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
MCCAUGHEY'S POISONING HEALTH REFORM AGAIN: Responding to her Bloomberg commentary, the