Betsy McCaughey’s manufactured controversy about the so-called “secret provisions” in the stimulus bill shows no signs of slowing down. Its power rests in its emotional appeal. The effort exploits familiar conservative narratives — the government will have its hand in your cookie jar — to scare Americans into spending more on health care and prevent health reform efforts.
As James Fallows suggests, “let’s stop this before it goes any further.” Already, 25 million insured Americans can’t afford our skyrocketing medical costs. Yet we waste approximately one-third of our health care dollars — as much as $700 billion — on duplicated care, unnecessary care, and treatments that just don’t work.
To lower the costs of health care, to make insurance more affordable, and to lay the foundation for a more sustainable system, both Democrats and Republicans have supported the idea of establishing federal standards for electronic medical records and investing federal dollars in sensible medical research.
The idea is this: just like the government established standards for the cell phone industry and then allowed private companies to build on a single network, setting privacy guidelines for electronic health records would establish a framework for vendors to develop a system for securely sharing electronic records and medical data. A Verizon Wireless customer can connect to a T-Mobile cell phone and a primary care physician should be able to transfer medical records and data to a specialist.
Similarly, a serious approach to comparative effectiveness “could not only educate other providers on how to improve, but also inform policymakers on how to design policy that promotes these best practices,” Newt Gingrich explains in a Washington Times editorial. Ultimately, this “fight is over the very concept of evidence-based medicine“:
Health care, we know, is too expensive, and it’s too expensive in part because we pay for lots of treatments that don’t work. But every dollar of medical waste if also a dollar of manufacturer profit. And they — and their allies on the Right — will work very hard to keep those dollars.
Indeed, Big Pharma — which, incidentally, bankrolls Betsy McCaughey’s Hudson Institute — currently instructs doctors on the effectiveness of medications, and opposes research that could persuade physicians to eschew ineffective or unnecessary treatments. Fewer prescriptions translate into lower profits and the industry has lobbied hard to pare down the cost effectiveness language in the House version of the stimulus bill.
The industry has also funded the Partnership to Improve Patient Care, a lobbying group that seeks to “give industry a seat at the table when federal officials decide what to research with the $1.1 billion.”
Ironically, in the interest of protecting their bottom lines, pharmaceutical companies, which so often manufactures life-saving drugs, are undermining research that could save or improve the lives of millions of Americans.