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Running Right Off the Track

Posted By on February 9, 2009

“Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan: Betsy McCaughey”

On his radio show today1, Rush Limbaugh advanced the notion that part of President Obama’s stimulus package creates a new federal bureaucracy to tell doctors how to practice medicine and tell you whether you can have an expensive procedure based on whether you’ll live long enough to make it worth while. He based his comments on the article listed above that was published by Bloomberg.

I have to disagree with this characterization. When Rush repeated Betsy McCaughey’s claim that pages 442 and 444 of the stimulus bill required the establishment of a new bureaucracy and information system and that the government would use their new system to help “guide” doctors in providing acceptable care to patients, I was intrigued enough to go read the bill first hand and see for myself. I don’t see there what Betsy wrote about, at least insofar as her take on its meaning, nor Rush’s.

I did find the pages in question and it did contain the description of a new federal department, part of HHS, that would be charged with setting up a new system and accompanying massive database to capture and maintain electronic health records for all Americans (that’s scary enough in and of itself). And I did find the language that Betsy used in her column, including the reference to ‘guiding’ doctors in their care. But I also found that Betsy is taking things a bit out of context and reading WAY more into it than is there.

Of course, this assumes that we can take the bill for what it says, which we must for the purposes of debate.

The section of the ARRA (stimulus bill) that begins on page 441 (of the amended version of the bill HR1) simply lists a number of the projected benefits of such a database of medical records. Benefit #4 says that it

“… provides appropriate information to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.”

Among the other benefits listed are better/faster care due to the availability of your medical records to health care providers, etc. That’s a pretty far cry from what Betsy McCaughey claims is in the bill:

[The new bureaucracy] will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective.

I won’t disagree that the system could be used in that manner, but that’s not what the ARRA says.

I think she’s being disingenuous and doing a disservice to the debate by characterizing things like she is. I think Rush Limbaugh is guilty of the same thing, though I don’t know that he’s taken the time to follow through and do his own research (though he should if he wants to maintain credibility).

With regard to this provision of ARRA, I have mixed opinions. On its face, it will have the effect of creating a more efficient process for delivering health care and health insurance processing. In that regard it should have the effect of reducing costs at least marginally. The flip side is that we get another new federal office out of it and small expansion of HHS. Probably not a lot of people, but certainly a sizable investment in big beefy mainframe computers from IBM to store all the information. There will also be a bump in hiring of software folks at the insurance companies to make all of this happen (no guarantee that those jobs will actually be filled by Americans though). It will probably be a year before many of those jobs appear as there is a 5-year target for deployment of the system. In the end, since this is a system that will increase efficiency and productivity, it will, but its nature, result in a net loss of jobs when all the paper pushers hit the streets. And the software jobs are only temporary as well.

So from a cost-benefit standpoint, it’s probably a net gain for the economy in the short run and perhaps a bigger benefit down the road due to reduction in wasted time, etc.

That’s all fine and dandy, but that’s not the scary part. The scary part is that the government will have medical records on every single person in the U.S. and that is a huge exposure to loss of liberty to everyone.

So the real question is whether the benefits of this new system outweighs its costs in terms of development and implementation as well as loss of freedom. That’s a much tougher call for many people because it will be very easy to highlight several cases where it at least appears that someone’s life will be saved due to the easy availability of this information to a health care provider. The argument will be, “if it saves even one life …”

And THAT’s how our freedoms erode away.


The March to Socialized Medicine Starts in Obama’s Porkulus Bill
, The Rush
Limbaugh Show, Feb 9, 2008


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