons from making it onto airplanes. A nation was controversially invaded to prevent its leader from using weapons of mass destruction. A broader war was declared to level Al Qaeda in another country to avenge the attacks and prevent future terror plots. An undisclosed, but certainly astronomical, amount of money was afforded to a top secret government agency to carry out unknown tasks to prevent potential terror threats.
Let’s check in on these change: Individuals have found ways to bring weapons and explosives anyway. It is still unclear what threats, precisely, were prevented by invading and then occupying Iraq. Al Qaeda is largely decimated, but the conditions prevailing in Afghanistan can foster a new generation of radicalized anti-American sentiment. And we continue to chase terror plots to this day.
Now consider a similar zeal for preventative policy, this time applied to health care. Anetwork of rules and regulations could seek to eliminate a growing epidemic of obesity already affecting a third of Americans. We could go into Africa instead of Afghanistan, this time with $3 billion a year in targeted aid (what the Pentagon spends in two days) to end malaria and save those at risk. A disclosed and comparably lesser sum of money could task the federal government with reorienting our health care system around preventative medicine to stop the 900,000 American deaths each year from preventable causes.
A decade later, the results of these initiatives would be a little different. Ending obesity could save $147 billion each year in its associated costs. Our invasion of good will in Africa could save more than a million lives a year, the results of which would be met with a markedly higher level of international admiration, respect, and cooperation. Of course, some will still regrettably fall victim to preventable health problems. But we would know for certain where our dollars are going — to our health.
There are many legacies and takeaways from 9/11. What I’ve learned is the power and reach of passionately driven policy. I’ve also learned that It should not take an attack, or any catastrophe, to ignite zealous action where it is needed.
Rajiv Narayan is a Senior Health Policy Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a student at the University of California, Davis.