National Opinion

May 25, 2012 • Editorial

FDA and a home HIV test

Here are three sobering stat[auth] istics about health, life and death to contemplate.

In the United States, 619,000 people have died of AIDS in the past 30 years. Worldwide, the death toll surpasses 30 million. And contrary to conservative assertions, the vast majority are or were heterosexual.

Another 1.2 million people in the U.S. are infected with the HIV virus and/or have AIDS. And even more disturbing, an estimated 250,000 of them don’t know it.

With that potentially devastating number in mind, a panel of Food and Drug Administration experts voted 17-0 last week to approve an over-the-counter HIV test kit that can be used at home.

It was a sound decision, even with the test’s potential shortcoming. In studies, it produced false positive and negative results, proving correct 93 percent of the time. In contrast, HIV tests done by professional labs are 99 percent accurate.

The FDA must decide if that difference is cause to approve or nix the world’s first home-administered test, or if giving people a reasonable chance to know their status and seek medical help is better for them and the people they might infect than not knowing.

The conundrum of course is not for those who will get a false positive.

What people don’t know can kill them. Knowing saves lives. So assuming the FDA approves the HIV home test, which may cost about $40, people who don’t know their status and are sufficiently responsible to worry about it might be persuaded to take the test.

While not perfect, if nothing else an over-the-counter HIV test — like a pregnancy test — might give people the courage, or the righteous fear, to seek further testing. That’s what second opinions are for, and why they’re so important.

Guest Editorial

The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

Agricultural version of Fannie Mae

While the U.S. economy as a whole remains sluggish, the farm sector has been doing well. Exceptionally well, in fact.

Last year net farm income was a record $101 billion, and it’s expected to be only slightly off the pace in 2012. With the national debt ballooning and the federal deficit still well over $1 trillion, you’d think lawmakers would be determined to seriously scale back taxpayer support for agriculture.

But you’d be wrong. True, the farm bill endorsed recently by the Senate Agriculture Committee calls for a $23 billion drop in farm programs over 10 years. Yet that’s just $2.3 billion a year — a pittance relative to the deficit.

The bill does include a few welcome changes.

The Senate bill would add the shallow loss program on top of that. If a producer’s revenue fell below 89 percent of a baseline, the farmer could file a claim. A coalition of farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, supported the plan, calling insurance a “core risk management tool.”

But under this bill, there wouldn’t be much risk left to manage. This isn’t “socialized” agriculture, strictly speaking; the government no longer tells farmers what to plant and how many acres to sow. If the taxpayer is picking up almost all the risk, however, it begins to look like the agricultural version of Fannie Mae’s business plan: privatized profits, socialized risk.

Keep in mind that producers of many crops, such as fruits and vegetables as well as beef and poultry, somehow manage to survive largely free of taxpayer subsidies.

Pat Roberts of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the Senate measure belonged in the familiar category of “not the best possible bill but the best bill possible.” If that discouraging evaluation proves correct, then the prospect of ever seeing real spending discipline in Washington seems pretty remote.

Guest Editorial

The Kansas City (Mo.) Star

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