Cutting Health

Published 1:42 am Sunday, January 29, 2012

Officials at the Mississippi Department of Health are stunned by a proposed slashing of its state funding to $20.7 million — the lowest level it has seen since 1990, when it received $20.3 million.

As State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier said, if the department doesn’t receive $30 million, services will have to be cut.

“The number of Mississippians we serve is 2.9 million — the entire population,” Currier said.

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As The Clarion-Ledger reported, in fiscal 2010, the department received about $29 million in state funding — less than a tenth of the $325 million that Alabama has for its state public health budget.

Only Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota spend less on their public health budgets.

All have smaller populations. Yet, Mississippi ranks:

— First in the nation for adult obesity, teen birth rate and infant mortality;

— Second for hypertension; and

— Third for diabetes and cancer death.

One would think that this dismal ranking in health statistics would beg for more funds to help improve citizens’ health.

Already cut to the bone, for many Mississippians, budget reductions to this minuscule (by U.S. and even Southeastern standards) budget is life or death.

For example, the Ryan White AIDS Drug Assistance Program cannot be cut without jeopardizing lives.

As the 1997 series AIDS Hope: Mississippi’s Despair by The Clarion-Ledger demonstrated, that program serves hundreds who would die without assistance in buying life-saving drugs to treat AIDS/HIV. That alone is $6 million of the budget.

Where else can the state cut? Food safety?

As The Clarion-Ledger’s 2006 series Public Health: Protect or Neglect? revealed, under former Director Brian Amy, officials refused to close down restaurants that repeatedly failed safety inspections. Is that what lawmakers want?

It’s the duty of the department to warn citizens about potential diseases and be able to respond in an emergency. Should these functions be cut? Or, fighting infant mortality? Addressing syphilis? Should it fire nurses? Stop monitoring for potential epidemics?

Having a cost-cutting zeal is one thing, but there are few areas in the state budget where cutting can do more harm to the most people.

Cutting health programs is not only unwise, but irresponsible.