As the stimulus package wended its way through Congress this week, a familiar face popped up to get up to some familiar shenanigans. Betsy McCaughey, a Republican former Lieutenant Governor of New York, was suddenly on the Bloomberg website and on TV, issuing dire warnings about the changes that the stimulus package was going to wreak on health care. How? McCaughey claimed that the plan contained health technology language that let the federal government could "monitor" patient care in order to "guide your doctor's decisions." In short, a top-down bureaucracy that would enforce its own set of medical treatment protocols.
Naturally, that would be bad, and naturally, not a word of it was true. That didn't stop the contention from flowing from the Rush/Drudge edges onto cable news, most notably Lou Dobbs' CNN show. Happily, however, the media seems to be gathering to put McCaughey's nonsense back on the dungheap.
Last night, Keith Olbermann featured a debunking of McCaughey on Countdown:
But CNN was among the first to dispute McCaughey's claims, deploying senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to correct the record:
COHEN: Now, we asked Betsy McCaughey, because she's been through this bill page by page, "point us to the language that says that this bill will dictate what your doctor does," and she showed us language that didn't actually, specifically say that. It didn't say that the government will have the right to dictate what your doctor does. But she says it's vague enough that the government would be able to do that. And, of course, we ran this by the folks who wrote the bill. They said that any accusations that this bill will allow the government to dictate anything to your doctor, they say those accusations are "wildly inaccurate and preposterous."
James Fallows, at Atlantic yesterday, in an item titled "Let's Stop This Before It Goes Any Further," pointed to an article in the Washington Monthly by Steve Benen:
The claim, not surprisingly, isn't true. The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology isn't "new"; it was created by George W. Bush five years ago. More importantly, the measure is about medical records, not limiting physicians' treatments.
In fact, the language in the House bill that McCaughey ... referenced does not establish authority to "monitor treatments" or restrict what "your doctor is doing" with regard to patient care, but rather addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."
So, the opinion piece Bloomberg ran was wrong.
What's awfully depressing about this little dust-up is that no one should have been paying McCaughey any heed in the first place. Back in 1994, McCaughey penned a critique of the Clinton health care plan for the New Republic entitled "No Exit," which was as fine a work of misreading and misleading as ever you will see. The White House issued a point-by-point refutation, and was supported by thorough takedowns from Fallows and Mickey Kaus. But McCaughey's claptrap became the conventional wisdom anyway. While then-editor Andrew Sullivan defended the piece as a bit of debate-kindling, The New Republic eventually had to recant and apologize.
The way in which McCaughey's claims are getting batted down is reassuring. Hopefully the next editor who holds a piece from her on healthcare will see it as the equivalent of Plaxico Burress penning an op-ed on clubwear, and file it in the closest cat litter box.