Conservative Scare Tactics On Medical Information Technology

On any given day I generally only get around to posting on a  portion of the items I consider writing about. One topic I had hoped  to write about yesterday was the conservative scare stories about the medical information provisions of the stimulus bill which originated in an op-ed by Betsy McCaughey. I never completed this as I’m probably not capable of discussing a topic such as health information technology without it turning into a long post and I had a evening meeting to get to. In addition there was a tremendous amount of false information included in the stories being spread by the right which warranted response. (Instead I wrote about the conservative scare stories about Cass Sunstein as this was something I could write about much more quickly and still make the meeting.)

In order to note that the conservative scare stories regarding medical information technology are nonsense, and to avoid falling too far today by writing about this topic in depth this afternoon, I’ll refer readers to some good posts on this topic.

The Progress Report summarized the provisions and the misinformation being spread by conservatives:

Late last month, the House passed an economic recovery package containing $20 billion for health information technology, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop standards by 2010 for a nationwide system to exchange health data electronically. The version of the recovery package passed by the Senate yesterday contains slightly less funding for health information technology (“health IT”). But as Congress moves to reconcile the two stimulus packages, conservatives have begun attacking the health IT provisions, falsely claiming that they would lead to the government “telling the doctors what they can’t and cannot treat, and on whom they can and cannot treat.” The conservative misinformation campaign began on Monday with a Bloomberg “commentary” by Hudson Institute fellow Betsy McCaughey, which claimed that the legislation will have the government “monitor treatments” in order to “‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions.” McCaughey’s imaginative misreading was quickly trumpeted by Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report, eventually ending up on Fox News, where McCaughey’s opinion column was described as “a report.” In one of the many Fox segments focused on the column, hosts Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer blindsided Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) with McCaughey’s false interpretation, causing them to promise that they would “get this provision clarified.” On his radio show yesterday, Limbaugh credited himself for injecting the false story into the stimulus debate, saying that he “detailed it and now it’s all over mainstream media.”

McCAUGHEY GETS THE FACTS WRONG: In her commentary, McCaughey writes, “One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.” But the fact is, this isn’t a new bureaucracy. The National Coordinator of Health Information Technology already exists. Established by President Bush in 2004, the office “provides counsel to the Secretary of HHS and Departmental leadership for the development and nationwide implementation” of “health information technology.” Far from empowering the Office to “monitor doctors” or requiring private physicians to abide by treatment protocols, the new language tasks the National Coordinator with “providing appropriate information” so that doctors can make better informed decisions. As Media Matters noted, the language in the House bill, on which McCaughey based her column, does not establish authority to “monitor treatments” or restrict what “your doctor is doing” with regard to patient care. Instead, it addresses establishing an electronic records system so that doctors can have complete, accurate information about their patients. The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky pointed out that “this provision is intended to move the country towards adopting money-saving health technology (like electronic medical records), reduce costly duplicate services and medical errors, and create jobs.”

HEALTH I.T. BELONGS IN RECOVERY PACKAGE: Projected to create over 200,000 jobs, the funding for health information technology in the recovery package is both an important stimulus and a down-payment on broader health care reform. Speaking in Ft. Myers, FL, yesterday, President Obama said that investment in health IT was “an example of using a crisis and converting it into an opportunity.” We are going to computerize our health care system, institute health IT,” said Obama. “That creates jobs right now for people to convert from a paper system to a computer system, but it also pays a long-term dividend by making the health care system more efficient.” Currently, fewer than 25 percent of hospitals, and fewer than 20 percent of doctor’s offices, employ health information technology systems. Researchers have found that implementing health IT would result in a mean annual savings of $40 billion over a 15-year period by improving health outcomes through care management, increasing efficiency, and reducing medical errors. Investing in health would also help primary care physicians — who often bear the burnt of tech implementation without seeing immediate benefits — afford the infrastructure for expansion. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that one-third of $2 trillion spent annually on health care in America may be unnecessary due to inefficiencies in the system such as excessive paperwork. Investments in infrastructure like health IT will help improve the quality of America’s health care.

The problem with conservative misinformation is that the right wing noise machine spreads the misinformation to other sources. Steve Benen reviewed the flow of this misinformation. He shows how the false claims in an op-ed were quickly picked up by Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Fox, and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.

I previously noted that The American College of Physicians backs the Health IT provisions in the stimulus bill. The ACP would hardly back a bill which would allow Washington to tell physicians what we can and cannot do as McCaughey claimed.

While many physician organizations support funding for medical information technoligy, there remains questions as to how the money should be spent.  A group of fifty experts in electronic health records, most of whom are physicians, have sent this letter (pdf) to the White House and Congressional offices urging funding of programs to help small physician organizations to implement electronic medical records systems.

Yesterday Michelle Cottle looked at some of the other complexities which must be worked out.


  1. 1
    Jay Diamond says:

    All this is true….but BEYOND that is this….Assuming the outright lies and deliberate distortions of the right wing goon squad were TRUE…..again….assuming their lies where true…for the sake of argument…..IS NOT IT NOT EXACTLY WHAT PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES DO EVERY DAY !!!??

    Remember the 17 year old california girl who died because here insurance company would not pay for her necessary operation…..finally, under pressure the private insurance company relented… that time she was gone.

    AND…her father had been paying uninterrupted premiums for her since she was born.

    SO limbaugh, hannity, et al….next time you make dire warnings about THE GUBMENT controlling your health care, how ’bout being hinest for once in your lying lives and remind your benighted listeners that the alternative is not “you and your doc” controlling your care…..far from it….tell ’em the truth that the way it stands now….IF you are “covered” by a private policy, your “care” will be determined by a private business who has a private money interest in DENYING you the care you need !!!

    TELL ‘EM THAT limbaugh…..TELL ‘EM THAT hannity.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    I do find it amusing (or pathetic) when conservatives talk about opposing government to support freedom in health care. Corporate health care is far more restrictive than the government programs.  Plus it is the Republicans who have backed government interference  in private decisions between the patient (or their family) and their doctor  in so many other matters including reproductive rights, use of medicinal marijuana, and end of life decisions.

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