If swine flu sneezes, will health care reform catch a cold?
Like anxious doctors in an emergency room, health system stakeholders are now trying to answer that question, carefully taking the public's temperature while watching for warning signs of anger or frustration over the government response to the H1N1 virus.
The concern: Long lines and vaccine shortages could convince millions of Americans — and one or two crucial members of Congress — that a Washington that can't deliver flu shots can't deliver health care reform either.
"I can't conceive of a debate in either house where this doesn't come up,” said Julius Hobson, a former lobbyist for the American Medical Association and now a health care analyst in Washington.
"You just knew they couldn't meet the deadline" for producing enough swine flu shots, he added.
The White House, perhaps sensing the political as well as policy implications of the swine flu effort, stepped up its public response to the sickness over the past week.
President Barack Obama declared a health emergency over the weekend, then sent Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to all three network morning shows Monday to ask for patience until more swine flu vaccine arrives.
"I know it's frustrating to wait in line, and particularly if you end up with no vaccine," Sebelius said. "We wish this could have been smoother, that we had a larger supply."
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