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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Health Provisions in the Stimulus Package

The "Stimulus Package" might just be hazardous to your health.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has startling health provisions that should leave Americans squirming, but which have been more or less ignored by both major parties and the mainstream media in discussing the merits of the "Stimulus Package." I discussed criticisms of the "Stimulus Package" in my article entitled Economic Folly: 7 Reasons Why The Stimulus Package Will Be Very Bad For America. I am writing this to follow up with an 8th reason: the largely overlooked health provisions in this legislation.

In a recent column, Betsy McCaughey outlines some of the negative effects of these provisions:

  • The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid.
  • The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system.
  • 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 (442, 446).
  • These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”
  • Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)
  • The bill treats health care the way European governments do: as a cost problem instead of a growth industry. Imagine limiting growth and innovation in the electronics or auto industry during this downturn.

Towards Socialized Health Care

The Stimulus Package's health provisions clearly represent a giant leap towards fascist medicine- a centrally-controlled, standardized, and uniform system of health care dictated to by unelected government bureaucrats, destroying competition, stifling innovation, and enforcing one-size-fits-all standards that will hamper the health care industry's ability to truly meet its customer's needs and keep Americans healthy. Even proponents of universal health coverage who believe that the government should make sure everyone has access to health care should be aghast at these provisions. Certainly such a view doesn't imply or require giving the government the power to dictate best practices to doctors. Such a possibility should be alarming at the least.

Violating Patient Privacy

Declan McCullagh points out:

Yet nowhere in this 140-page portion of the legislation does the government anticipate that some Americans may not want their medical histories electronically stored, shared, and searchable. Although a single paragraph promises that data-sharing will "be voluntary," there's no obvious way to opt out.

"Without those protections, Americans' electronic health records could be shared--without their consent--with over 600,000 covered entities through the forthcoming nationally linked electronic health records network," said Sue Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom, a nonprofit group that advocates health care privacy.

Short Circuiting The Free Market

The truth is that the health care industry is already moving in the direction of electronic records without being forced to do so by the good intentions of politicians in Washington. So even the benefit of more efficiency and decreased costs can and will be realized through free and voluntary market activity, without the draconian health measures in the stimulus package:

Many physicians are moving toward electronic health records for reasons of their own, including market pressure, convenience, and efficiency. This happens as old systems are being replaced or upgraded, questions about security find better answers, and doctors and their staff become more familiar with the technology.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found, in response to a mail survey last year that 38.4 percent of physicians reported using full or partial e-records system, not counting billing. This is up from 25 percent in 2005.

In the absence of the so-called stimulus bill, doctors and companies have been gradually moving in that direction, individually weighing the costs against the benefits and choosing the technology that best suits their needs.

Wasting Billions

Oh yeah... they're charging you for it too. What's the price tag that you get to pay for the privilege of violated privacy, fascist medicine, and more government control and influence over your life? $20,000,000,000 (and remember that this is the estimate... the cost of legislation has a tendency to swell after passage). All of that money worth of productive capital is being sapped in order to pay for this. Just think of what that money could do if it were left alone? How is destroying billions worth of capital supposed to stimulate the economy?

Just another from a long list of reasons to oppose the so-called Stimulus Package.

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