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Book of Matthew: Panic in the Red States: Conservatives spreading false rumors about reform

Published: February 27, 2009
Section: Opinions


The fact that the Democrats’ $787 billion stimulus plan is now law—despite near-unanimous Republican opposition—has sent conservatives all over the country into a panicked frenzy. And they’re not panicking quietly either. No, they’ve shifted into no-holds-barred fear-mongering mode.

There are few better examples than that of Betsy McCaughey, former Republican lieutenant governor of New York. McCaughey recently published an article for Bloomberg.com that attacked the stimulus bill; specifically, certain provisions which called for the establishment of a national electronic health information database. She writes, “Senators should read these provisions and vote against them because they are dangerous to your health.”

What could be so threatening, you ask? According to McCaughey, once the government has control over all our medical records, “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. The goal is to reduce costs and ‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions.”

Armed with her obviously superior understanding, McCaughey paid a little visit to the Fourth Estate. She appeared on Glenn Beck’s talk show on FOX News and Lou Dobb’s show on CNN to give interviews. Soon, every right-wing media outlet, from Rush Limbaugh to Matt Drudge, was up in arms over the notion that Congress and the President could have signed our health and wellness over to a bunch of Washington bureaucrats.

It could have been the big story that conservatives have been waiting for, the one that would bring down the fledgling Obama administration before it even got off the ground. That is, if it were actually true.

You see, once McCaughey took her story to more legitimate news organizations, she encountered an odd phenomenon rarely found in the realm of right-wing news: the fact-check.

On CNN, she was asked to produce language in the bill that backed up her claims. And she couldn’t do it. There was nothing in the bill that came close to giving government the power to influence a doctor’s decision.

It seems that Big Brother won’t be watching us after all. Which is hardly a surprise to those of us who saw the national electronic health information database for what it really is: an excellent idea.

Imagine a system that would allow doctors to throw away the piles of dusty paper records that clutter their offices and replace them with a computer program, thereby reducing medical errors and other unnecessary costs. And the best part is, you could go anywhere in the US and never fail to find a doctor with your complete medical history sitting at his fingertips. This is the task with which the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology has been charged, set to be complete by the year 2014.

The data will, of course, be completely secure—subject to the same laws that protect our current medical information from the prying eyes of the government, or anyone else. The goal of the project is not to destroy doctor-patient confidentiality, but to make the process more efficient.

So what’s with McCaughey? Well, she does have quite a history of standing in the way of progress in the field of healthcare. In 1994, for example, she published an article in The New Republic attacking President Clinton’s healthcare plan (with about the same degree of accuracy as her current article). That plan, as you already know, has gone down in history as one of Clinton’s greatest legislative defeats.

McCaughey and her fellow conservatives hope to see something similar happen to President Obama when he proposes his own major healthcare initiative. Which is why they latched on to the idea of a national database—to them, it is the first battle in a long war that they are afraid to lose.

I suppose, in that case, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that since the stimulus package passed, we will get our electronic database. Eventually, we will probably get our badly needed healthcare reform as well, once the current administration begins to focus on the issue.

The bad news is that we will likely have to suffer through countless poorly researched conservative hit-pieces until that day comes.