Austerity kills: The hidden cost of cutting health care

 Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against plans for new austerity measures  on October 20, 2011 in Athens, Greece. Credit: Getty Images
Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against plans for new austerity measures on Oct. 20, 2011, in Athens.
Credit: Getty Images

Brian McArdle had not worked after a stroke left him paralyzed and partially blind. The former security guard, 57, could not eat by himself, but as part of the U.K. austerity campaign, McArdle was assessed, found fit to work and his support was stopped. The following day he died of a heart attack.

Such tragedies form the premise of “The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills,” a startling new book from epidemiologists David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu. From mining data sets over the past century and across the world, the numbers show the hidden cost of health spending cuts.

“What we learned is that recessions are neutral to health. What matters is how politicians respond,” Stuckler told Metro. “When they make deep cuts to vital social protection systems, it can turn social hardship into severe epidemics.”

No example is starker than Greece, where a 40 percent cut to health spending has allowed HIV infection rates to double. Mosquito-spraying programs were stopped, and malaria returned after being controlled since the 1970s. More than 200 medicines vanished from pharmacies as budgets shrank. “The evidence of a causal link is compelling,” said professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

A less visible mental health crisis is also growing. The World Health Organization report a 40 percent rise in suicides in Italy between 2007 and 2010, with local studies attributing most to economic issues. Stuckler’s research found that in the EU and U.S. since 2007, the number of suicides has been 10,000 higher than historic averages.

The author denies that such increases are a normal part of an economic downturn. The book documents how President Franklin Roosevelt’s investment in health after the 1929 depression cut suicide rates and infant mortality, as did the U.K.’s creation of the National Health Service after World War II, when national debt was more than 200 percent of GDP.

“The standard macroeconomic advice is to save in good times and spend in bad,” says Stuckler, adding that public health is one of the biggest “fiscal multipliers” with an average return of $3 for every $1 invested. This is supported by the Harvard School of Public Health, which found the U.S. wastes more than $1 trillion on preventable diseases each year.

Not every country chose austerity, and no health crisis occurred in Iceland, where people voted to keep health care access rather than bail out their failing banks. It also established a body to monitor government responses to economic problems, and Stuckler wants similar accountability in other countries. “If austerity was a treatment, it would never have passed clinical trials. This is a matter of life and death.”

Back in the U.K., the first lawsuits have been served against the government for health cuts that backfired. The policymakers behind austerity could also pay a price.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

Libya seeks ceasefire as south Tripoli a militia…

By Patrick Markey and Aziz El YaakoubiTRIPOLI (Reuters) - Black plumes of smoke marked shell blasts and bulldozed earthen barricades mapped out the frontlines around…

Breaking: News

Russia mad about sanctions, says U.S. contributing to…

Russia reacted angrily on Saturday to additional sanctions imposed by the European Union over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, saying they would hamper cooperation…

National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.