Since 1993, the city's Health Department has been giving out fast food restaurant coupons to TB patients, as an incentive to get them to return to clinics for six-month treatment programs. It's a bit awkward, because this is the same Health Department that's launched an aggressive, multi-pronged public health campaign to educate consumers about junk food. Start the countdown for the first lawsuit from a TB patient who contracts diabetes!
And the Post, always a reliable mouthpiece for the restaurant industry's push-back against the Health Department, has been hooked up with an ex-employee at the Health Department, who says he felt"ridiculous being part of an operation handing out high-calorie gifts when my own bosses were campaigning against it." Besides receiving $5 vouchers for fast-food chains, patients also get coupons for variety stores and bookstores.
Over the past 10 fiscal years, the city has spent $3.3 million on the TB giveaways, but less than $300,000 of that total came from tax dollars. The average patient receives $130 worth of free food and $580 in MetroCards, according to agency spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti. In an email statement, Scaperotti tells us, "Treating people for TB is critical for saving lives and protecting others in their communities; the disease is both deadly and contagious, and small incentives are proven methods for improving treatment adherence."
Since offering incentives, TB cases have declined by more than 75 percent in NYC. Of course, it's unclear to what degree the incentives directly contributed to the decline, but the agency is currently evaluating the program and considering healthier eateries.