Managing Editor's Memo

Insurance Plans Dropping the Ball In Regard to Antibiotic Resistance

Frank Diamond

Whenever someone at a party talks about a desire to be born in another age, I’ll ask: “But what about antibiotics?” (OK. I don’t actually voice this because I want to be invited back. I do think it, though.)

The first recipient of penicillin was a British constable, Albert Alexander, who, in 1941, had been infected by a rose’s thorn. He deteriorated rapidly before being treated with the cutting edge medication. He made a dramatic comeback, but then relapsed and died because the medical team had run out of the drug.

Penicillin didn’t become widely available until after World War II. Over the years came the other antibiotics. I am still here thanks to these medications, and there’s a good chance that’s the case with you.

Unfortunately, though, society now faces a variation of what Constable Alexander faced. We’ve reported on, and clinician executives at insurance plans and doctors have been dealing with, the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria for a long time.

We’re losing — losing so badly that contributing editor Joseph Burns can begin his excellent article about the problem with this dramatic statement: “We have entered the post-antibiotics era.”

Constable Alexander didn’t have enough. We don’t have enough of antibiotics that work as intended. Antibiotic resistance is the world’s most pressing health care threat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s the brutal bottom line for health insurers: They aren’t doing enough, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Plans’ efforts to ensure proper use of antibiotics have been stagnant, even in decline, over the last five years.

That needs to improve. This is not the sort of situation one can, as Constable Alexander might have put it, muddle through.


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